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Recap: Michigan State pulls off upset against No. 8 Northwestern, 29-20

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Game summary

Here's to hoping that Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker gave thanks for defensive back Shakur Brown while at the dinner table on Thursday, because the junior cornerback picked off two passes for the Spartans in a 29-20 upset of No. 8 Northwestern that handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season.

Final leaders

Passing

MSU - Rocky Lombardi: 11/27, 167 yds., 2 TD, Int.

NU - Peyton Ramsey: 21/43, 210 yds., 2 Int.

Rushing

MSU - Connor Heyward: 24 att., 96 yds.

NU - Drake Anderson: 10 att., 41 yds.

Receiving

MSU - Jalen Nailor: 1 rec., 75 yds., TD

NU - Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman: 8 rec., 54 yds.

Michigan State ices No. 8 Northwestern

Michigan State gets it back with the chance to finish off Northwestern. It's first-and-10 at the 38 with 2:57 to go, and the Spartans clinging to a 3-point lead.

Connor Heyward rushes for 2 yards on first down.

Timeout #1 Northwestern (2:51 4th)

Heyward gets no gain on second down.

Timeout #2 Northwestern (2:45 4th)

Rocky Lombardi tucks it and runs on third down, moving the chains with his feet on a 10-yard gain. First-and-10 at the Michigan State 48.

Heyward rushes for 2 yards on first down. 

Timeout #3 Northwestern (2:04 4th)

Northwestern is out of timeouts, so even if the Spartans can't move the chains once more, they should be in pretty good position to close this one out after two more run plays to keep the clock moving. A first down will end this thing, though.

Heyward loses a yard then gains a yard. The Spartans will punt.

Timeout #1 Michigan State (0:32 4th)

Timeout #2 Michigan State (0:32 4th)

Northwestern's Riley Lees returns it to the 19. Just 0:25 on the clock. Northwestern needs a field goal to tie it.

Peyton Ramsey's first-down pass falls incomplete, and loses 10 seconds because of an intentional grounding penalty. 5 seconds left after another incompletion. Last pass misses, as does the lateral attempt.

Michigan State recovers a fumble in the end zone to cap off the win.

FINAL: Michigan State 29, Northwestern 20

Huge stop puts Spartans in prime position for upset

Northwestern takes over at the 22 with 3:30 remaining. Michigan State leads, 23-20.

Peyton Ramsey's first-down throw is incomplete, and he's forced to throw it away on second down. Ramsey is flushed from the pocket on third down, chucks it to the opposite side of the field, and Xavier Henderson nearly rips it from the hands of Riley Lees cleanly for an interception.

It's initially ruled an interception, but the play was overturned after it was decided that the ball hit the ground. It's fourth-and-10.

Northwestern punts it away.

Michigan State 23, Northwestern 20 (2:57 4th)

Shakur Brown's second interception of game helps Michigan State to 3-point lead

Northwestern takes over at its own 30. 

Isaiah Bowser rushes for 3 yards. Peyton Ramsey's next pass is incomplete and the third-down throw is intercepted by Shakur Brown at the 50, his second interception of the game.

Injury alert: Northwestern WR Berkeley Holman was hurt on the play and is being loaded onto a stretcher. Scary situation playing out here.

Michigan State 20, Northwestern 20 (6:22 4th)

Michigan State takes over at midfield. 

Rocky Lombardi's first-down throw is broken up. Connor Heyward is wrapped up for no gain on second down. Lombardi takes off on third down for a gain of 12 to keep the drive alive.

Lombardi's next throw is defended. Elijah Collins gets 6 on second down. The quarterback draw doesn't work on this third down, and Lombardi is wrapped up for a gain of 1.

Matt Coghlin nails a 48-yard field goal to put the Spartans back out front.

Michigan State 23, Northwestern 20 (3:35 4th)

Three-and-outs reigning supreme in fourth quarter

Michigan State takes over at its own 21 after getting a three-and-out on defense. The Spartans are tied with Northwestern, 20-20, with 8:22 to go in the fourth quarter.

Rocky Lombardi on first down throws a 2-yard completion. Connor Heyward rushes for 4 on second down. Jayden Reed drops the third-down throw. This is Big Ten football at its finest, folks.

Michigan State 20, Northwestern 20 (6:54 4th)

Spartans defense gets big stop after Coghlin field goal

Peyton Ramsey and the Northwestern offense pick up just 6 yards before being forced to punt the ball back to Michigan State.

Michigan State 20, Northwestern 20 (8:22 4th)

Michigan State ties game after each team turns ball over

Michigan State takes over at the 25, trailing for the first time today.

Rocky Lombardi's first pass goes for a gain of 8, but after failing to convert on second down, he throws an interception right to a Northwestern linebacker.

Northwestern 20, Michigan State 17 (13:19 4th)

Kyric Mcgowan fumbles on the first play of Northwestern's drive, and Michigan State will get it back at the Michigan State 47.

Northwestern 20, Michigan State 17 (13:15 4th)

Connor Heyward crosses into Northwestern territory with a 7-yard run on first down. He gets 1 more on second down. Jalen Nailor makes a terrific catch on an underthrown ball on third down, a 20-yard completion to make it first-and-10 at the 25 of Northwestern.

Heyward rushes for a yard on first down and loses 2 yards on a second-down completion. Lombardi throws it away on third down.

Matt Cohglin ties the game with a 44-yard field goal.

Michigan State 20, Northwestern 20 (10:11 4th)

Northwestern takes first lead of game after trailing 17-0 in first

Northwestern takes over at the 37 of Michigan State, trailing by 4 with 2:28 to go in the third quarter.

Peyton Ramsey rushes for 4 on first down and Isaiah Bowser loses a yard on second. The two connect on third down for an 11-yard reception to move the chains.

Ramsey rushes for no gain on first down and loses 2 yards on second down. We'll have third-and-12 when we return to start the fourth.

END 4TH: Michigan State 17, Northwestern 13

Ramsey floats one over the middle on third-and-12 to Riley Lees for what looked like a relatively easy completion. It's first-and-goal at the 5.

Ramsey keeps for a 2-yard gain on first down as Cam Porter punches it in from 3 yards out on the very next play. Northwestern has its first lead of the day.

Northwestern 20, Michigan State 17 (13:54 4th)

Spartans offense screeching to halt in second half

Elijah Collins rushes for 3 on first down and 5 on second down. Rocky Lombardi's stopped for no gain on third-and-2. 

To make matters worse, Michigan State is flagged for kick-catch interference on the punt. Northwestern will get it at the Spartans 37.

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 13 (2:28 3rd)

Michigan State makes another stop, gets ball back for struggling offense

Northwestern takes over at the 20, trailing 17-13 with 6:59 to go in the third quarter.

Drake Anderson picks up 11 over two carries to start the drive, making it first-and-10 at the 31.

It's second-and-5 for Northwestern after an incompletion and an offsides penalty. Anderson goes to the left sideline, reverses field, runs to the right-side edge and picks up 7 to move the chains. 

Ramsey is sacked for a loss of 3, then throws an 8-yard completion to bring up third-and-5. The third-down throw is dropped by Berkele Holman.

Michigan State gets pinned at the 6 on the punt.

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 13 (4:04 3rd)

Michigan State punts from Northwestern territory

Michigan State takes over at the 25.

Connor Heyward gets 3 and 4 yards to start the drive. Rocky Lombardi hits Jalen Nailor on third down for a gain of 4 yards that moves the chains.

Jayden Reed then gets open and hauls in a 21-yard pass from Lombardi to the Northwestern 43, and the Spartans are in business.

Or, they were. Lombardi loses a yard on first down, Heyward gets 5 on second down, but Lombardi's third-down incompletion ends the drive.

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 13 (6:59 3rd)

Northwestern cuts Michigan State lead to 17-13 to open third quarter

Peyton Ramsey throws completions of 16 and 27 yards to start the half, getting to the Michigan State 40.

Ramsey is sacked for a loss of 4 on the next play. Isaiah Bowser picks up 7 on second down. Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman hauls in a 12-yard reception to keep the drive alive.

Riley Lees throws a wide-receiver pass to Andrew Marty for a gain of 12 to the Michigan State 5.

Bowser rushes for 4 yards on first down and no yards on second down. Ramsey is stuffed for no gain on third down.

Ramsey punches it in on fourth down, and it's a one-score game.

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 13 (10:39 3rd)

Michigan State maintains 17-6 lead to close first half

Michigan State takes over at the 14 with 6:29 to go in the half. The Spartans will look to extend their 17-6 lead before heading to the locker room.

Connor Heyward rushes for 3 on first down and 12 on second down, as it's now first-and-10 at the 28.

Rocky Lombardi takes off on the naked boot and picks up 7 before stepping out of bounds. Heyward moves the chains with a 6-yard run on second down. 

Lombardi loses 4 yards on a first-down QB-keeper. Collins loses another yard on second down. On third-and-15, Lombardi takes a quarterback draw for a gain of 21 yards to keep the drive alive. What a run by Lombardi.

Lombardi's rushed into an incompletion on first down, but Heyward scoops 9 on second down, then 2 more on third down. 

It's first-and-10 at the Northwestern 32.

Collins loses 3 yards on a first-down run.

Timeout #1 Michigan State (1:18 2nd)

Lombardi throws incomplete on second down, setting up a 3-yard run by Heyward on third down.

Timeout #3 Northwestern (1:04 2nd)

Matt Coghlin misses the 49-yard field goal by a hair.

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 6 (0:59 2nd)

Northwestern takes over at the 32.

Peyton Ramsey hits Kyric Mcgowan for 4 and Riley Lees for 9. First down at the Northwestern 45.

Ramsey throws for 9 and 3, moving the chains yet again to the Michigan State 43.

Ramsey misses his next two passes and gets sacked on third down, as Northwestern will let the clock run out to end the half.

END 2ND: Michigan State 17, Northwestern 6

Northwestern held to field goal as Michigan State maintains two-score lead

Northwestern takes over at the Michigan State 44.

Drake Anderson rushes for 5 yards on first down. After a second-down incompletion, Kyric McGowan hauls in a 19-yard reception to the Michigan State 32. The Wildcats are in business.

Ramsey's next two passes fall incomplete, bringing up third-and-10. A pass to Riley Lees on third down is incomplete, but draws a pass interference call on the Spartans.

It's first-and-10 at the Michigan State 17. 

Ramsey throws incomplete after a 3-yard run by Anderson, bringing up third-and-7. Ramsey again goes to the left corner of the end zone, and again fails to complete the throw.

Timeout #2 Northwestern (6:38 2nd)

Charlie Kuhbander hits the 32-yard field goal.

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 6 (6:35 2nd)

Northwestern gets big stop halfway through second quarter

Michigan State takes over at its own 25 after the Northwestern field goal. The Spartans lead 17-3 with 11:02 to go in the half.

Elijah Collins rushes for 2 yards on first and second down, each. Rocky Lombardi on third-and-6 hits Tyler Hunt for a gain of 15 that'll make it first-and-10 at the Michigan State 40.

Collins is stopped for no gain on first down. Heyward picks up 5 on a second-down reception. Lombardi's pass on third down hits off the hands of his intended target, falls incomplete.

Timeout #1 Northwestern (8:26 2nd)

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 3 (8:26 2nd)

Northwestern gets on board with field goal, trials 17-3

Northwestern takes over at the 25, down 17-0 early in the second quarter.

Peyton Ramsey throws complete to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for a gain of 5 on first down. Isaiah Bowser rushes for 7 yards on second down to move the chains.

A false-start penalty makes it first-and-15.

Ramsey's throw on first down is complete for no gain. His second-down throw is broken up in the secondary. A 24-yard completion to Berkele Holman on third down keeps the drive alive into Michigan State territory at the 44.

Ramsey throws incomplete on first and third down as Riley Lees picks up 3 on second down, bringing up fourth-and-7. Northwestern lines up to go for it and gets Michigan State to jump, making it fourth-and-2: Northwestern converts with a 5-yard completion to Kyric McGowan.

Ramsey throws a 3-yard completion on first down. Bowser rushes for 4 yards on second down. A third-down incompletion will bring on the field-goal unit. 

The 42-yard field goal attempt is good, and Northwestern is on the board.

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 3 (11:02 2nd)

Michigan State takes 17-0 lead on first play of second quarter

Rocky Lombardi and Michigan State take over at the 15.

The first-down pass to Tre Mosley is incomplete. Connor Heyward rushes for 6 on second down. Lombardi rushes for 9 and a new first down on third-and-4.

Michigan State takes a holding penalty on first down, bringing up first-and-20. Heyward rushes for 8 yards on first down and 10 on second down, and Elijah Collins moves the sticks with a 4-yard run on third-and-2.

Collins gets it on the next play, finding a hole and getting to the Northwestern 45 for a pickup of 13 yards.

Lombardi misses on his next three throws, but gets a pass interference call on the third. It'll be first-and-10 at the Northwestern 30.

Lombardi rushes for 10 yards on first down to keep the chains moving.

Connor Heyward gets 4 and Elijah Collins gets one, as we'll play third-and-5 after the intermission.

END 1ST: Michigan State 17, Northwestern 0 

Lombardi drops a dime for Jayden Reed in the end zone on third down, and the Spartans have a three-score lead.

Michigan State 17, Northwestern 0 (14:55 2nd)

Michigan State defense forces three-and-out after touchdown

Northwestern takes over at the 28, down 10-0 in the first.

Drake Anderson gets 5 yards on first down, 3 on second down, and is stopped for no gain on third-and-2. Northwestern punts.

Michigan State 10, Northwestern 0 (5:39 1st)

Shakur Brown's interception gives Michigan State 10-0 lead

Northwestern takes over at the 35 after a nice kickoff return.

Isaiah Bower rushes for 5 yards on first down. A 12-yard completion on the next play makes it first-and-10 at the Michigan State 48.

Peyton Ramsey rushes for 6 yards on first down. Ramsey's second-down throw is incomplete, and he's stopped for no gain on third down. Shakur Brown intercepts the fourth-down pass and returns it 54 yards to Northwestern's 11. What a start for the Spartans.

Michigan State 7, Northwestern 0 (8:24 1st)

Elijah Collins rushes for 3 yards on first down and 3 more on second down. Rocky Lombardi's third-down throw to Jalen Nailor is broken up.

Matt Coghlin hits a 22-yard field goal to put the Spartans up by double digits.

Michigan State 10, Northwestern 0 (7:06 1st)

Spartans take first lead of game on 75-yard touchdown pass

Michigan State takes over at its own 19 in a scoreless game.

Connor Heyward rushes for 6 yards on first down. Rocky Lombardi drops back and throws a bomb down the sideline to Jalen Nailor on second down, and it's caught for a 75-yard Michigan State touchdown. That's a heck of a start for the Spartans.

Michigan State 7, Northwestern 0 (10:34 1st)

Northwestern stopped on fourth down in Spartan territory

Northwestern takes over at its own 40. 

Drake Anderson on first down rushes for 8 yards. Peyton Ramsey rushes for 5 on second down. 

A 20-yard completion to Kyric Mcgowan moves the Wildcats into Spartan territory.

The Spartans force three straight plays without positive yardage after allowing a 9-yard run on first down, and the Spartans get a turnover on downs.

Michigan State 0, Northwestern 0 (11:15 1st)

Michigan State goes three-and-out on opening drive

The Spartans take over at the 25 to start the game. Rocky Lombardi is at quarterback for Michigan State.

Rocky Lombardi throws incomplete on first and third down after completing a 2-yard pass on second down, and Michigan State will punt it away on the opening drive.

Michigan State 0, Northwestern 0 (14:10 1st)

Pregame

A year ago, Michigan State rolled past Northwestern to snap a three-game losing skid in the series, and provide head coach Mark Dantonio a record-setting victory.

The Spartans finished last season with a 7-6 record, while the Wildcats were 3-9, registered a lone Big Ten victory.

Running back Elijah Collins (24) and Michigan State play host to No. 11 Northwestern on Saturday.

Times certainly have changed as the two teams meet today at Spartan Stadium.

Michigan State is 1-3 in its first season under new head coach Mel Tucker, after Dantonio retired as the Spartans' all-time winningest coach. Northwestern, meanwhile, has roared to a 5-0 start and No. 11 ranking, seemingly in the driver's seat to win the Big Ten West.

Northwestern has done it with a defense that ranks second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally, while Michigan State has struggled offensively, scoring seven points combined in its last two games. The Spartans are coming off an open week, after Maryland had to cancel last week to address a COVID-19 outbreak in the program, and appears unsettled at quarterback.

Follow along here for live updates.

No. 11 Northwestern at Michigan State

Kickoff: 3:30 today, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ESPN/760

Records: Northwestern 5-0, Michigan State 1-3

Line: Northwestern by 13.5