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Northwestern edges Michigan State, figures to climb bowl ladder

Venric Mark gained just seven yards six carries sout second half with an injury. | Al Goldis~AP

Venric Mark gained just seven yards on six carries and sat out the second half with an injury. | Al Goldis~AP

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Updated: December 19, 2012 3:57PM

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State might have entered the game with the higher-ranked defense, but Ibraheim Campbell stood out as the best defender on the field during Northwestern’s 23-20 victory over Michigan State on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

One week after his worst game of the season, the redshirt sophomore became a metaphor for a Northwestern team trying to bounce back from a potentially devastating overtime loss at Michigan by prompting an interception, helping stone Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell on the goal line and forcing a fumble.

The victory pushed the Wildcats (8-3 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) another step closer to a potential berth in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla. The Outback Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl also remain in play for the Wildcats. Michigan State, meanwhile, fell to 5-6, 2-5.

“These guys responded when we got back off the bus a week ago from Ann Arbor,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said, referring to last week’s 38-31 loss to the Wolverines. “That’s when this game started.”

A blitzing Campbell hit Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell as he threw on the third play of the third quarter. The errant throw ended up in the waiting arms of senior linebacker David Nwabuisi, who returned it 43 yards for a touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 13-5 lead.

Campbell also stripped the ball from Aaron Burbridge after the Michigan State receiver caught a long pass later in the quarter.

In the second quarter, Campbell helped drop Bell for a three-yard loss when Spartans coach Mark Dantonio went for it on fourth-and-one from the Wildcats’ 1. It was the second time that they had the ball inside Northwestern’s 3-yard line and failed to come away with points.

“Ibraheim hit the quarterback and the ball came out wobbly and just fell into my lap,” Nwabuisi said. “I saw these big, old lineman coming my way and I started weaving through them.”

Campbell wasn’t the only impact player for Northwestern. With Kain Colter sidelined because of an injury, backup quarterback Trevor Siemian came off the bench to complete 13 of 23 passes for 165 yards, including a 41-yarder to freshman superback Dan Vitale on the drive that resulted in Jeff Budzien’s game-winning, 27-yard field goal with 7:30 to play. Vitale finished with career highs in catches (nine) and yards (110).

Jared Carpenter had nine tackles, an interception and forced what appeared to be a fumble but was ruled an incomplete pass on fourth down that ended the Spartans’ comeback hopes. Michigan State recovered and would have had a first down if it weren’t ruled incomplete.

“From what I saw, I thought he did catch the ball,” Carpenter said.

Campbell was involved in two of the four turnovers forced by Northwestern’s defense. The unquestioned leader of the secondary also had 11 tackles and two passes broken up after recording a season-low three stops against Michigan.

“Sometimes people forget that he’s older than he is,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s only a sophomore. He learned some tough lessons a week ago. He had a couple bad things happen to him early in the game and it became like weights on his back, like he had a backpack on and every missed play, every missed opportunity put another 10-pound plate on his back.

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