Nov. 17, 2012
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Site: East Lansing, Mich. (Spartan Stadium)
Score: Northwestern 23, Michigan State 20
Records: NU (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten), Michigan State (5-6, 2-5 Big Ten)
Next NU Event: Saturday, Nov. 24 vs. Illinois 11 a.m. Evanston, Ill.
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EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Northwestern's defense forced four turnovers and made nine total pass breakups Saturday at Michigan State to help the Wildcats secure a bruising 23-20 Legends Division road win over the Spartans.
The victory is the first for Northwestern (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) against Michigan State since the 2007 campaign and allows NU to claim a .500 or better record away from Ryan Field for the fifth straight season (3-2 in 2012).
NU's four turnovers came via two fumbles and two interceptions, and were its most since forcing that number in back-to-back games during the 2010 season against Illinois State and at Rice.
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Aside from a brief spell early in the third quarter, the game was a defensive struggle that saw NU twice keep the hosts off the scoreboard with stops inside its own 1-yard line. Offensively, NU quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian each completed 13 passes for a combined total of 246 yards. Their prime target was true freshman superback Dan Vitale, who obliterated his previous career highs with nine catches for 110 yards, making him the first NU superback to top 100 receiving yards since Drake Dunsmore on Oct. 29, 2011.
Junior place-kicker Jeff Budzien accounted for the game-winning points with his fourth-quarter field goal, one of three on the day for the Lou Groza Award semifinalist. Budzien is now 15-of-16 on field goal tries this year and 4-of-5 from 40 yards or longer.
Northwestern moved the ball well on its opening drive of the game, with Colter completing all six of his pass attempts on the series and also adding a 22-yard run. Michigan State's defense managed to halt the drive inside its own 10-yard line, setting up Budzien's 24-yard field goal.
Michigan State appeared poised to get on the scoreboard on its second drive, but quarterback Andrew Maxwell fumbled on a QB keeper play on the NU 1-yard line, turning the ball over to the Wildcats. But the Spartans did notch their first points two plays later, when Colter was sacked in the end zone for an MSU safety.
With the score set at 3-2 Northwestern, Michigan State took the ensuing kickoff after the safety and moved into the red zone, but a pair of Maxwell incompletions put an end to the series. MSU's Dan Conroy came on to convert a 34-yard field goal and put the hosts in front, 5-3.
After an NU three-and-out, the Spartans relied on their ground game to assemble a 13-play drive down to the Northwestern 1-yard line. The Wildcats defense dug in, however, stopping Le'Veon Bell short on third down before drilling Bell in the backfield on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to regain possession on downs.
But the Wildcats defense was far from done in the half, forcing a three-and-out on the next MSU possession that ended with an 11-yard pass sack by freshman Dean Lowry down to the Spartans' 1-yard line. In total, the 'Cats defense held a talented Michigan State running attack to 47 yards on 21 carries (2.2 yards per rush) over the opening two quarters.
Siemian came on for the first time to lead the Wildcats into field goal range, where Budzien connected once again from 43 yards to restore a 6-5 Northwestern lead. The Spartans threatened in the waning seconds of the first half, but Conroy missed wide left from 37 yards to send NU into the locker rooms with a one-point advantage.
Senior LB David Nwabuisi delivered the first big blow of the second half when he recorded his third career interception and returned it 43 yards to the house to give NU a 13-5 advantage. Safety Ibraheim Campbell drilled Maxwell in the act of throwing to set up Northwestern's first INT return for a touchdown since Jordan Mabin accomplished the feat in the 2011 TicketCity Bowl vs. Texas Tech.
The Spartans responded by driving 65 yards in eight plays, the last of which was a 15-yard TD strike from Maxwell to Aaron Burbridge. MSU converted the ensuing two-point conversion to pull level at 13 apiece.
Northwestern came right back to regain the lead as Colter and Siemian took turns under center for the 'Cats. Siemian entered the game midway through the drive and fired back-to-back completions of 24 and 13 yards to Dan Vitale to land NU at the 6-yard line. Colter returned and hit another superback, Tim Riley, on a bootleg for a Northwestern touchdown and a 20-13 Wildcats lead.
It was Riley's second career touchdown and his first since last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas in Houston.
Northwestern recorded two more takeaways in the third quarter but failed to put points on the board either time and went to the fourth quarter still leading, 20-13. After MSU tied the game early in the period, Siemian drove the Wildcats back into the Spartan red zone, helped in large part by a 41-yard completion to Vitale that put the freshman over 100 yards receiving. The drive would stall, leading to Budzien's third field goal of the day to put NU back on top, 23-20.
Northwestern's defense made that lead stand up, thanks to NU's fourth takeaway of the game courtesy of Jared Carpenter's first career interception. A late MSU drive into NU territory stalled when freshman Drew Smith launched himself into the backfield for a big 7-yard sack. The Spartans would get the ball back for one final drive, but NU made four-straight pass breakups -- including first- and fourth-down plays from Carpenter -- to end the game.
Damien Proby led NU's defense with 12 tackles followed by Campbell with 11 stops, a forced fumble and recovery, an INT-causing hit on Maxwell and two pass breakups.
Junior RB Venric Mark saw his streak of four straight 100-yard rushing games come to an end after leaving the game in the first quarter due to an upper extremity injury.
Next week, Northwestern closes out the 2012 regular season when it hosts rival Illinois at 11 a.m. CT Saturday. The Wildcats will honor the 22 members of the winningest senior class in Northwestern Football history in their final appearance at Ryan Field.
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