Preview: Northwestern vs. Michigan St.
by Jonathan Hodges
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.
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.
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).
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
Michigan State by 14.5
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.
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.
to Look For:
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
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.
Smith (S): is listed as out for the season and will reportedly
have another surgery on his injured shoulder.
Simpson (LB): is still questionable with a leg injury and he does
not appear on the depth chart.
Kwateng (LB): is questionable with a shoulder injury but
reportedly will get playing time after being held out last week.
Yarbrough (WR): may play this week after being held out against
Jeske (LB): status unknown; he did not dress against Michigan
although he saw playing time during the first 4 games of the year.
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.
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
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.
jhodges' commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of HailToPurple.com.