Clayton Thorson threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns, and Northwestern recovered from another second-half slip, beating No. 20 Michigan State 29-19 on Saturday.
The Spartans (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) entered with the nation’s top-ranked run defense and held Northwestern (2-3, 2-1) to 8 yards on the ground, but it didn’t matter. The Wildcats moved the ball consistently well through the air, and Michigan State’s offense was mostly inept except for a brief stretch in the third quarter.
Thorson threw a 21-yard scoring pass to Cameron Green with 15 seconds left in the third, and a 2-point conversion gave Northwestern a 22-19 lead.
The Wildcats missed a field goal with 6:41 to play, but Michigan State went 15 yards backward on the ensuing possession and had to punt. The Spartans held again defensively, and on the next possession, they had second-and-1 from their own 11. After two near-sacks, running back Connor Heyward was stopped on fourth down. Thorson scored on a 2-yard run to make it a 10-point game with 2:51 left.
The Spartans took advantage of a first-quarter interception and led 3-0, but Thorson connected with Kyric McGowan for a 77-yard touchdown with 18 seconds left in the period. Thorson found JJ Jefferson for a 34-yard TD in the second, and Northwestern led 14-6 at halftime.
The Wildcats blew a 21-3 halftime lead in a loss to Akron and were up 17-0 in the first half in last weekend’s loss to Michigan. They also gave away the lead against Michigan State in a quick sequence during the third quarter.
Felton Davis scored for the Spartans on a 48-yard reverse, and although a 2-point conversion attempt failed, Michigan State got the ball back on an interception and took a 19-14 lead on Brian Lewerke’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Davis.
Northwestern recovered, however, and won on a day when the Wildcats clearly looked like the better team.
Northwestern: The Wildcats came close last weekend against Michigan and fully deserved this win. Northwestern had the right plan, throwing 47 passes against a Michigan State team that excels at stopping the run, and the Wildcats also were impressive defensively in the final quarter.
Michigan State: With plenty of returning starters from a team that won 10 games a season ago, the Spartans have been a disappointment so far. They’ve had injuries — running back LJ Scott and receiver Cody White were out Saturday — and both the offensive line and secondary now seem like real problems.
It’s hard to see Michigan State staying in the Top 25 after this double-digit loss at home.
Northwestern: The Wildcats host Nebraska next Saturday.
Michigan State: The Spartans play at Penn State next Saturday.
Source: The Associated Press