Rapid Recap: Michigan State 31, Northwestern 10


Alison Albelda/Daily Senior Staffer

Hunter Johnson gets tackled in the backfield. The Northwestern offense struggled mightily in a loss to Michigan State.

Jonah Dylan, Gameday Editor


Northwestern’s good fortune against Michigan State is officially over.

Looking to beat the Spartans (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) for the fourth straight year, the Wildcats (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) were dominated across the board and couldn’t find the inches in an ugly 31-10 loss on Saturday at Ryan Field.

Michigan State received the ball first and promptly drove the length of the field for an opening-drive touchdown, dominating at the point of attack and picking on redshirt freshman cornerback A.J. Hampton, who was starting in place of the injured Trae Williams. NU went backwards on its first possession but got a huge break when the Spartans fumbled on the ensuing punt return.

The Cats moved the ball inside the one yard line but were stuffed on three consecutive plays, including a speed option on fourth and goal. Charlie Kuhbander later added a field goal to pull NU within four early in the second quarter.

Michigan State’s offense was stagnant after the first drive as NU’s defense settled in. On the other side of the ball, Hunter Johnson made a number of key third-down throws, but the offense couldn’t string together enough consistency to seriously threaten to score.

Late in the half, Johnson was intercepted after a poor decision on third-and-long and the Spartans capitalized when Brian Lewerke found Cody White for a late touchdown, extending the Michigan State lead to 14-3 at the half.

The Spartans dominated after the break. NU’s offense was dormant and Michigan State’s offense reeled off long drives that started to wear down the Wildcat defense. When Lewerke hit Matt Seybert for an 8-yard touchdown in the third quarter to extend the lead to 18, the game was over.

Michigan State added more points as the NU offense continued to struggle, and coach Pat Fitzgerald ultimately replaced Johnson with junior Aidan Smith, who couldn’t get anything going either.


1. NU’s offense was a disaster. Hunter Johnson had some success in the first half, especially when he used his legs to loosen up the Michigan State defense. But there was no consistency, either from Johnson, who finished 15-of-26 for 88 yards and an interception, or the running game, which managed only 2.1 yards per carry through three quarters. Even against Michigan State’s stout defense, NU could manage only three points through three quarters before the game was essentially over and Johnson was relieved by Aidan Smith, who threw an interception on his second pass attempt.

2. Against an explosive Spartan offense, NU missed Trae Williams. Michigan State went after redshirt freshman A.J. Hampton from the get-go, and the Wildcat secondary was repeatedly gashed by Cody White and Darrell Stewart. The defensive line held up well and managed to get good pressure on Lewerke, but the secondary couldn’t quite contain Michigan State’s receivers. Losing Williams — a senior captain and NU’s top cornerback — proved to be a huge loss. Also not helping the NU cause was the fact that tackling was again a major problem, as Michigan State backs and receivers spent the whole game stepping out of arm tackles and gaining extra yardage.

3. NU lost at the point of attack. Coming into this game, a lot of the talk was about how NU would compete with Michigan State’s dominant defensive front. The results were mixed, at least in the first half, as Johnson found some running room on quarterback keepers to loosen up the front for NU’s backs. But led by a dominating performance from Joe Bachie — who finished with a ridiculous career-high 14 tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and an interception — the Spartan defense tightened things up and made it difficult for NU to do much of anything with consistency. On the other side of the ball, NU’s defensive line simply wore down as the game went on. In the second half, Michigan State had more and more success in the running game and opened up all sorts of things for Lewerke.

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