EAST LANSING – As Michigan State found out in their second loss of the season, sometimes a game plan is hard to overcome.
On Northwestern's first offensive play, they ran a screen pass and set the tone for the afternoon. With quick-hit dives, three-step drops, swing passes and boatloads of bubble screens, Northwestern dinked and dunked the Spartans into a lull, battling to a 20-13 halftime lead.
Then, in the second half, the Wildcats found some seams in a softened Michigan State secondary. NU Quarterback C.J. Bacher connected with three different receivers for passes of 78, 70 and 52 yards after the midway point.
"It was a good game-plan," Kaleb Thornhill said after the game. But he wouldn't pass the buck. "It was on us," Thornhill said. "We have to make more plays, we have to get off the field on third down, and if we do that we win the game. We've got to work on that this week."
For the day, Northwestern went 13-19 on third downs and wore down the Spartan defense with a 35:46 to 24:14 edge in time of possession.
"We've got to put the third downs up," Jonal Saint-Dic said. "Stopped them on first down, on second down, they couldn't run the ball on us," he said, explaining the root of the problem came later. "It was pretty much third down situations."
Spartan defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi took it further. "Defensively . . . we couldn't stop anybody," he said after the game. "I don't think we could've stopped East Lansing High School. I take full responsibility for it."
Part of the problem, however, seemed to have less to do with coaching and game-plans and more to do with poor execution by players. "It was missed tackles, it was misplays on balls just letting people run by us," said Narduzzi, answering a question from the media. "That's what it came down to."
But Northwestern fought hard and when it came to their execution, especially in their quick-hit spread offense, the Wildcats excelled. "Give them credit," Narduzzi said. "I don't think that quarterback threw a bad ball all game. He threw the ball on the money every time."
The execution paid off for the Wildcats. The Spartans could not manage any kind of pass rush to disrupt an efficient, patient NU offense. "We didn't get any pressure out of four men or any zone pressure," Narduzzi said. "We just didn't play very well."
Now the challenge will be to regroup and prove naysayers wrong when they roll their eyes and mutter about the same old Spartans. Saint-Dic, for one, will do his best to not let that happen.
"I know I'm not gonna stay down. I know my teammates aren't gonna stay down," he said. "My head's still up."
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Third Downs, Patient Scheme Beat Spartans
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