Northwestern 23, Michigan State 20: Two teams doing their best not to win

Thankfully, the second half of Northwestern-Michigan State was more exciting than the first.

With help from four Michigan State turnovers, Northwestern outlasted Michigan State by a 23-20 margin in East Lansing. Jeff Budzien’s 27-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter gave the Wildcats their eighth win of the season and put the Spartans into a must-win situation next week in order to become bowl eligible.

After a first half that featured a 6-5 Northwestern lead, NU coach Pat Fitzgerald’s focus seemed to shift towards containing MSU running back Le’Veon Bell and putting his defense in a position to force Michigan State mistakes. While Bell finished with 133 rushing yards, the Wildcat defense kept him from breaking any big runs or reaching the end zone and challenged Andrew Maxwell to win with his arm.

This was a winning strategy.  All told, Northwestern capitalized on four Spartan turnovers and only needed one offensive touchdown to win the day. In this case, its best offense proved to be an opportunistic defense.  The Wildcats, again, were unable to run the football in what’s been a recurring theme of 2012. 

Michigan State must win on the road against Minnesota next week or it will not qualify for a bowl. On the flip side, Northwestern can notch its ninth win in its final game against Illinois.