Recap: Michigan State's Walker has 4-TD debut in 38-21 win at Northwestern

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Michigan State is looking to get off to a hot start in the program's second year under head coach Mel Tucker. Follow along here for live updates in the Spartan opener vs. Northwestern from Nolan Bianchi of The Detroit News.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III, left, celebrates with running back Elijah Collins after scoring a touchdown against Northwestern during the first half.

Game recap

Kenneth Walker.

Learn the name, know it well. You'll be hearing a lot of it, and you'll be seeing it on the back of a jersey that's streaking for the end zone on Saturdays in East Lansing this season.

Just ask Northwestern, who saw Walker score four touchdowns and rush for 264 yards on 23 carries in his Michigan State debut as the Spartans rolled to a 38-21 victory in Evanston.

► Final leaders

Passing

MSU — Payton Thorne: 15/26, 185 yds., TD

NW — Hunter Johnson: 30/43, 283 yds., 3 TD

Rushing

MSU — Kenneth Walker III: 23 atts., 264 yds., 4 TD

NW — Evan Hull: 9 atts., 87 yds.

Receiving

MSU — Jayden Reed: 5 recs., 64 yds.

NW — Bryce Kirtz: 7 recs., 80 yds.

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 38, Northwestern 21

► Second-half highlights

The highlights section will be, to no surprise, Walker-heavy. That's certainly nothing to complain about — here he is putting the exclamation point on his Spartans debut with his fourth touchdown of the night after cutting up some defenders.

Walker's biggest run of the night was a 75-yard touchdown run on Michigan State's first play from scrimmage, but his second-best run of the night didn't land him in the end zone. Watch as Walker shakes a tackler near the line of scrimmage and breaks free for a 50-yard pickup in the fourth quarter.

You can find more clips from Walker's impressive debut, plus a nice run from Jordon Simmons and punt from Bryce Baringer in the first-half highlights. (Yes, this is a punter-friendly blog.)

Walker's fourth TD puts Michigan State up big

Michigan State recovers the onside kick from Northwestern and will take over, up 10, at its own 48 with 2:26 to go.

Michigan State is going with a tried and true approach on this drive: Just give the ball to Kenneth Walker.

Walker gets 4, Jayden Reed gets 12, and then Walker gets it again for a gain of 30 to the Northwestern 6. 

Can you guess who finishes this one off? It's Walker again, his fourth touchdown of the game, from 6 yards out.

Michigan State 38, Northwestern 21 (1:29 4th)

Northwestern runs the ball a handful of times, but this one's over. Spartans win big.

FINAL: Michigan State 38, Northwestern 21

Northwestern cuts Michigan State lead to 10 in fourth quarter

Harold Joiner gets the first carry of the drive, and he turns it over while taking a nasty hit. The shoulder of Coco Azema appeared to catch all of Joiner's head, prompting the ball loose. Northwestern recovers and will take over at the Michigan State 39.

Joiner is being evaluated in the concussion tent.

Evan Hull rushes for gains of 8 and 9 yards to set Northwestern up at the Michigan State 49, first-and-10.

Hunter Johnson completes an 8-yard throw and Hull picks up the first down with a 4-yard run.

Johnson hits Hull for 5 and Malik Washington for 4, before giving to Andrew Clair for a run that picks up 9. It's first-and-10 at the 14. 

Stephon Robinson Jr. makes a nice catch in the end zone to give Johnson his third touchdown pass of the game.

Michigan State 31, Northwestern 21 (2:27 4th)

Northwestern attempts to rack up points late, instead racks up penalties

Northwestern takes over at its own 20 with 6:04 on the clock and a 17-point deficit on the scoreboard.

The Wildcats take a delay-of-game penalty before a 2-yard pass and second-down incompletion, bringing up third-and-13: The play is executed, but thanks, in part, to a holding penalty. That'll bring up third-and-23, which earns Northwestern another holding penalty. This time, the Spartans decline. Fourth down.

Derek Adams' punt is fair caught at the Northwestern 47.

Michigan State 31, Northwestern 14 (4:57 4th)

Michigan State goes up three scores late in fourth

Northwestern has put some life into this football game, but will need a stop after making it 28-14, Michigan State, just moments ago.

The Spartans will take over at their own 22 with 11:10 left in the game.

Kenneth Walker has apparently decided that he wants to be personally responsible for this win, and adds to his impressive Michigan State debut with a 50-yard run on second down to the Northwestern 25.

After an injury timeout, Walker gets it again: He only gets 9. Bah hum bug. Walker is stuffed on second and third down for no gain, but the Spartans will go for it on fourth-and-inches. Walker has no time hitting the hole this time, as he bursts forward for a gain of 8.

It's first-and-goal at the Northwestern 8-yard-line, before a holding penalty turns it into first-and-goal from the 18.

Thorne throws out of the end zone on first down. A second-down run only picks up a few and Thorne is dropped for a loss of 4 on third down. 

Matt Coghlin's 37-yard field goal is through the uprights.

Michigan State 31, Northwestern 14 (6:04 4th)

Northwestern trims Michigan State lead to 14 in fourth

Northwestern takes over at its own 31 with 4:09 to go in the third quarter, down 28-7.

Evan Hull gets it to second-and-6 with a first-down carry and Hunter Johnson throws complete to Bryce Kirtz for a gain of 13 yards.

Hull is stuffed for no gain on first down, but Johnson again comes up firing for a gain of 8. It's third-and-2: Johnson takes off, evades a diving defender behind the line of scrimmage, and scampers out of bounds after a gain of 4 that keeps the drive alive.

On his next play, Johnson isn't so lucky: He's sacked for a loss of 6 on first down, bringing up second-and-9 at the Michigan State 42. Johnson gets 9 of those yards back with a second-down completion to Jacob Gill, and then stumps Trey Pugh for a gain of only 4 to bring up fourth-and-3.

We've reached the end of the third quarter.

END 3RD: Michigan State 28, Northwestern 7

Northwestern gets the conversion it needs on fourth down, as Johnson hits Malik Washington for a gain of 9 to the Michigan State 20.

Johnson's next pass is for a loss of 4, though. They get it back with a 4-yard run on second down but only pick up 5 on the third-down play. Northwestern will go for it again, this time on fourth-and-4.

Kirtz gets open on a quick slant route and hauls in the 6-yard reception. It'll be first-and-goal at the 9.

Johnson completes his next two passes, but both are only for a gain of 2. Trey Pugh finds a hole in Michigan State's zone and Johnson puts it right on his chest to cut the lead to two scores.

Michigan State 28, Northwestern 14 (11:17 4th)

Michigan State gets stumped quickly with chance to throw knockout punch

Michigan State takes over at the 18 with 5:39 to go. 

Kenneth Walker rushes for 3 and Jordon Simmons 5 on first and second down. Payton Thorne's third-down pass is rushed and falls incomplete.

Bryce Baringer's punt is downed at the Northwestern 31.

Michigan State 28, Northwestern 7 (4:09 3rd)

Northwestern comes up empty as chances slipping away

After the Michigan State touchdown to go up 28-7, Northwestern takes over at its own 25.

Hunter Johnson throws over the middle complete to Malik Washington for a gain of 19 to the Northwestern 44. 

The excitement doesn't last long: A sack loses 2 yards, an intentional grounding penalty loses more, and an incompletion on third down recoups none of it. The Wildcats will punt.

Jayden Reed fair catches the ball at his own 18.

Michigan State 28, Northwestern 7 (14:41 3rd)

It's Kenneth Walker's world; we're just living in it

Michigan State takes over at its own 20 with 11:09 left in the third and a 21-7 lead.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 3, Payton Thorne dumps off to Connor Heyward for 5, and Walker gets 9 for a new set of downs on third-and-2.

Thorne on first down throws complete to Tre Mosley for a 26-yard pickup that's cut down by a personal foul penalty on Michigan State after the play.

It'll be first-and-10 at the Michigan State 48 instead of first-and-10 at the Northwestern 37.

Two rushes for no gain set up third-and-10, which Thorne converts with a 13-yard pitch and catch to Jalen Nailor to the Northwestern 39.

Thorne picks up 11 more yards with a throw to Mosley and then 23 with a completion to Jayden Reed, setting up first-and-goal at the 5.

Thorne's first-down throw is incomplete, but Walker finishes the job with a dive to the pylon on second-and-goal for his third touchdown of the game.

Michigan State 28, Northwestern 7 (7:06 3rd)

Northwestern drives, misses field goal to open second half

Northwestern gets the ball to open the third quarter, trailing 21-7. The Wildcats could really use a scoring drive here after getting on the board to close the first half.

And they get that momentum in the form of running back Evan Hull, who takes the first snap out of the locker room for a 49-yard run to the Michigan State 20.

Hull then takes it 9 more yards on first-and-10. Malik Washington makes it first-and-goal at the 9 with a 2-yard run on the next play.

An illegal motion penalty sets up first-and-goal at the 14. Hull runs for 2, Johnson runs for 2, and then Johnson is sacked by Xavier Henderson for a loss of 10. What a terrific recovery by the Michigan State defense.

Charlie Kuhbander misses again, this time less dramatically, from 38 yards out. The Spartans will take over at the 20.

Michigan State 21, Northwestern 7 (11:26 3rd)

First half updates

Michigan State leads Northwestern at half, 21-7, in its season opener in Evanston. If you're just joining us, stay awhile and catch up on what you missed while we wait for the action to return.

► Halftime leaders

Passing

MSU — Payton Thorne: 9/16, 104 yds., TD

NW — Hunter Johnson: 13/22, 172 yds., TD

Rushing

MSU — Kenneth Walker III: 10 atts., 137 yds., 2 TD

NW — Anthony Tyus: 8 atts., 13 yds.

Receiving

MSU — Jayden Reed: 4 recs., 41 yds.

NW — Stephon Robinson Jr.: 3 recs., 60 yds.

►First-half highlights

Running back Kenneth Walker III, a Wake Forest transfer, didn't take long to get his Michigan State career rolling on Friday night. His first carry — Michigan State's first play from scrimmage this season — was housed for a 75-yard touchdown run.

You'll probably want to get used to hearing Walker's name. Moments later, he had his second career touchdown in green and white.

And how about some punter love? Michigan State's Bryce Baringer put out one of the best plays of Michigan State's half, pinning the Wildcats at their own 1-yard-line with a 41-yard punt in the opening quarter.

If there's one thing that Jordon Simmons wanted us to know, it's that Michigan State's running backs group won't be a one-man show. Here he is, putting the moves on a Northwestern defender after catching a screen to give the Spartans a 21-0 lead.

With moves like these, Big Ten Network might want to learn how to spell Jordon's name correctly — they'll likely be using it a lot.

Michigan State leads Northwestern 21-7 at half

Michigan State will take over at its own 25 with 0:58 left in the first half. The Spartans have one timeout in their pocket and are looking to extend their 21-7 lead before halftime.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 8 yards on first down. Payton Thorne hits Jalen Nailor on a route near the sideline that'll stop the clock and pick up 9 yards. It's first-and-10 at the Michigan State 41.

Thorne gets the ball to Jayden Reed, but he can't get to the sideline after only picking up 3 yards.

Timeout — Michigan State (0:18 2nd)

Thorne takes a deep shot to Nailor down the sideline on second-and-7, but the pass falls incomplete. 10 seconds left in the half.

Timeout — Northwestern (0:10 2nd)

Thorne suprisingly hands off to Walker, but it's a pretty well-executed plan: With everybody looking to defend a deep throw, Walker bounces ahead for 14 yards to the Northwestern 42 with 5 seconds left, and Michigan State clocks it with 2 seconds left.

Matt Coghlin is going to try a 60-yard field goal.

Timeout — Northwestern (0:02 2nd)

Coghlin's kick is short. Northwestern tries to return it, but the deep man doesn't get very far. That's the end of the first half.

END 2ND: Michigan State 21, Northwestern 7

Northwestern cuts into Michigan State lead before halftime

Northwestern needs to make a move soon. It takes over at its own 38-yard-line with 7:30 left in the second quarter.

Andrew Clair runs for 8 yards, then 1, and Hunter Johnson picks up the new set of downs with a 2-yard rush to the Northwestern 49.

Anthony Tyus is stuffed for a loss of 1 on second down, but Michigan State is flagged for offsides before the next play. Johnson completes a 5-yard pass on second-and-6 to set up a 4-yard run by Stephon Robinson that'll keep the chains moving.

First-and-10 at the Michigan State 38: Johnson throws complete to Charlie Mangieri for a 25-yard gain, and now Northwestern is cooking with gas. 

Tyus picks up 2 yards on first down as Johnson throws the ball away on second down. His third-down pass is complete, but only for a gain of 7. It's fourth-and-1 at the Michigan State 4, and the Wildcats are going for it — but not before Michigan State can call timeout.

Timeout — Michigan State (2:26 2nd)

Johnson picks up the first down with his feet, getting 2 yards to set up first-and-goal at the 2.

A direct snap to Tyus doesn't get the job done, and neither does a play-action rollout thrown to the corner of the end zone. Michigan State's defensive front doesn't budge on third down, as Tyus is stuffed up the middle for no gain.

Timeout — Northwestern (1:04 2nd)

Johnson rolls out again, but this time he finds the motion man right after making the turn. Trey Pugh is wide open and hauls in the fourth-down conversion to get Northwestern on the board.

Michigan State 21, Northwestern 7 (0:59 2nd)

Michigan State goes three-and-out up three scores

Michigan State can all but end the night for Northwestern with a score on this drive. The Spartans take over at their own 26, leading by 21 with 8:16 to go in the second quarter.

A pair of incompletions by Payton Thorne bookend a three-and-out for Michigan State. Harold Joiner also ran for a gain of 1.

Bryce Baringer's punt is downed at the Northwestern 38.

Michigan State 21, Northwestern 0 (7:30 2nd)

Northwestern struggling to find offensive rhythm in first half

Northwestern takes over at its own 25, trailing by 21 with 9:38 to go in the half.

Hunter Johnson misses on first down but completes to Evan Hull for a pickup of 16 on the next play to the Northwestern 41. 

Hull then runs it for a gain of 2, followed by two incomplete passes from Johnson. They will punt again.

Derek Adams' punt is downed at the Michigan State 26.

Michigan State 21, Northwestern 0 (8:16 2nd)

Michigan State jumps out to 21-0 lead in opener vs. Northwestern

Michigan State takes over at its own 34 with 10:52 left in the second and a 14-0 lead.

Jordon Simmons is stopped for a gain of 2 on first down. Payton Thorne then finds Tre Mosley for a pickup of 19 to the Northwestern 45.

Thorne takes off on first-and-10, picks up 16 yards to the Northwestern 29, and then gets an additional 15 for the late hit he took from Wildcat Chris Bergin.

It'll be first-and-10 at the Northwestern 15.

And that is, apparently, not enough of a challenge for the Spartans offense. Simmons takes a dump off and scores on the next play to put Michigan State up big.

Michigan State 21, Northwestern 0 (9:45 2nd)

Northwestern offense reeling after three-and-out

Northwestern needs to get something going on offense soon, but it doesn't appear that this will be the drive.

Anthony Tyus runs for 4 yards and then catches a pass for 1, bringing up third-and-5. Hunter Johnson tries to pick up the yards with his feet, but is dropped for no gain.

The punt is fair caught by Jayden Reed at the Michigan State 34.

Michigan State 14, Northwestern 0 (10:52 2nd)

Third-down sack rains on Michigan State's parade

Michigan State takes over at its own 39 to start the second quarter.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 4 yards, then 7, to give the Spartans a new set of downs at midfield.

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

Payton Thorne throws incomplete to Jalen Nailor, gets the penalty back with a 5-yard scramble on second down, but is then sacked for a loss of 7 on third down.

Bryce Baringer's punt goes for a touchback.

Michigan State 14, Northwestern 0 (12:58 2nd)

Northwestern can't overcome deep pinning, punts 

Northwestern takes over at its own 1, trailing 14-0 with 2:30 to go in the opening frame.

Hunter Johnson gives the Wildcats some breathing room with a 15-yard completion to Stephon Robinson, but immediately loses 6 yards on the next play wit ha fumble.

After an 8-yard completion to Bryce Kirtz, Northwestern comes up short on third-and-8. They'll punt, bringing us to the end of the first.

END 1ST: Michigan State 14, Northwestern 0

Spartans come up empty for first time

Michigan State gets it at its own 22 after stopping the Wildcats on fourth down.

Jayden Reed hauls in passes of 3 and 15 yards before Payton Thorne takes off for an 18-yard run. This ain't your grandad's Michigan State offense, folks.

A run for no gain by Jordon Simmons is sandwiched in between two Thorne incompletions on the next set of downs, forcing Michigan State to punt for the first time this season.

But the momentum stays on Michigan State's side: Bryce Baringer's punt is downed at the 1.

Michigan State 14, Northwestern 0 (2:30 1st)

Michigan State standing tall on defense

Northwestern continues to have trouble moving the ball, but converts third-and-9 with a 47-yard pass from Hunter Johnson to Stephon Robinson Jr. to the Michigan State 25.

Four straight incompletions, the final on fourth-and-7 from the 22, end the Northwestern drive.

Michigan State 14, Northwestern 0 (4:53 1st)

Michigan State's offense keeps rolling early

Michigan State takes over at the 26 with 11:39 to go in the first quarter.

Kenneth Walker is no longer on pace to score 60 touchdowns per game this season, as he gets the ball on first down and runs for a gain of 2. Connor Heyward gets his first touch of the season, taking a second-down reception for 16 yards to the MSU 44.

Jayden Reed gets 20 more yards for the Spartans with a reception on second-and-10.

Runs from Walker and Jordon Simmons bring up third-and-7, which Heyward converts with a 7-yard reception.

After a first-down incompletion at the Northwestern 26, Walker runs to the Northwestern 3-yard-line for a gain of 23, and punches it in on the next play. 

The Spartans lead by two scores.

Michigan State 14, Northwestern 0 (7:44 1st)

Northwestern misses field goal on opening drive

Northwestern takes over at its own 35 after an 11-yard kickoff return by Coco Azema.

The Wildcats gain a yard and then are tagged with a false start penalty. Hunter Johnson on third-and-14 finds Bryce Kirtz for a 41-yard reception to the Michigan State 28.

Anthony Tyus pushes ahead for gains of 4 and 2 on first and second down; Andrew Clair is stuffed for a loss of 4 on third down.

Charlie Kuhbander's 44-yard field goal attempt misses the mark by a dramatic margin. Michigan State will get it at the 26.

Michigan State 7, Northwestern 0 (11:39 1st)

Walker gets Michigan State off to scorching start

Michigan State takes over on offense for the first time this season at the Northwestern 25. Ahead of kickoff, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker named Payton Thorne, who started one game in 2020, as the Spartans' starting quarterback.

One play in, the Spartans have a 7-0 lead. Kenneth Walker took the handoff from Thorne and gassed it 75 yards to the house.

Michigan State 7, Northwestern 0 (14:43 1st)

Michigan State at Northwestern

► Kickoff: 9:15 p.m. Friday, Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois

► TV/radio: ESPN/WJR 760

► Records: Michigan State 0-0, Northwestern 0-0

► Line: Wildcats by 3.5