One has to go all the way back to the 2006 campaign the last time the Michigan State Spartans lost four straight games in a row. Oddly enough they snapped that previous four-game skid against Saturday’s opponent, the Northwestern Wildcats. In that game, the Spartans completed the biggest comeback in college football history, trailing 38-3 and scoring 38 unanswered to defeated Northwestern on the road.
Coming into the game, many speculations were made on who would be starting under center, after it was revealed that there would be a quarterback competition.
Saturday was a huge crossroads for the Spartans. A win means perhaps the beginning of salvaging a struggling start to the season, where a loss would dig them a huge hole and put their streak of nine straight bowl games on the line.
Much to the surprise of those inside Spartan Stadium and Spartan Nation around the country, redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke earned his first collegiate start. And early on, he appeared calm and cool like a seasoned veteran. A drive that started inside the NU-40, Lewerke guided the Spartans three plays into the end zone, highlighted by a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josiah Price.
On the ensuing drive, Michigan State got a defensive score, courtesy of a pick six from WR/CB Justin Layne, good for 43 yards and a 14-0 MSU lead.
Northwestern would get on the board two drives later as the 1st quarter drew to a close. ‘Cats tailback Justin Jackson broke loose for 29 yards to cut the NU deficit to 14-7.
(THRU 1ST: MSU LEADS 14-7)
After MSU answered the NU touchdown with a 41-yard field goal from Michael Geiger, Northwestern put together an impressive 12-play play going 75 yards and finding their way back into the end zone. This time it was quarterback Clayton Thorson connecting with his favorite target Austin Carr for 9 yards, making it 17-14 Spartans.
Michigan State on the ensuing drive had to start inside their own 10-yard line due to a penalty on the kickoff. This set up Northwestern with what would be a safety, defensive end Joe Gaziano absolutely wrecking the quarterback Lewerke just inside the end zone, cutting the MSU lead to one.
In case you missed it — Joe Gaziano's first half sack/safety ???? : https://t.co/YkX7WdBylh
— Northwestern On BTN (@NUOnBTN) October 15, 2016
The Wildcats turned that free kick following the safety into a 7-play drive and kicked a 33-yard field goal, giving Northwestern their first lead of the contest heading into the break.
(HALF: NU LEADS 19-17)
Northwestern continued to score unanswered points opening up the second half, scoring on their first two drives. The first was capped with a 57-yard pass from Thorson to wideout Flynn Nagel. The other was a 10-play drive that ended with Thorson scoring on the keeper from 9 yards out. The two touchdowns made it a 33-17 lead in favor of the Wildcats.
Now needing some sort of spark again, the Spartans opted to put redshirt senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor in the game. And in two of the next three drives, O’Connor got Michigan State right back in it with 14 points of their own on two big chunk plays, both to senior R.J. Shelton. One went for 59 yards, another good for 86 yards. Now the Spartans trailed just 33-31.
Unfortunately, all that momentum was sucked away on the ensuing kickoff. Northwestern fullback Solomon Vault returned the kick 95 yards to the house, pushing the NU lead back up to 40-31.
(THRU 3RD: NU LEADS 40-31)
It went from bad to worse again real quick early in the 4th quarter on the next drive for MSU. O’Connor facing a 3rd-and-long threw up another deep ball in the direction of Donnie Corley, but it was intercepted inside the NU-10. The Wildcats turned that pick into points, going 13 plays, 91 yards, and better than six minutes before Justin Jackson on a big 3rd down conversion scooted into the end zone from 26 yards out, padding their lead, 47-31.
But the Spartans weren’t done. They countered with a scoring drive of their own and exhausting barely a minute. O’Connor went 4/4 on the drive for 57 yards, a 9-yard touchdown pass to Corley. However, down two scores, MSU went for two and failed, so they trailed 47-37 at this point.
But the Michigan State defense did not have answer for a Northwestern attack that had been gashing them all game long. MSU attempted an onside kick that did not work, Northwestern used that to their advantage to go six plays and 47 yards. They scored on a 4th down, Thorson to Carr for 29 yards, making it 54-37.
— BTNStatsGuys (@BTNStatsGuys) October 15, 2016
That all but the game on ice. MSU had a couple drives to counter, including one after blocking a Wildcats, but were only able to salvage a field goal and make it 54-40.
Northwestern hung on and earned their second huge conference road win (after winning at Iowa two weeks ago), and third win overall in their last four games. And for MSU, it’s their fourth consecutive defeat after opening the season 2-0 and ranked in the AP Top 10.
- T. O’Connor: 13/21, 281 yards, 3 TD, INT off the bench
- R.J. Shelton: 7 rec, 190 yards, 2 TD
- J. Jackson (NU): 34 car, 188 yards, 2 TD
- A. Carr (NU): 11 rec, 130 yards, 2 TD