Wildcats hope for bowl bid after loss to MSU
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald felt the pain for his
departing seniors as they walked off Ryan Field for a final time. A
drizzly day became even more dismal after a 31-17 loss to No. 11
Michigan State in the regular-season finale, a defeat that left the
Wildcats hoping for a bowl bid with a 6-6 record.
”We’ll have those guys and their families to the house tonight,
but I won’t console them. I’m not a consoler, that’s not my
nature,” Fitzgerald said.
”I can’t stand it. It drives me crazy when we don’t win and it
drives me up a wall. I expect to win and I expect to win everything
we do. To not do that six times this year is disappointing. We have
a chance for a winning season and a chance to win a bowl game.
We’ll do everything we can to send these seniors off the right
With the score tied at 3-3 late in the first half, Northwestern
was driving when Treyvon Green fumbled after a hit by Max Bullough
and Michigan State’s Denzel Drone recovered at the Spartan 3 with
just over five minutes to go. Northwestern called a timeout –
hoping to have the play reviewed – but Michigan State retained
MSU then took off on a 97-yard drive – Kirk Cousins hit Brian
Linthicum for 15 yards and heaved a 46-yarder to Keshawn Martin
that carried to the NU 7. Le’Veon Bell then ran the final 7 yards
for a TD, completing an eight-play march that put the Spartans up
The Spartans defense then forced a Northwestern punt and Martin
fielded Brandon Williams’ boot, broke to his right, signaled to
blockers and sailed in from 57 yards for a score with 34 seconds
left in the half to make it 17-3. The two TDs came just 66 seconds
Cousins then threw two TD passes to B.J. Cunningham in the
second half as the Spartans (10-2, 7-1) fought off a Northwestern
”It’s tough. I thought we played decently well, but we can’t
turn the ball over going in to score,” Northwestern quarterback
Dan Persa said. ”I think we can regroup and take the positives
from the game and clean up the negatives and move on to our
Cousins threw a 33-yarder to Cunningham in the third quarter and
hit him again on a juggling 29-yard TD pass with 5:17 left to
complete a 93-yard drive. It was the 62nd career touchdown pass for
Cousins, breaking the school record held by Jeff Smoker (61).
”None of those touchdowns I threw by myself – I passed to
someone, I had an offensive lineman protecting me,” said Cousins,
who is 21-4 as starter the last two seasons. ”Any individual
records are a testament to the team and the more records we can
pile up shows how special the team has been.”
Michigan State is now on its way to the Big Ten championship
game – the Spartans had already clinched the berth before beating
Northwestern – and will play for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) closed to 24-17 early in the final
quarter on Persa’s 12-yard TD pass to Demetrius Fields, set up by a
clutch fourth-down pass from Persa to Jeremy Ebert.
The Wildcats got the ball back at the MSU 47, but a holding
penalty and Jerel Worthy’s sack of Persa forced a punt and then MSU
went on its long, game-clinching drive.
Northwestern had responded quickly to its 14-point deficit when
the second half began.
The Wildcats’ Drake Dunsmore got wide open on a blown coverage,
hauled in a Persa pass and raced downfield on a 69-yard play before
he knocked out at the 3. One play later, Persa flipped a 2-yard TD
to Jeremy Ebert and two minutes into the third quarter,
Northwestern was back in the game at 17-10.
But Cousins had a third-down keeper of 8 yards for a first down
to keep the Spartans moving. And then on a third-and-13 he rolled
out and avoided the rush before making a beautiful throw to
Cunningham for a 33-yard TD that made it 24-10.
Cousins completed 14 of 20 for 214 yards and Cunningham had six
catches for 120 yards. Persa completed 23 of 32 for 245 yards and
Northwestern lost senior defensive back Jordan Mabin to a right
shoulder injury in the first quarter and it was costly against the
Spartans’ talented passing attack and receivers.
”I’d like to say it was back-breaking or something like that,
but we’re confident in the depth we have on defense,” NU
linebacker Bryce McNaul said. ”Especially at other positions, you
can’t afford to worry about what’s going on somewhere else. You
have to focus on your little job. Having said that, unfortunately
we didn’t do that enough today.”