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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans versus Northwestern Wildcats

Week 9 is already upon us

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans won another hard fought game against the Indiana Hoosiers last week and improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in Big Ten play, while also becoming bowl eligible already. Now it’s time for Michigan State to turn its attention to the Northwestern Wildcats.

The Spartans will travel to Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois for a 3:30 p.m. EST kickoff. The Wildcats come in with a 4-3 record (2-2 in Big Ten). Northwestern is coming off of a huge win in overtime against Iowa and are playing with confidence. This may be a tougher road test than many people think.

With all of the Spartan fans and alumni hanging around the Chicago area, I expect to see plenty of green shirts in the stands. With that said, let’s get to this game preview, shall we?

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:

Record — 6-1, (4-0 Big Ten)

Offense — 372.2 total yards per game (7th in Big Ten), 195.3 passing yards per game, 177.4 rushing yards per game, 22.7 points per game

Defense — 262.1 yards allowed per game (1st in Big Ten), 168.7 passing yards allowed per game, 93.4 rushing yards allowed per game, 16.9 points allowed per game


Record — 4-3 (2-2 Big Ten)

Offense — 393.7 total yards per game (4th in Big Ten), 256.9 passing yards per game, 136.9 rushing yards per game, 26 points per game

Defense — 367.1 yards allowed per game (8th in Big Ten), 245.9 passing yards allowed per game, 121.3 rushing yards allowed per game, 23.3 points allowed per game

Quick takeaways: The Michigan State offense appeared to take another step backward last week, against a middle of the road Indiana defense. The defense, however, continues to be incredible and now leads the Big Ten in total defense and ranks fourth nationally. Meanwhile, the Northwestern offense hasn’t been spectacular, but may be the most potent attack that the Spartans will see since they’ve entered conference play. Though, that is more of a testament to the previous opponents than Northwestern’s offensive prowess. The Wildcats have a decent defense overall, but struggle against the pass. They’re giving up 105 more total yards per game than the Spartans and rank only ahead of Maryland in the conference in pass defense. Is this finally the game where we see Brian Lewerke stretch the field?

Series History

All-time record: Michigan State leads 37-18

Last Spartans win: Nov. 23, 2013 (30-6)

Last Wildcats win: Nov. 15, 2016 (54-40)

Biggest Spartans win: 76-14 (1989)

Biggest Wildcats win: 49-14 (2005)

Current Streak: Northwestern with a one-game winning streak

Longest winning streak: Michigan State won 11 straight games 1959 through 1969

Quick takeaways: I still have nightmares about Justin Jackson and the rest of the Northwestern team shredding the Michigan State defense on the ground for 209 yards last season (Jackson had 188 yards and two touchdowns). He’s a talented back. But this Michigan State defense is hundreds of miles ahead of last year’s unit. Historically, the Spartans have dominated this series, winning 67 percent of the contests. Northwestern has won two of the past three matchups, while Michigan State had won the four contests prior to that. The Spartans have won five in a row in Evanston and 20 out of 29 there overall (though the 1994 contest ended up having to be forfeited by MSU).

Previous Matchups

Michigan State: Michigan State extended its winning streak to four games last Saturday by taking down the Hoosiers. As mentioned earlier, the offense sputtered and it is a bit concerning. MSU totaled just 274 total yards — 185 yards through the air and 89 yards on the ground. Indiana came into the game giving up 170-plus yards per game, so the running game definitely underwhelmed. A Madre London fumble reassured our concerns about ball security issues as well. But what I liked was the resilience by the offense (freshmen wide receivers really stepped up in clutch situations) and the lights out defense. A 4-0 mark to open Big Ten play should not be taken for granted, and few people predicted such a start, but competition is only getting tougher from here.

Northwestern: The Wildcats beat a tough Iowa team in overtime. It only took one extra session for Northwestern to get the win, as quarterback Clayton Thorson snuck it into the end zone from one-yard out and then the defense stopped the Hakweyes on fourth down for a 17-10 win (which was the same score the Spartans beat the Hawkeyes by in Week 5). That was Thorson’s only touchdown of the game and Iowa held Jackson to 93 yards on 25 carries (just a 3.7 ypc mark). Points were at a premium, but the Wildcats willed their way to a W. Northwestern did not turn the ball over, either, which generally leads to wins.

Key Players

Michigan State:

Brian Lewerke: 129.4 QB rating, 1,362 passing yards, 59.4 percent completion rate, 10 TDs, three INTs, 313 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns

LJ Scott: 105 rushes, 495 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, four TDs, nine catches for 72 yards and one receiving TD

Felton Davis III: 25 catches, 310 yards, 12.4 yards per catch, five TDs

Joe Bachie: 63 tackles, 5.5 tackle for loss, two sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one pass defended

Kenny Willekes: 38 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, one pass defended, one fumble recovery


Clayton Thorson 117.2 QB rating, 1,688 passing yards, 60.1 percent completion rate, eight TDs, nine INTs, four rushing TDs

Justin Jackson: 133 rushes, 603 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, six TDs, 26 catches for 167 yards

Bennett Skowronek: 25 catches, 344 yards, 13.8 yards per catch, two TDs

Paddy Fisher: 56 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss,one pass defended, one fumble forced

Nate Hall: 51 tackles, 8.5 tackle for loss, one sack, four passes defended

Game Info

Time: 3:30 p.m. EST

TV Channel: ESPN

Location: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois

Weather expectations: 43 degrees, cloudy, winds 13 MPH

Odds: Michigan State -2.5

Over/Under: 40.5

Rival blog: Inside NU


Michigan State is a 2.5-point favorite on the road and I think that’s where the line should be. Given the strength of of the defense and struggles of the offense, I would expect another close, low-scoring game until proven otherwise. I think the defense is going to need to shut down Jackson and the rushing attack, and force Thorson to beat them through the air. He throws for a lot of yards, but is turnover prone with nine interceptions. The Wildcats have a weak passing defense, and I would really like to see offensive coordinator Dave Warner take advantage of that with his play-calling.

Lewerke has to prove that he has the ability to stretch the field and complete intermediate and longer passes because the offense has become stagnant and team’s have seemingly adjusted to Lewerke’s scrambling ability -- he has netted just four yards rushing in the past two games. At the end of the day, I think the Spartans are the superior team and will walk away from Ryan Field with a victory.

Moment of truth: Who are you taking to win?


Who wins between the Spartans and Wildcats?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Michigan State
    (285 votes)
  • 13%
    (43 votes)
328 votes total Vote Now

Go Green!