For the first half, Northwestern looked like they were going to take the same route that Central Michigan used to beat MSU - an offensive attack almost exclusively based on 5-7 yard passes to roll down the field, and a solid run defense. For the first half this strategy worked, as the Spartans were shut out headed into the locker room, thanks to one hard-luck opening drive where Kirk Cousins was stopped on 4th and goal from the one-yard line, and several drives three and outs.
After the half, Michigan State came out and did one thing they haven't done all season - win the turnover battle. A forced fumble by Chris L. Rucker and a muffed kickoff by Northwestern led to 14 Michigan State points, and that was the difference. Here's what I noticed from the game:
- Blair White is a robot sent from the future to save us all. White had a career day - 186 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions. I was stunned at how wide open White was a couple times. He's not the fastest receiver, but he's undoubtedly the best route-runner, and has the best hands. This game proves that defenses have to treat White as the #1 receiver on this team, or suffer at his coldly efficient hands.
- Edwin Baker's redshirt is burned, and that's not a bad thing. It's never a good thing when a redshirt is eliminated, but think about the future - if you get upset that Rock's redshirt is gone, you're getting upset about what might happen in the 2013 season, and who knows how many good running backs MSU is going to recruit before then. Take away Caper's touchdown run, and Baker was the most consistent runner the Spartans had all afternoon.
- Greg Jones and Eric Gordon need an awesome nickname. The Tackle Twins? The Linebacker Lords? The Spartan Sackmasters? Any of these lame nicknames would need some major improvement, but after they combined for 29 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, and three sacks, Jones and Gordon require some sort of recognition. Greg Jones ranks first in the Big Ten in tackles (85), is tied for fourth in sacks (5.0), and is tied for seventh in tackles for a loss (8.5). He along with O'Brien Schofield from Wisconsin look like the favorites to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the year.
- Kirk Cousins is Benjamin Button. That's the most likely explanation to explain his play and demeanor beyond his years. The Big Ten leader in passing efficiency, Cousins had another solid day through the air (21-31, 281 yards, two touchdowns, no picks), although without any of the scrambles he had against Michigan. As for demeanor, the State news published an excellent profile of Cousins on Friday, and I suggest you check it out. If Cousins keeps up the passing attack, in terms of media attention, he's most likely going to be the next Tim Tebow.
Saturday's game against Iowa will not be the biggest game Dantonio has had as head coach. Contrary to what some columnists might have you believe, next week's game will be a big game, but not the biggest in the past three years. That honor still goes to last year's Penn State game, as that game was actually for a share of the Big Ten title. However, that's not to say this game won't be big - if MSU beats Iowa, they'll be tied for the Big Ten lead, with games against a decent Minnesota team and a resurgent Purdue squad on the road before finishing up with Penn State.
As for now, Michigan State has six days until their biggest game of the year so far. If you're looking to take solace in one fact, it's a fact from BHGP that Iowa has not beaten MSU in East Lansing since 1995. Until then, enjoy this victory, and get prepared for the first night game in East Lansing since 2007.