Northwestern: 10 Things We Learned from the Wildcats' Win vs. Michigan State
Northwestern held on in a close game to beat Michigan State 23-20 in East Lansing.
It was a sloppy, back-and-forth game, filled with plenty of mistakes, but the Wildcats were able to seal the win.
How did Northwestern win? And what can we take from this game going forward?
Read on to find out.
How Northwestern Won
Northwestern won this game by taking advantage of several Michigan State mistakes.
They had the pick-six and converted big plays after pass-interference penalties.
They lost Venric Mark, and Kain Colter was largely ineffective, but Trevor Siemian was able to step in and play smart, accurate football. He marched the team up and down the field with relative ease.
There was no running game to speak of, but Siemian showed what kind of QB he can be.
The defense was strong and stopped Le'Veon Bell on the goal-line a few times. They got after Andrew Maxwell and were able to force mistakes.
It wasn't pretty, but Northwestern was able to hold on. They are a talented team with a better defense then they're given credit for.
Siemian has the potential to be a top QB, and Dan Vitale is a do-it-all back who can make a big impact on every game he's in.
How Michigan State Lost
Mistakes, mistakes and more mistakes.
That's what caused Michigan State to lose this game.
Four turnovers and three big penalties, and they simply couldn't make up for it.
If you take away the mistakes, the Spartans probably would've won this game fairly easily. But you can't take away the mistakes, and the Spartans have had that problem all year long.
Playing with more discipline would help; playing with some intelligence would help, too. But they wasted good performances from Le'Veon Bell, Andrew Maxwell and Dion Sims.
Mistakes have killed this team.
They were ranked 13th at the beginning of the year, but they could miss a bowl when it's all over.
It's not for lack of talent. It's all because of mistakes.
Dion Sims will be an NFL tight end. Write it down.
Dion Sims will also be a first-round pick. Write that down, too.
Sims had five catches for 102 yards against Northwestern. He's 6'5", 280 pounds and can run.
He's a junior, and I think he would benefit from another year in East Lansing. But there are not many linebackers who can match up with him physically, and he will just bully safeties.
Northwestern didn't have an answer for him. It's surprising that Michigan State didn't go to him more often.
Sims should be a focal point of the offense, and if he stays next year, he could be primed for a huge season.
Michigan State's offense revolves around Le'Veon Bell.
Which is smart. He's their best offensive player.
But if you're going to ask him to run 32 times, like he did today, it's going to be an issue. Bell runs very physically. In the NFL, he's going to break down.
Teams are not going to want to draft someone who has had almost 600 carries in their career. That's simply too many.
Bell is talented; he runs hard and is tough to bring down. Plus, he has enough speed to round the corner.
But if you're going to ride him as hard as Michigan State does, then you're going to get him hurt. He almost got hurt in this game.
If Bell stays one more year, Michigan State would be wise to diversify its rushing attack.
If he goes pro, he's going to get drafted lower than expected, because teams are going to be worried about the tread on his tires.
Michigan State had plenty of chances to win this game, but they blew it.
Between the two Maxwell picks, the two fumbles and three very costly penalties, Michigan State squandered whatever chance they had.
A pass interference led to a touchdown. Another pass interference led to a first down, which helped clinch the game for Northwestern.
This is a recurring theme for the Spartans. They're a talented team, but if you're going to continue to make these kind of mistakes, then it's going to come back to bite you.
So far, it's led a Michigan State team with high expectations to fall pretty flat this year.
Take away some of the mistakes, and this could be a ranked team.
Colter and Siemian
Kain Colter is exciting. He can make guys miss. He's a poor man's Johnny Manziel.
But he should not be the starting QB.
He started most of the first half at QB, and did okay. But Trevor Siemian is a better quarterback.
Siemian was the one who led them up and down the field with ease. Siemian went 13-of-23 for 165 yards. He was accurate and poised under pressure.
Colter can make things happen, but he would be better served as an occasional option guy and a full-time wide receiver. This would make Northwestern's offense more exciting and more consistent.
Siemian has the makings of a top QB, but he'll only get there if he plays. If Colter can move full-time to wide receiver, Northwestern will be better off.
So he had two picks, one of them being a pick-six.
But if we learned anything from this game, it's that Andrew Maxwell has the talent to be a top QB.
He doesn't have the biggest arm, or the fastest. But he has a moxie about him, a swagger. A quiet confidence.
This is his first full season of playing, since he previously sat behind Kirk Cousins.
Heading into next year, Maxwell will have more experience and should be able to take a step forward.
He has the ability to lead Michigan State to a bowl game and beyond.
Northwestern Is Set
Northwestern is pretty good this year. They could be even better next year.
Kain Colter is a junior and Trevor Siemian is a sophomore. Venric Mark is a junior.
Christian Jones is a sophomore. Chi Chi Ariguzo is a sophomore. Dan Vitale is a freshman.
These are some of their best players, and they all should be back next year.
That means they can easily compete for a Big Ten championship and could be a nationally-ranked team all year long.
This is a team with a future.
Going Forward for State
Michigan State needs to beat Wisconsin next week to become bowl-eligible. It's a must-win.
Imagine: a team that started off ranked 13th is in danger of missing out on a bowl.
But it's possible.
State needs to win. They need to fix their mistakes and their lack of discipline.
It's been a disaster season for Michigan State. A win next week can salvage it a bit, but a loss could see Mark Dantonio suddenly sitting on a very hot seat.
They have one week to straighten it out. A bowl will make people forget a bit about this season. But only a bit.
It's been a rough season and a game like today, where they had chances to win but couldn't, is a far-too-often occurrence.
Going Forward for Northwestern
Northwestern is 8-3, and with a win next week over Illinois they could find themselves in a nice New Year's Day bowl.
A 9-3 record would be quite the season for a team that constantly flies under the radar.
And they're set for next year, too. Colter will be back. Siemian will be back.
So perhaps next year they could compete for a Big Ten championship.
But first things first, and they have to beat Illinois to ensure a prime bowl game.
Illinois is not very good, so we think that Northwestern will be ringing in the New Year in style.