Game Preview


Northwestern at Michigan State
Spartan Stadium
Saturday, Oct. 6.  Time: 11:00 am CDT
TV: Big Ten Network
WGN radio internet coverage.

Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Michigan St.
by Jonathan Hodges

The Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 0-2) travel to East Lansing to face the Michigan State Spartans (4-1, 0-1) whose only loss came last week to #5 ranked Wisconsin by 3 points in a close game.  Needless to say, MSU has exceeded most expectations from the start of the season and are 2 wins away from bowl eligibility, but now is the dangerous time for the Spartans as over the past few seasons that first loss has set off a cascade of ill effects.  BUT, new HC Mark Dantonio has this Spartan team looking and acting much differently than past teams and Saturday looks to be a tough matchup for the 'Cats.
Everyone remembers last year's game when NU built up a 38-3 lead in the third quarter behind CJ Bacher in his first start as NU's QB, only to watch it all slip away as MSU made the largest comeback in NCAA I-A/FBS history to win 41-38 (at least partially due to the loss of LB Nick Roach, the senior defensive leader, to a season-ending injury and the loss of C Trevor Rees for at least part of the game).  Given Northwestern's 4th quarter collapse (featuring 4 turnovers in its last 4 posessions) last week against Michigan, NU will be hoping to avoid another breakdown in the last part of the game while MSU will be trying to sustain its early season success.
Both offenses can move the ball, but out of the two Northwestern has not been able to put points on the board as consistently, thanks partially due to an inability to punch the ball in the end zone after moving it down the field, and also thanks to turnover issues.  Meanwhile on defense, MSU has been surprisingly effective at the pass rush (ranking #2 nationally in sacks) while Northwestern has managed to contain opponents' running games (especially last week, holding Michigan RB Hart to just over 100 yards).
This is a pivotal game for both teams before the first half of the 2007 college football season comes to a close - MSU trying to step one game closer to bowl eligibility and NU is trying to escape the first half with a .500 record and also trying to stop its current 3 game losing streak.
Line: Michigan State by 14.5
Who Should Win: MSU has been playing more consistently and their only loss was by 3 points on the road to the nation's current #5 team, so it is not surprising that they are the favorite and should win this game.  Their pass rush is excellent, which matches up well against Northwestern who has not been able to sufficiently protect QB CJ Bacher or run the ball consistently.  On the flipside, NU has not been able to defend the pass well at all (mostly thanks to its lack of a pass rush) and MSU has put points on the board although it mostly relies on its running game behind the duo of Ringer/Caulcrick.  Given the way these teams match up along with its home field advantage, MSU is expected to grind out the win.
Upset Factor: The Spartans have had a tough time recovering from that first loss the past few years, and they obviously had a hard time with Northwestern in the first half of last year's game.  Northwestern played a tough, physical game against Michigan last week as they effectively shut down the Wolverines' running game and managed to move the ball well for most of the game.  If NU can continue its defensive improvement AND manage to turn those yards into some more points, the 'Cats can keep it close.  In order to win, the defense will have to get takeaways and the offense will have to hold onto the football.  And as in previous games, Northwestern will have to play great special teams.
What to Look For:
Northwestern Offense/MSU Defense: Michigan State will put the pressure on CJ Bacher, both with and without extra rushers in the form of a blitz.  The NU OL will be challeneged all day, and CJ will have to get the ball off quickly on passing plays.  MSU's pass defense is questionable at best, so NU's best chance of overcoming the pass rush is to get the ball off quickly or take advantage of opportunities to pass the ball quickly.  Also, the 'Cats running game will have to be mixed into the game plan in order for the offense to be effective - and given Conteh's success last week, hopefully NU can build upon its thus-far limited rushing success.
Northwestern Defense/MSU Offense: MSU wants to run the ball with Ringer and Caulcrick but will also utilize the play action pass and its QB Hoyer has been rather effective this year, completing 58% of his passes for over 200 yard/game and 9 passing TDs with only 3 INTs.  The receiver to look out for is Devin Thomas who has averaged 4 catches and almost 100 yards per game.  Ringer also has a few catches out of the backfield.  Northwestern will have to contain the running game (something it did well against Michigan) BUT also get to the QB and create turnovers.
- Northwestern has blown out MSU on 2 of its last 3 trips to East Lansing, winning 49-14 in 2005 and 37-17 in 2000.
- Michigan State is 0-2 after its first loss of the year the past 2 seasons.
- NU is 4-0 after playing Michigan the past 4 seasons (in fact the last NU loss the week after playing Michigan was the Iowa 2000 disappointment).
- MSU puts a lot of pressure up front on defense: it's #2 nationally in sacks (4.6/game) and tied at #5 in TFL (9.8/game).
- The Spartans are ranked in the top 30 nationally in 9 major statistical categories (including rushing offense, total offense, total defense, and kickoff returns).
- NU is not ranked in the top 30 in any statistical category; its highest ranking is kickoff returns where the 'Cats rank 35th nationally.
- On the negative side, NU ranks 104th nationally in sacks allowed (3.2 /game), 103rd in sacks (1.0/game), and 98th in turnover margin at -1/game.
Injury Report:
Tyrell Sutton (RB): reportedly will not play and he has been removed from NU's depth chart as he has a nagging high ankle sprain that very well may keep him out for the remainder of the year.
Brendan Smith (S): is listed as out for the season and will reportedly have another surgery on his injured shoulder.
Eddie Simpson (LB): is still questionable with a leg injury and he does not appear on the depth chart.
Prince Kwateng (LB): is questionable with a shoulder injury but reportedly will get playing time after being held out last week.
Jeff Yarbrough (WR): may play this week after being held out against Michigan.
Chris Jeske (LB): status unknown; he did not dress against Michigan although he saw playing time during the first 4 games of the year.
Mark Koehn (DE): is listed on the depth chart and apparently will play after injuring his shoulder last week forcing him out of the game before the half.
Joel Belding (OL): came out during some of last week's game but ended up going back in; he is expected to go this week.
Prediction: Northwestern 34 - Michigan State 31

NU's OL will manage the pass rush, the Wildcat defense will contain the rushing game, and CJ Bacher will have a big day on the way to an upset win to close the first half of the 2007 season.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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