Football: Michigan State smokes Northwestern in Big Ten opener


Alison Albelda/Daily Senior Staffer

A group of Northwestern defenders show frustration in the end zone following a play. The Wildcats fell 31-10 to Michigan State in a disappointing loss to open Big Ten play.

Peter Warren, Print Managing Editor


With under two minutes left in the second quarter and Northwestern on the verge of crossing midfield, sophomore quarterback Hunter Johnson made an ill-advised throw towards the far sideline, and Michigan State’s Josiah Scott intercepted the pass.

Over the next two-plus quarters, the Spartans scored 24 unanswered points while the Wildcats failed to gain any significant yardage against a Joe Bachie-led defense until the game was out of hand. By the start of the fourth quarter, Michigan State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) was on cruise control to a 31-10 victory, which snapped NU’s (1-2, 0-1) three-game winning streak in the series.

“Being able to beat them my senior year after not beating them for the past three, it feels pretty good,” Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “At the beginning of camp, we go around and give our senior speeches and (linebacker Tyriq Thompson’s) MSU fact was ‘haven’t beaten Northwestern since 2013.’ That was something that we focused on.”

Michigan State started the game well, going up 7-0 on a nine-play, 75-yard drive. On Elijah Collins’ five-yard touchdown run, the tailback looked like he was stopped at the line of scrimmage, but kept his legs moving as a hole opened and he scampered into the endzone.

After a stalled Cats possession, Spartans returner Cody White fumbled on the punt return and junior Travis Whillock recovered the football at the 27-yard line. NU drove the ball to the one-yard line, but stagnated there.

Sophomore Isaiah Bowser ran the ball for no gain on second and third down, and Johnson was stopped immediately on fourth down as the Cats tried to run the speed option. Coach Pat Ftizgerald said the team did not correctly execute a blocking assignment on the edge.

“On the road you need stops like that, and we were able to do that, so that was huge,” said Bachie, who had 14 tackles, one sack and one interception in a dominant performance. “If they score that touchdown on the goal line, it might be a completely different ball game.”

After forcing a stop on the next possession, NU got the ball back and marched down the field. Johnson made big throws on third down to juniors Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Kyric McGowan, but the drive fizzled at the 21-yard line. Kicking against the wind, junior Charlie Kuhbander’s 39 yarder just pushed itself over the crossbar.

After five straight second quarter punts, NU got the ball back with about six minutes left and crossed midfield a few minutes later. But a first-down holding penalty pushed the offense back into its territory, and two plays later Scott intercepted Johnson.

“We don’t need the interception,” Fitzgerald said. “We got a check down right in front of us. Check it down, it ends up being 4th-and-12, I may just go for it. What the hell. I’ve done it before, or I might punt and play field position.”

With the drive starting at its 38-yard line, Michigan State went down the field with relative ease. After hitting Darrell Stewart on a crossing route on a critical 3rd-and-16, Lewerke found White on another third down in the corner of the endzone for the touchdown.

The Spartans came out of halftime re-energized, while the Wildcats looked flat. Each team had three full possessions in the third quarter. NU had three three-and-outs. Michigan State drive deep into Cats territory each time.

Matt Coghlin missed a 40-yard field goal on the first possession, but bounced back to connect on a 26-yard kick on the third possession. In the middle, Lewerke led the Spartans down the field until finding Matt Seybert for an eight-yard score.

“We really think that for us, we need to go out and make plays and that can jumpstart the rest of the team,” senior defensive end Joe Gaziano said. “We are not thinking about we need to rely on other phases. We are thinking about how we can be a catalyst instead of someone who reacts to other things happening on the field.”

Following the 26-yard field goal that put Michigan State up 24-3, Fitzgerald benched Johnson in favor of junior Aidan Smith. Smith was under center for four possessions. On the first, he tried to throw a screen pass, but the ball was knocked into the air and intercepted by Raequan Williams. A few plays later, Lewerke hit Seybert from seven yards away to go up 31-3.

On his second possession, Smith was hit as he threw and the ball floated into the arms of Bachie. On the third, redshirt freshman Drake Anderson rushed the ball six times and scored on a two-yard run. On the fourth, the team turned the ball over on downs.

“We were sputtering a little bit, kind of like going to the bullpen, let’s see if we can get a little bit of a spark in this game,” Fitzgerald said. “Then also thinking big picture, we got to get him some experience.”

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