Northwestern at Michigan State

Northwestern rolls past Michigan State 54-40

By NOAH TRISTER
AP Sports Writer
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Just over a month after being held to single digits by an FCS team, Northwestern has solved a lot of problems offensively.

Justin Jackson rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and the Wildcats moved the ball almost at will after a slow start, beating Michigan State 54-40 on Saturday night to hand the Spartans their fourth straight defeat.

Clayton Thorson threw for 281 yards and three TDs for the Wildcats, who rallied from an early 14-0 deficit. Michigan State (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten) is now mired in its longest losing streak in coach Mark Dantonio's 10 seasons at the helm.

Northwestern has won three of four since starting the season with losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. The Wildcats managed only seven points against Illinois State, but that seems like a long time ago now that they've scored 38 against Iowa and 54 on the defending Big Ten champions.

''Our guys have really been grinding,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ''Earlier in the year we weren't a very good team. ... We could either pout and feel sorry for ourselves and start to point fingers, or we could just stay on the grind and keep the pedal down.''

The Spartans hadn't lost four in a row since 2006, and this was the most points they'd allowed since a 56-21 loss to Wisconsin in 2003.

Northwestern held Michigan State to 3 yards of offense in the second quarter.

''There's no easy fix,'' Dantonio said.

The Spartans made a change at quarterback for this game, starting redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke instead of Tyler O'Connor, but Michigan State's problems extend well beyond one position.

The Spartans went back to O'Connor in the third quarter, and he threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns, but Michigan State couldn't stop Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) with any consistency.

Solomon Vault returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to put the Wildcats up 40-31, and the Spartans never made it closer after that.

Michigan State is off to its worst start after six games since 1994, when the Spartans were 2-4 and later forfeited away the wins.

TAKEAWAYS

Northwestern: The Wildcats have to be encouraged by the ease with which they shrugged off an early deficit Saturday, and although the secondary was beaten for a couple long touchdowns in the second half, Northwestern will win its share of games if it can keep creating big holes for Jackson.

''It was a good one today, but I think we're just showing what we can do,'' Thorson said. ''Passing the ball, running the ball, everything.''

Michigan State: Dantonio shook things up by starting Lewerke at quarterback, then watched his defense give up so many yards and points it didn't really matter who was throwing passes for Michigan State. The Spartans were a mess on defense and still don't block well enough on offense to put together many sustained drives.

''It's almost like everybody's at a loss for words,'' O'Connor said. ''We feel like we've been saying everything that we think we need to fix and working as hard as we can to fix it, and everybody understands that we need to get better.''

O'Connor did do his best to reclaim the quarterback spot with his work late in the game.

NEW FACE

Lewerke had attempted only four passes this season before becoming the first Michigan State freshman to start at quarterback since Stephen Reaves in 2004. Lewerke opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Price in the first quarter, but the offense bogged down again in the second.

Dantonio was noncommittal about his quarterback situation afterward.

''I thought both guys obviously did some good things, and both guys obviously did some things they'd like to have back,'' Dantonio said. ''So we'll look at it and evaluate it.''

TOUGH START

Michigan State took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter when Justin Layne scored on a 43-yard interception return. That was the last touchdown the Spartans scored for a while.

''We knew that they were going to try and knock us out early. Their backs are against the wall,'' Fitzgerald said. ''We basically got what we expected, and it was disappointing with our start, but I really loved the way our guys responded. We didn't flinch.''

UP NEXT

Northwestern: The Wildcats host Indiana next weekend.

Michigan State: The Spartans play at Maryland on Saturday night. If you don't count games forfeited from 1994, the last time Michigan State lost five games in a row within one season was when the Spartans dropped their first five in 1991.

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC is strictly prohibited.
 

Related Video

 
Scoring Summary
MICHSTJosiah Price 15 yd pass from Brian Lewerke (Michael Geiger kick)
MICHSTJustin Layne 43 yd interception return (Michael Geiger kick)
NWESTJustin Jackson 29 yd run (Jack Mitchell kick)
MICHSTMichael Geiger 41 yd FG
NWESTAustin Carr 9 yd pass from Clayton Thorson (Jack Mitchell kick)
NWESTTeam safety
NWESTJack Mitchell 33 yd FG
NWESTFlynn Nagel 57 yd pass from Clayton Thorson (Jack Mitchell kick)
NWESTClayton Thorson 9 yd run (Jack Mitchell kick)
MICHSTR.J. Shelton 59 yd pass from Tyler O'Connor (Michael Geiger kick)
MICHSTR.J. Shelton 86 yd pass from Tyler O'Connor (Michael Geiger kick)
NWESTSolomon Vault 95 yd kick return (Jack Mitchell kick)
NWESTJustin Jackson 26 yd run (Jack Mitchell kick)
MICHSTDonnie Corley 9 yd pass from Tyler O'Connor (failed 2pt pass)
NWESTAustin Carr 29 yd pass from Clayton Thorson (Jack Mitchell kick)
MICHSTMichael Geiger 35 yd FG
 
Team Stats
 NWESTMICHST
First Downs2618
Third Down Efficiency10-195-16
Fourth Down Efficiency1-10-1
Plays-Net Yards86-49065-475
Rushes-Yds51-20923-51
Passing Yds281424
Kick Return Yds13270
Punt Return Yds1231
Passes27-35-127-42-1
Punts6-2145-231
Fumbles-Lost0-01-1
Penalties-Yds4-255-34
Time of Poss.35:3424:26
 
Individual Stats
RUSHING
NWEST: Justin Jackson 34-188, John Moten IV 8-12, Clayton Thorson 5-12, Solomon Vault 1-1, Team 3--4
MICHST: Brian Lewerke 7-30, LJ Scott 3-25, Madre London 3-6, Gerald Holmes 5-5, Donnie Corley 1-5, Tyler O'Connor 4--20
PASSING
NWEST: Clayton Thorson 27-35-281-1
MICHST: Tyler O'Connor 13-21-281-1, Brian Lewerke 12-19-99-0, R.J. Shelton 2-2-44-0
RECEIVING
NWEST: Austin Carr 11-130, Flynn Nagel 5-81, Justin Jackson 4-10, Andrew Scanlan 2-32, Macan Wilson 2-15, Solomon Vault 2-8, Garrett Dickerson 1-5
MICHST: R.J. Shelton 7-190, Donnie Corley 5-73, Josiah Price 4-52, Jamal Lyles 3-39, LJ Scott 2-2, Delton Williams 1-22, Felton Davis III 1-15, Prescott Line 1-12, Monty Madaris 1-7, Trishton Jackson 1-7, Gerald Holmes 1-5
 
Standings
TeamStandingsConferenceOverall
Northwestern1st Big Ten West0-00-0
Michigan State1st Big Ten East0-00-0

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