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Northwestern falls apart against Michigan, drops 3rd in a row

Michigan’s Martavious Odoms is gang-tackled by Wildcats first quarter Saturday night. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Michigan’s Martavious Odoms is gang-tackled by the Wildcats in the first quarter Saturday night. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: October 8, 2011 11:51PM

It was probably the best example of how Northwestern’s game against No. 12 Michigan had gotten out of hand.

At the 7:02 mark of the fourth quarter on fourth down, Wildcats senior quarterback Dan Persa rolled out of the pocket and a Michigan defender ripped his helmet off.

The play was called dead because Persa’s helmet was ripped off, and the ball went back to Michigan.

But Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, visibly angry that no facemask penalty against Michigan was called, was whistled for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. The Wildcats were deflated and went on to lose 42-24, their third consecutive loss.

“I’m going to worry about my three kids’ college funds, so I’m not going to comment on that,” Fitzgerald said of the unsportsmanlike flag.

Persa, who was 32-for-44 for 331 yards, said he was dropping back to pass when he felt someone rip off his helmet. He was hoping for a flag.

“How else would my helmet have come off?” Persa said.

For the seventh consecutive year, the Wildcats (2-3, 0-2) have lost their Big Ten home opener, and the last time the Wildcats started 2-3 was in 2007.

That was the same year the Wildcats won six games and were bowl-eligible but didn’t receive a bid.

The Wildcats blew a 10-point halftime lead, and by the start of the fourth quarter, Michigan (6-0, 2-0) had gone ahead 35-24.

It was easy to see how the Wildcats imploded in the third quarter.

They had only 17 yards of total offense. Michigan had 205.

The Wildcats’ time of possession was 2:32. And it was the second consecutive week in which the Wildcats blew a halftime lead. They also were leading at the break last week at Illinois but lost 38-35.

The Wildcats’ defense did a decent job of containing Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson — at least for a half.

Robinson (14-for-23, 290 yards; 25 carries, 117 yards, two touchdowns) was picked off three times in the first half, with one of the interceptions leading to an NU touchdown.

“When it came down to crunch time, we failed,” Wildcats defensive end Tyler Scott said. “When [Robinson] runs, who knows what’s going to happen?”

But two second-half turnovers — by superback Drake Dunsmore and receiver Jeremy Ebert — doomed the Wildcats.

“I think we didn’t execute [in the second half],” Fitzgerald said. “Those two turnovers were tough. We thought we had a good plan coming out into the second half. We just feel like we stopped ourselves, and that’s a little disappointing.”

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