Rapid Recap: Northwestern 54, Michigan State 40


Allie Goulding/The Daily Northwestern

Steven Reese tackles R.J. Shelton. The Wildcats took the lead over the Spartans eight minutes into the second quarter and led the rest of the way.

Bobby Pillote , Assistant Gameday Editor

EAST LANSING, Michigan —Northwestern’s chances didn’t look good after quickly falling down 14-0 in the first quarter on the road against Michigan State.

But the Wildcats (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) ultimately rallied past the Spartans (2-4, 0-3), prevailing 54-40 in a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair. Highlights of the game included a safety, a kickoff return touchdown and almost 500 yards of offense.

Michigan State struck first with a touchdown just five minutes into the game, and quickly added seven more points by picking off an errant pass from sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson and running it back into the endzone. But Thorson kept his composure and helped the offense to 17 points before halftime.

Redshirt freshman Joe Gaziano iced the cake and gave the Cats the midpoint lead with a safety, taking down Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke for his first career sack.

Despite a second half surge, Michigan State never caught back up. NU opened the second half with another 14 points to pad its lead, and just when the Spartans clawed back to within two points junior receiver Solomon Vault put the game on ice by returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

The score was the fourth career kickoff return touchdown for Vault in a game full of milestones for the Cats. Thorson set a career high with 27 completions, senior receiver Austin Carr set a career-high with 11 receptions and junior running back Justin Jackson set a career high with 188 rushing yards.


1. Austin Carr is the best receiver in the Big Ten

Statistically speaking, at least. Carr came into this contest leading the conference in receptions, yards and touchdowns and is a good bet to hold on to his title in all three categories after hauling in 11 passes for 130 yards and two scores.

2. Clayton Thorson has improved dramatically

The sophomore quarterback had perhaps the best game of his career, going 27-for-35 for 281 yards and scoring four times, twice through the air and once on the ground. It’s all the more impressive coming in a Big Ten road game. This is the Thorson NU needs in the second half of its season in order to make a run to a bowl game.

3. The secondary might be a liability

Considered a position of strength coming into the season, the unit has been ravaged by injuries and still seems to be in flux. Michigan State came into this game with a quarterback controversy and still gained more than 400 yards through the air. It didn’t help at all that an otherwise great pass deflection from junior safety Godwin Igwebuike bounced right into the hands of a Spartans receiver for a touchdown, but regardless the secondary still has plenty of room for improvement in the second half of the season.


  • 54 points is the most scored by NU since 2011 against Indiana.
  • Carr has caught at least one touchdown in the Cats’ previous five games.
  • Thorson has scored a rushing touchdown in NU’s last three games.
  • Jackson’s two rushing touchdowns put him at six for the season, passing the five he compiled in 2015.
  • The last team to score 50 points or more against Michigan State was Nebraska in 1995. The Cornhuskers went on to win the national championship that season.