NUmbers Guy: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
The Northwestern Wildcats put up 54 points on the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing, en route to a 54-40 win. The ‘Cats 54 points were the most ever scored against the Spartans in the Mark Dantonio era and the Wildcats moved back to .500 and closer to potential bowl berth even after their 0-2 start. So let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Northwestern’s win over Michigan State.
Just pencil Austin Carr in for a “good NUmber” every week at this point. Carr has caught at least 5 receptions for 70 yards in every game this season, and has 17 catches for 203 yards and 5 touchdowns over his last two. Against Michigan State, Carr caught 11 passes for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns. Carr has become Clayton Thorson’s safety valve, consistently open for big plays on third and long when Northwestern desperately needs a conversion. Overall, Carr ranks No. 25 in the NCAA in receiving yards and tied for No. 6 in receiving touchdowns.
Whereas Austin Carr decimated the Spartans’ secondary, Justin Jackson did work on the ground rushing for a career high 188 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Jackson gave the Spartans’ defense all sorts of problems, breaking tackles in the secondary and making defenders miss left and right. Northwestern’s offensive line has struggled this year, and has improved, but Jackson’s terrific running ability continues to make up for it, averaging 5.9 highlight yards per opportunity, a measure of the portion of a given run that is credit only to the running back and not the offensive line.
Northwestern converted 52.6 percent of their third downs and averaged 5.7 yards per play against the Spartans as Clayton Thorson and co. put together a terrific day offensive. The ‘Cats were able to sustain long drives against the Spartans, just six of their 14 drives went three and out, while five went for six plays for longer. Michigan State’s defense couldn’t get off the field against the ‘Cats, Northwestern had the ball for almost 36 minutes, and they made them pay, scoring 54 points on the road on homecoming.
On the other side of the ball, Northwestern’s stopped Michigan State on third down, allowing the Spartans to covert just 31.3 percent (5 of 16) of their third downs. Northwestern’s defense did struggle, especially against the pass, but the ‘Cats got stops when they needed it, helping themselves on their way to a 33-3 run. The Spartans had the ball for just 24 minutes and 26 seconds and just four of their 16 drives went for more than 6 plays.
And where the Wildcats’ defense really excelled was against the run, as they held Michigan State to just 51 yards via the ground. Michigan State’s three headed monster at running back – Madre London, Gerald Holmes and LJ Scott – in check with Scott leading the trio with just 25 yards. Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who started the game but was pulled in the third quarter, actually led the Spartans in rushing on the day. Northwestern forced Michigan State to be one dimensional on offense, shutting them down for the entire second and much of the third quarter, and allowing Northwestern’s offense to jump out front.
Where the ‘Cats really struggled defensively, was against the pass as Michigan State averaged 10.1 yards per attempt and 15.7 yards per catch. Tyler O’Connor, who replaced Lewerke in the third quarter, completed 13 of 21 passes for 281 yards and 3 touchdowns. Up 33-17, Northwestern’s pass defense allowed the Spartans to bring the score within two, getting beaten twice deep by R.J. Shelton, albeit one off the hands of Godwin Igwebuike. O’Connor torched the ‘Cats defense, and its something they’ll have to fix moving forward as they face better offenses in the Big Ten.
The ‘Cats scored 54 points. There are no ugly NUmbers for a 54-point win on the road.