Northwestern All-American Safety Brandon Joseph said at the Monday Zoom media availability that his team was going to have to be ready to stop “number 9, the Wake Forest transfer” when they welcome in Michigan State on Friday night.
It’s a vast understatement to say that things didn’t go according to plan for the Wildcats tonight as Walker ran wild and the Spartans romped 38-21. Although there were some bright spots for the host Cats, overall it was pretty ugly as Sparty jumped on them early, and then cruised to a comfortable victory.
Every time NU made it closer, and window dressed the score, MSU responded with another score of their own and this one was needlessly dragged out, simply for the purposes of serving the television paymasters.
It didn’t kick until 9:21 EST, and although it was a regulation game, not overtime, it didn’t end until damn near 1am in the eastern time zone. You can thank ESPN for pointlessly extending a game where the result was not really in doubt at all during the later stages.
It only took halfway through the first quarter for Walker to score two touchdowns. It only took four minutes for him to hit a C-note in rushing yards. The tone was set on the very first play from scrimmage, as he broke off a 75-yard touchdown run.
Could you have a more perfect start?! Kenneth Walker goes 75 yards on the 1st play of the season to give Michigan State the lead just 13 seconds in. #GoGreen
(Courtesy: ESPN) pic.twitter.com/kI7VaUk7FW
— Jonathan Deutsch (@JonathanD_TV) September 4, 2021
He finished with 264 yards rushing on 23 carries and four touchdowns. He’s the first MSU runner to get four TDs in the same game since 2013, and the first rusher to put up more than two against Northwestern since 2015.
“Tackling is one of the fundamental things we work at every single day,” said Joseph, one of the main leaders of this NU defensive unit.
“Tackling is a thing we take pride in, the performance we had tonight wasn’t to par.”
“It wasn’t up to my standard,” he said of his own individual play.
One bright spot for the Cats was the play of quarterback Hunter Johnson, who threw for 283 yards on 30-of-43 passing with three passing touchdowns and zero interceptions. What makes those numbers all the more impressive is when you consider he got little to no help from his ground game.
Northwestern only managed 117 yards rushing, with much of it coming in garbage time, at only 3.1 yards per carry.
“I thought Hunter played pretty solid,” NU Coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
“I think he’ll learn from this and grow.”
Johnson made mistakes here and there, but overall this was by far his best game in purple, and he showed great mobility when his protection broke down, which happened a lot.
He was able to nicely find his receivers, who were able to find separation in MSU’s No Fly Zone, but unfortunately those receivers just didn’t show the home run ball threat tonight.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Johnson said of his performance.
“There were a few plays here and there that kind of hurt us. There’s a lot of stuff that we can fix. It was a promising first game, I thought we did a lot of things well.”
Johnson showed an ability to throw open his receivers, so if those pass-catchers can find a way to get another gear and get loose more downfield, Johnson will be able to find them. And then, Northwestern might really have something here in their passing game.
Defense? That’s another story.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune.Follow paulmbanks