Records have a way of meaning absolutely nothing when Michigan State and Northwestern meet.
That was the case again on Saturday as Northwestern, which entered the game having lost three straight, used two big plays in the first half to spark a 29-19 victory over No. 20 Michigan State, its third straight in the series and the third consecutive victory at Spartan Stadium.
Quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for three touchdowns for Northwestern (2-3, 2-1 Big Ten), including two just minutes apart in the first half. He finished with 373 yards as the Spartans could do little to slow the Wildcats offense.
Michigan State (3-2, 1-1) continued to struggle offensively, too. The Spartans took advantage of a pair of turnovers to score 10 points but were unable to muster a rally in the fourth quarter.
Brian Lewerke threw another interception - his sixth this season - as Michigan State lost its homecoming game.
Northwestern used the big play to grab the momentum in the first half, scoring on back-to-back drives that totaled four plays and little more than a minute on the clock. The first came on a 77-yard strike from Thorson to Kyric McGowan as Michigan State failed to cover the Wildcats’ receiver. McGowan went untouched down the sideline to give Northwestern a 7-3 lead with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
After Michigan State failed to pick up a first down on its next possession, Northwestern took just two plays to score again as Thorson connected with JJ Jefferson for a 34-yard touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 14-3 lead with 13:58 left in the second quarter.
Michigan State got on the board first, thanks to another takeaway from the defense. Senior safety Khari Willis snagged an errant Thorson pass near midfield and returned it to the Northwestern 39. The Spartans turned it into points as sophomore Matt Coghlin booted a 27-yard field goal to give the Spartans a 3-0 lead with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
Coghlin added a 25-yard field goal with 4:19 to play in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 14-6, but after forcing a three-and-out, the offense couldn’t capitalize as Lewerke threw an interception, his sixth of the season.
Michigan State finally got some offensive rhythm midway through the third quarter as Felton Davis opened the drive with a 21-yard reception then capped it off with a 48-yard run on a reverse for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed as Northwestern maintained a 14-12 lead with 7:18 left in the third quarter.
The Spartans’ defense again proved opportunistic on the next series as a pass bounced off the hands of Northwestern running back Drake Anderson and into the arms of Michigan State defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk. Michigan State took advantage and, thanks to a pass interference call on the Wildcats, took a 19-14 lead with 4:08 left in the third quarter when Lewerke hit Davis with a 3-yard touchdown pass.
Northwestern, however, responded with a methodical 75-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard pass from Thorson to Cameron Green. A two-point conversion gave the Wildcats a 22-19 lead with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
Michigan State’s defense got two stops in the fourth quarter, but the Spartans could not pick up a first down. Northwestern added a late touchdown run from Thorson for the final margin.
—Field Level Media