EVANSTON-Well, this Northwestern loss had no drama for a change.
No. 13 Michigan State rolled over Northwestern, 30-6, in a complete and thorough beatdown, sending the Wildcats to their seventh straight defeat.
Offensive game ball: Tony Jones. He was Trevor Siemian's go-to guy, finishing with seven catches for 59 yards to lead NU in both categories. Even against Michigan State's strong defense, Jones fought for extra yards on every play and broke several tackles while doing so. He was the only Northwestern receiver who found any consistent success creating space against the Spartan secondary.
Offensive big play: A 39-yard pass from Siemian to Dan Vitale. Down 14-3, Siemian dropped back to pass, and Vitale was left wide open over the middle after a blown coverage. Siemian's pass was a little behind him, but Vitale was still able to reel it in. He took it down to the MSU 8-yard line and set up a first-and-goal for the 'Cats. They only got a field goal out of it, but it was still the best play NU had all day.
Defensive game ball: There aren't a lot of stars when the other team gains 464 yards of total offense, but we'll split the award between safeties Jimmy Hall and Ibraheim Campbell. Hall led the team with 11 tackles and Campbell came up with 10 and a TFL.
Defensive big play: Again, it's slim pickings. Ifeadi Odenigbo came up with the only sack for the Cats, dropping Connor Cook for a 9-yard loss on third down to force a Spartan punt. The game was over by that point, but we'll take what we can get.
Turning point: There's no doubt about this one. Facing a third-and-5 from its own 13, Cook threw to Bennie Fowler down the sideline. Matthew Harris had good coverage, the ball bounced in the air, and Fowler plucked it out of the air at about midfield and took it all the way home for a 87-yard touchdown. That made the score 14-3 and knocked the wind out of NU's sails.
Questionable call: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald made a conservative call that is sure to be second-guessed in the second quarter. Trailing 7-3 and facing a fourth-and-6 from Michigan State's 37-yard line, the Wildcats appeared to be ready to take a risk with the wind at their backs. But Fitzgerald burned a timeout and then sent his punt team onto the field, and they gave the ball back to the Spartans at the 8. The plan blew up in his face three plays later, when Cook hit Fowler for the fluke 87-yard touchdown. In a close game for an 0-6 team looking for its first conference win, there didn't seem to be a good reason not to take a chance. But Fitzgerald's conservative tendencies prevailed, and Northwestern gave up an opportunity to grab the upper hand.
Stat of the day: 20 and 22. Those were the distances of Jeff Budzien two field goals and the only points of the day for Northwestern. The Wildcats reached the MSU 5- and 3-yard line and came away with just six points.
Stat of the day II: 95, Northwestern's total yards in the second half. The Wildcats racked up 224 yards in the first half, almost as much as MSU's No. 1 defense had been allowing per game all season (228.4). But the Spartans put the clamps on them in the second half and outscored Northwestern 16-0.
Unsung hero: Vitale. The superback had been a forgotten man these last few weeks, but he came up with five catches for 58 yards, as well as the 39-yard big play. He also carried the ball once for 8 yards on a sweep.
Atmosphere: Nothing unexpected. With freezing temperatures and ferocious winds, the student turnout was spotty at best. Thanks to Michigan State fans, however, the attendance at Ryan Field topped 40,000. While the tarp was over the northeast corner, a lot of green filled the area right next to it. As the game got out of hand, students and fans began filing out at a high rate. For most of the fourth quarter, it looked like the stands were only one-third full, and there were just a couple thousand in the West stands.