Northwestern held scoreless in second half, falls 42-24 to No. 12 Michigan

Colin Becht

In a storyline Northwestern has grown tired of playing into, the Wildcats allowed a 10-point halftime lead to fall by the wayside in a failed upset bid of No. 12 Michigan. The Wolverines scored 28 points while shutting out NU in the second half en route to a 42-24 victory.

Michigan (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) amassed 529 yards of offense and took advantage of two sloppy turnovers by NU (2-3, 0-2) in the second half as the Wolverines easily erased the Cats’ 24-14 halftime advantage. Dating back to last year’s loss to Purdue, NU has now lost five of its last six conference games in which it has led by 10 or more points.

“I feel like it’s the same story every game, we’re up in the first half and somehow we just lose it,” sophomore quarterback Kain Colter said. “It’s just gut-check time now. We talk about it, we talk about it, now it’s time for people to start doing it. As a whole team we’ve got to come out and start making plays and finish the game.”

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson put three first-half interceptions behind him as he threw for 337 yards and rushed for 117 more with four total touchdowns.

“He’s pretty good,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Probably the best we’ve seen in a while.”

Wide receiver Junior Hemingway was Robinson’s favorite target Saturday night, catching five balls for 124 yards.

Michigan took the game’s momentum and ran away with it in the third quarter. The Wolverines’ defense held the Cats to just 17 yards in the quarter as NU possessed the ball for only two minutes and 32 seconds. In the other 12 minutes and 28 seconds of the quarter, Michigan exhibited unchecked offensive rhythm, scoring on all three of its drives.

Robinson broke into the end zone from two yards out to start the half, followed by scores from backup quarterback Devin Gardner and running back Michael Shaw.

“I really think we lost focus,” sophomore defensive end Tyler Scott said of the Cats’ second half defensive performance. “Here and there we had one-man breakdowns, and that will kill you when it comes down to crunch time. We got to fix those issues.”

Michigan converted on nine of its 10 third downs in the second half and 14 of 17 in the game.

On the opposite side of the ball, the same offense that came out firing early stalled and succumbed to sloppiness with two costly turnovers. Brandin Hawthorne’s interception on a pass that bounced off of senior superback Drake Dunsmore’s hands set up Shaw’s score, and a fumble by senior wide receiver Jeremy Ebert halted a promising NU drive that had advanced into Michigan territory.

“We can’t turn the ball over like that,” Persa said. “We were moving fine and then we just had a couple of turnovers.”

The bad breaks continued to pile up for NU in the second half when the Cats’ chance at a fourth-down conversion early in the fourth quarter was wiped out because Persa’s helmet came off as he ducked an oncoming tackler. By NCAA rule, a play is called dead once the ball carrier’s helmet comes off. The resulting turnover-on-downs, which Fitzgerald believed should have been negated by a facemask penalty, ended the Cats’ last legitimate chance at a comeback.

“I saw a guy coming and I just ducked and he ripped my helmet off,” Persa said. “I don’t know how else my helmet would have come off.”

Persa finished the game with 331 yards on 32-of-44 passing.

Similar to last week and a couple of losses last year, NU seemed to be in control of the game in the first half.

In a highly offensive first quarter, the Cats scored 14 unanswered points thanks to 72 rushing yards from six different rushers.

Michigan opened the scoring when a 48-yard pass from Robinson to wide receiver Junior Hemingway set up the Wolverines for a nine-yard touchdown completion from Robinson to fullback Steve Watson.

The Cats responded quickly, however, marching down the field with both Persa and Colter under center. NU got it in for six when Colter faked a handoff, then kept the ball for a 15-yard score. After redshirt freshman safety Ibraheim Campbell intercepted Robinson at the NU four-yard line – his first of two picks on Saturday – freshman running back Treyvon Green converted the turnover into points with a rushing touchdown from seven yards out.

Following two straight drives that ended with interceptions, Robinson righted the ship with a screen pass to Jeremy Gallon that went for a 25-yard score to tie the game at 14.

The Cats rebounded from the touchdown with a score of their own as sophomore running back Adonis Smith became the third NU rusher with a touchdown, scoring on an option from two yards out. Robinson’s third interception of the half enabled the Cats to increase their lead to 24-14 when sophomore kicker Jeff Budzien booted a 20-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

Unfortunately for NU, 30 minutes of solid play does not translate into victories and it was the latter 30 minutes of miscues and defensive lapses that doomed the Cats to their third straight loss, dropping them under .500 for the first time since 2007.

“It’s frustrating, we have no one else to blame but ourselves,” Persa said. “We just let our fans down.”

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