Sunday, December 5, 2021

HALFTIME: MSU 17, Northwestern 6, takeaways as Spartans lead in East Lansing

November 28, 2020
MSU stadium houses the first Spartan football game of the season on Oct. 24, 2020. Cardboard cutouts of fans seen in the stands.
MSU stadium houses the first Spartan football game of the season on Oct. 24, 2020. Cardboard cutouts of fans seen in the stands. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

After one half of play Michigan State leads No. 8 (in CFP ratings) and No. 11 (in AP ratings) Northwestern 17-6. The lead comes after strong defensive play on crucial fourth downs and big plays in the passing game from the Michigan State offense. 

Michigan State caught fire after a huge tackle for loss by MSU linebacker Antjuan Simmons on fourth down stopped Northwestern, who was in field goal range. The Spartans took advantage and the following play quarterback Rocky Lombardi found wide receiver Jalen Nailor for a 75-yard touchdown pass.

On the fourth down of the following drive for the Wildcats, MSU's defensive back Shakur Brown intercepted a pass from Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey and took it inside Northwestern’s 15. The Spartans would capitalize with a field goal.

After forcing a three and out on the next drive, the Spartans completed their longest drive of the season, pushing the lead to three scores with Jayden Reed hauling in a touchdown catch on third down inside the 20 to throw a huge punch to start the game.

Here are three quick takeaways from the first half.

1. This Michigan State defense came to play

Northwestern began their first drive in a similar fashion as teams like Rutgers and Indiana did in their wins against the Spartans earlier this year. The MSU defense was able to hold for a fourth down where Simmons burst through the seam to take down Isaiah Bowser for a tackle for loss.

Michigan State, on Northwestern’s following two drives, put the offense in a great spot to make plays, and the offense, for the first time all season, came through. 

This Michigan State defense, all season with exception to the Iowa game, has been stout time and time again making plays, but the offense never seemed to capitalize.

Angelo Grose, as a true freshman, and Brown have also been making huge plays in the secondary with Brown’s interception and with Grose laying out Northwestern’s wide receivers with big hits and even rushing the quarterback to force incompletions.

This Spartans defense hasn’t stopped playing all year, and that’s why they are in the position they are in right now.

2. Lombardi is the right choice for today’s game

Northwestern brought in one of the best defenses in the country with an emphasis on slowing down the run game. Northwestern has a stout front seven that has wreaked havoc for offensive lines all season.

Testing the secondary was the way to open up the Northwestern defense. 

Lombardi’s success against a weak Michigan secondary this season was letting it fly to his talented wide receiver core, and it has worked against the Wildcats today after hitting Nailor to take the lead early.

That pass opened up the Northwestern defense and opened it up on their next touchdown drive to put the Spartans up 17-0 as the run game for the first time all season showed life. 

Lombardi was the right choice for today.

3. Northwestern’s opening two drives on offense is exactly why you always take the points

Two failed fourth down conversions resulted in 10 quick points for the Spartans with a Michigan State offense that has only scored seven combined points in their last two games.

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With a defense this good for the Wildcats and an offense for Michigan State that has looked horrid all year long, this sequence of calls by the Northwestern coaching staff baffled me.

Instead of being up early on Michigan State, even with two field goals, the Wildcats were down 17-0.

Now, the Northwestern offense who has been efficient, but not spectacular had to play from behind and make plays to get back in it.

This is why you always take the points, especially early on in the game.


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