Spartans Drop the Home Finale to Northwestern
EAST LANSING - The Michigan State Spartans racked up over 400 yards of total offense, held the Northwestern Wildcats to 57 rushing yards and only committed two penalties, but several missed opportunities in red-zone and four turnovers were too much for the Green and White to overcome in a 23-20 loss at Spartan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“We lost 12 points in the first half due to mistakes and turnovers and then throw an interception in the beginning of the second half due to a blown protection that goes for a touchdown,” head coach Mark Dantonio said after the game.
“We out-rushed them, we had more first downs, more passing yards and third-down conversions, but you can’t overcome mistakes.”
The first turnover occurred on Michigan State’s second offensive possession. The Spartans were trailing 3-0 and found themselves at the Northwestern two-yard line after a 44-yard pass from junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell to junior tight end Dion Sims and two rushes for nine yards by junior running back Le’Veon Bell.
Facing a third-and-one, the Spartans elected to try a quarterback sneak, but the snap never got all the way to Maxwell, who could not grab hold of the ball before it wound up in a pile of players from both teams. Sean McEvilly emerged with the football for the Wildcats.
Michigan State did get on the scoreboard two plays later, though, as Max Bullough and Will Gholston teamed up to sack Northwestern’s junior dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter in the end zone for a safety with 2:39 remaining in the first quarter.
Bell got a heavy dose of carries, and converted two third downs, on Michigan State’s ensuing possession, which started near midfield.
The Spartans were knocking on the door once again at Northwestern’s 18-yard line until Maxwell failed to complete back-to-back passes on second and third down. The 12-play, 37-yard drive ended with a 35-yard field goal from Dan Conroy less than three minutes into the second quarter to give Michigan State a 5-3 lead.
After forcing the Wildcats to punt after just three plays on offense, the Spartans went right back to work on the ground with Bell in order to set up the play-action passing game.
Bell gained 11 yards on three carries before Maxell delivered two strikes to sophomore wideout DeAnthony Arnett for 12 yards and to Sims for 22 yards. Maxwell helped the Spartans convert at third-and-seven by finding sophomore receiver Keith Mumphery for a 10-yard gain and a first down inside the Northwestern 10-yard line.
Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar thought Bell get the Spartans into the end zone and called four consecutive running plays for his star running back. The Wildcats’ defense stood tall on all four plays and turned the Spartans over on downs.
“We had to run the ball down there,” Roushar said in his post-game interview. “We were going to give it to Le’Veon another time, just stopped short there, and decided to go with the same concept, different direction. From my vantage point, they brought the corner off the field, our hats didn’t get out to it, and they got penetration and stopped the run.”
Northwestern took a 6-5 lead on a 43-yard field goal from Jeff Budzien, but the Spartans had a chance to answer with a 37-yard field goal of their own after Maxwell hit Mumphery for a 23-yard gain and an eight-yard scramble. Conroy pulled the kick hard left as the Spartans failed to capitalize on yet another scoring opportunity.
The second half did not get off to an optimistic start either. A blown protection led to Maxwell being hit as he threw and David Nwabuisi patiently awaited the lame duck pass before hauling it in and returning the interception 43 yards for a touchdown to put Northwestern up 13-5 less than one minute into the third quarter.
Maxwell and Co. drove 65 yards in eight plays to tie the game up with a 15-yard touchdown pass to true freshman wideout Aaron Burbridge. The Spartans went for two instead of kicking the extra point and tied the game up on a three-yard pass from Maxwell to Mumphery.
The Wildcats took the lead once again on the following possession after back up signal-caller Trevor Siemian completed two straight passes to Dan Vitae for 27 yards before watching Colter toss a six-yard touchdown to Tim Riley.
Burbridge went on to lose a fumble and Maxwell threw his second interception of the afternoon, but rallied to take the Spartans on a nine-play, 60-yard drive to tie the game at 20-20 with 9:16 left in regulation.
Maxwell hit sophomore receiver Tony Lippett for a six-yard touchdown for the game-tying score.
All Northwestern needed to win the game was a 27-yard field goal that capped an eight-play, 66-yard drive that only took 1:52 off the clock after the Spartans tied the game.
Michigan State’s last attempt ended after four consecutive incomplete passes in the final two minutes.
The loss dropped the Spartans’ 2012 home record to 1-5, including a 0-4 mark at Spartan Stadium in Big Ten play.
“We’ve lost five games in Spartan Stadium this year, and to me that’s unheard of,” Dantonio said. “I’ve been here 12 years and that’s never happened. This has always been a great place to play and a great environment. I appreciate the support we had today and thought the fans showed up. I feel badly for them because I know they suffer too.”
There is no time for the Spartans to dwell on yet another gut-wrenching loss in East Lansing, though, with a bowl bid on the line next Saturday against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
“We need to go to a bowl game,” Dantonio said. “We have played better away from home so maybe that’s the omen this year. We need to go to Minnesota with the mindset and right idea to get it done. I don’t care what bowl it is, but that has to be the focus.
Next Saturday’s game is scheduled to kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST and the Spartan Sports Network will begin its coverage at 2:00 p.m.