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Clayton Thorson scores 4 TDs as Northwestern upsets No. 20 Michigan State

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Northwestern (2-3, 2-1 Big Ten) finally found a way not to waste a halftime lead. The Wildcats took down No. 20 Michigan State (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) in East Lansing behind a solid defensive effort and a three-touchdown performance through the air from Clayton Thorson. Northwestern’s 29-19 win also helps keep Northwestern in the early running in the Big Ten West Division thanks to the crossover matchup with the Spartans.

After Northwestern’s defense brought pressure on Brian Lewerke in the end zone on two straight plays and somehow managed to not get a safety ruled in their favor on those two straight plays, the defense dialed up a fourth down stop on 4th and 1 on the Michigan State 11-yard line. Northwestern took over in a great spot to put the game away, and a strong push on the goal line by Thorson put the 10-point underdogs up by 10.

Thorson passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns and he pushed forward on the goal line score late in the game gave Northwestern’s quarterback four touchdowns in the game.

Each of Thorson’s touchdown throws came from outside the red zone. The first to Kyric McGowan in the first quarter and traveled 77 yards came as a result of a bit of blown coverage down the field, as McGowan was wide open behind the Michigan State defense. Thorson’s perfectly placed ball into the hands of JJ Jefferson covered 34 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, helping to give Northwestern a 14-6 lead as the Michigan State offense was failing to cash in on their opportunities. A third touchdown pass to Cameron Green in the third quarter from 21 yards pulled Northwestern back in front of Michigan State after the Spartans had taken a 19-14 on their second touchdown of the second half.

Northwestern missed a field goal to keep Michigan State in it in the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats defense forced a three-and-out and then

Northwestern will return home next week to play a home game against Nebraska. The Huskers, already off to a woeful start at 0-4, could be searching for their first win of the season after a road game at Wisconsin on Saturday.

Michigan State will be on the road next week to play a division game at Penn State. The Spartans knocked off the Nittany Lions with a last-second field goal to effectively remove any thought of the College Football Playoff for Penn State. The Nittany Lions lost a tough one last week at home against Ohio State and have this week off to prepare for their next revenge situation against Michigan State.

Big throws by Clayton Thorson help Northwestern take halftime lead at No. 20 Michigan State

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A week after jumping out to a big lead over Michigan, Northwestern is once again flexing early on against Michigan State. The Wildcats lead the No. 20 Spartans 14-6 at halftime in East Lansing, thanks to some big plays through the air in the first half.

Clayton Thorson found a wide open Kyric McGowan behind the Michigan State secondary and capitalized on the opportunity with a 77-yard touchdown play to take a 7-3 lead later in the first quarter.

Thorson was not done making big plays through the air. Early in the second quarter, Thorson completed a 34-yard pass to JJ Jefferson that was even more impressive. This one also went for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 14-3 lead.

Thorson has already thrown for over 200 yards with the two touchdowns, but the Wildcats have -20 rushing yards in the first half.

Michigan State had a chance to cut into the lead with a drive that was forced to settle for a field goal after getting inside the 10-yard line. A late drive in the half also ended with a Brian Lewerke pass being picked off at the Michigan State 20-yard line.

Northwestern will now look to avoid the second-half struggles that have cost them this season, including last week against Michigan.

No. 14 Michigan overcomes 17-point deficit for Big Ten win at Northwestern

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Sometimes you just take a win any way you can get it. That was one of those games for No. 14 Michigan (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) Saturday at Northwestern (1-3, 2-0 Big Ten). After going down 17-0 in the first half, Michigan scored 20 unanswered points to get out of Evanston with a 20-17 win.

Karan Higdon‘s five-yard touchdown run with 4:06 to play allowed Michigan fans to briefly exhale after a long and gutsy game saw so many self-inflicted hurdles in the form of penalties and early miscues from a slow-starting offense. Higdon rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the game, continuing to prove to be a valuable asset in the Michigan offense this season.

Also proving to be a valuable member of the offense was quarterback Shea Patterson, who also tossed in some clutch plays both with his arm and his legs. Among the key plays provided by Patterson was a run on 3rd and 6 to get out of pressure and convert a big first down. That run was followed by a 22-yard pass to Zach Gentry to put the Wolverines in great position to run in for a touchdown moments later, with Higdon doing the honors.

In the third quarter, Rashan Gary left the game for a brief period of time. When he returned to the game at the start of the fourth quarter, he was wearing a brace on his right arm. The pressure he created, along with Chase Winovich, wore on Northwestern’s offensive efforts as the game wore on. Michigan clamped down on the Northwestern offense as Clayton Thorson went from making early safe and efficient passes to being put in a position to be asked to do a little more.

It wasn’t pretty, but Michigan will surely take it and move one. Jim Harbaugh will have plenty to look over form the game film in this one as the schedule continues and big games remain on the horizon. But getting to October without taking a second loss in September is much better than going into the new month having dropped two before even playing games against Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. This was the first time Michigan overcame a 17-point deficit to win under Harbaugh.

Michigan returns home to play Maryland. Northwestern will play at Michigan State next week.

Northwestern takes 17-7 lead on Wolverines to halftime

Clayton Thorson
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Michigan was slow out of the gates, and Northwestern took advantage. The Wildcats took a 17-0 lead on the Wolverines and lead Michigan by a score of 17-7 at halftime in Evanston.

Northwestern got off to a good start by having the defense force Michigan off the field on a three-and-out to start the game. After getting the football close to midfield, Clayton Thorson completed a short pass to JJ Jefferson, who then used his speed to break free for a big gain down to the one-yard line. Thorson pushed it in from there on the next play for an early touchdown.

Northwestern would continue to take advantage of a slow start by Michigan by forcing another three-and-out and tacking on a field goal to extend the lead to 10-0. The lead grew to 17-0 early in the second quarter with John Moten IV picking up a short touchdown run at the end of a nine-play, 52-yard drive.

Needing a big drive by the offense, Shea Patterson and Karan Higdon responded. The ensuing possession started with a jolt provided by Donovan Peoples-Jones with a 25-yard gain on the ground. Patterson completed a few passes and Higdon finished the drive with a short touchdown run one snap after ripping off an 18-yard gain.

Michigan has gotten called for some costly penalties in the first half as well. The Wolverines lined up for a fourth down play just across midfield late in the half, but a false start penalty forced Jim Harbaugh to change his decision and send out the punt unit instead. The Wolverines were flagged six times for a total of 65 yards.

Unneccessary roughness penalty on Purdue helps Northwestern seal win

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After a back-and-forth first half, things settled down in the second half of the first official Big Ten contest of the 2018 season. Northwestern (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) held on for a hard-fought road victory against Purdue (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten) on Thursday night, 31-27. Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

With Northwestern backed up in a third and long, Purdue appeared to make a key stop to force Northwestern to try a field goal in the final minutes. Instead, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Lorenzo Neal. Throwing Larkin, the ball carrier to the ground, led to a 15-yard penalty and allowed Northwestern an opportunity to run out the clock instead of getting the ball back to the Purdue offense for a chance to win the game.

Northwestern’s defense made the biggest plays to help lead the Wildcats to a road win, and the offense capitalized on those miscues in the first half. Three Purdue interceptions by quarterback Elijah Sindelar led to three Northwestern touchdowns as the Wildcats built a comfortable lead going to halftime. But the Boilermakers came out plugging away in the second half and slowly chipped away on offense while the defense made adjustments. Until a key fourth-quarter possession, Northwestern’s offense was unable to solve Purdue in the second half, allowing the home team to cut into the lead.

A quarterback rotation of Clayton Thorson and TJ Green had some ups and downs for Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Thorson started the game and played well before a planned switch to Green. The rotation continued through the night, with Green leading the fourth quarter drive that helped to seal the win for the Wildcats. Thorson completed 16 of 27 passes for 172 yards. Green completed 7 of 10 pass attempts for 63 yards but showed a little bit more mobility than Thorson at times to help spice things up.

Purdue’s defense got off to a rough start but hung around to get into a comfort zone. It just couldn’t come up with the stop it needed late in the fourth quarter. Northwestern was 6-for-16 on third downs.

Purdue had a bit of a breakout star in the making in running back Rondale Moore. The freshman led Purdue with 79 rushing yards and 109 receiving yards with one touchdown on the ground and one catch to go along with 125 kick return yards. If one game was a preview of what to expect this season, then Jeff Brohm has himself a versatile weapon on offense.

Both teams will get into their non-conference schedule next week. Northwestern will host Duke. Purdue hosts Eastern Michigan.