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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Northwestern Wildcats

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Northwestern v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Following a tough loss to Arizona State last week, the Michigan State Spartans travel to Evanston, Illinois to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. Not only does this serve as the Spartans’ first road game of the season (though plenty of Spartans fans will be in attendance), it is also the first noon kickoff of 2019 for MSU.

The Wildcats have only played two games so far thus season, and come in with a 1-1 record. The Spartans enter the contest at 2-1 overall.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his team have gotten the better of Mark Dantonio and Michigan State for three years running now. Can MSU put a stop to that streak? Let’s preview the matchup.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2019 Record — 2-1 (0-0 Big Ten)

Offense (per game average) — 429.7 total yards, 272.3 passing yards, 157.3 rushing yards

Defense (per game average) — 216 yards allowed, 192.7 passing yards allowed, 23.3 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 86 (28.67 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 34 (11.33 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 23rd

Northwestern:
2019 Record — 1-1 (0-0 Big Ten)

Offense (per game average) — 325.5 total yards, 141 passing yards, 184.5 rushing yards

Defense (per game average)— 347.5 yards allowed, 176.5 passing yards allowed, 171 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 37 (18.5 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 31 (15.5 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 69th


Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State leads 37-20
Current streak: Northwestern has won three games in a row from 2016-2018.
Last Michigan State Win: Nov. 23, 2013 (30-6)
Last Northwestern Win: Oct. 6, 2018 (29-19)
Michigan State all-time record: 703-460-44 (.601)
Northwestern all-time record: 546-666-44 (.452)

Editor’s note: Yikes. Michigan State would be doing Northwestern a favor giving them a loss and getting them off of that evil omen number.


Previous Game Results

Arizona State 10, Michigan State 7

I really don’t want to rehash this, so this section will be short and sweet this week. A combination of bad coaching, bad offense, a bad kicking game and bad officiating led to the Spartans’ demise against the Sun Devils. The MSU offense moved the ball somewhat, but was unable to put up points against Arizona State’s defense. The MSU defense balled out the entire game except for ASU’s final drive of the game. MSU had plenty of opportunities to win this game, but couldn’t do it.

Time to move on to B1G conference play...

Northwestern 30, UNLV 14

Northwestern rebounded against UNLV. Up just 16-14 at halftime, NW ran away in the second half. Running back Drake Anderson rushed for 141 yards on 26 carries (5.4 yards per carry) and a score. Quarterback Hunter Johnson — a transfer from Clemson — continued to struggle, however. He completed just 48 percent of his passes for 165 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He added 55 yards an additional touchdown on the ground. The Wildcats’ defense held UNLV to just 14 points and 120 passing yards, but the Rebels generated 210 yards on the ground.


Key Matchups

Hunter Johnson versus MSU secondary: Johnson has completed less than 43 percent of his passes so far this season, for just 220 yards. He also has thrown only one touchdown pass against three picks. His assignment doesn’t get any easier this week, as he goes up against a passing defense that allows under 193 yards passing per game. It’s also a defense that has generated 13 sacks in just three contests. If Northwestern has any chance to win this game, Johnson will need to make plays through the air (and on the ground), but it’s going to be a tough task.

Elijah Collins/MSU offensive line versus Northwestern front seven: Collins didn’t quite have the game he had against Western Michigan last Saturday, but amassed 72 yards on 19 carries against Arizona State’s stout defense. He has now rushed 44 times for 281 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and one score this season. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are giving up 171 yards rushing per contest. In fact, Charles Williams of UNLV gashed them for 144 yards and two touchdowns last week, while averaging nine yards per tote. The banged up MSU offensive line needs to take care of business against a weak rushing defense and allow Collins and the offense to control the ball.

Michigan State field goal team versus Northwestern: Matt Coghlin was pretty much automatic prior to entering last week’s contest (had not missed a field goal or extra point in the first two games). He then proceeded to miss three field goals against Arizona State. It was evident the kicking game was going to be important in such a low scoring game, and while I expect more points to be put up this week, it could be another close game where every point matters. The field goal team must make sure snaps are crisp and blocks are solid to assure Coghlin regains his confidence. Special teams are important.


Game Info

Time: Noon (EST)
TV Channel: ABC
Location: Ryan Field, Evanston
Weather expectations: 79 degrees at kickoff, mostly cloudy, winds blowing south/southwest at 14 MPH
Line: Michigan State -9


Overview:

Michigan State has not defeated Northwestern since 2013. Of course, the two programs did not play in 2014 or 2015, but the fact remains true. The Wildcats have owned the Spartans the past three years, winning each game and outscoring the Spartans 122-90. The Spartans appear to be the more talented team heading into this season’s matchup, but that case could have been argued in previous years as well.

Northwestern is no longer a pushover program, and that’s due in large part to head coach Pat Fitzgerald. However, the 2019 Wildcats struggle to move the ball on offense, which is going to be an issue against the stout MSU defense. I also think NW’s run defense is vulnerable and it will be important for Elijah Collins to have a solid game.

Michigan State needs to bounce back following last week’s disaster, and beginning Big Ten play at 1-0 is right where the Spartans need to be. Again, MSU has really had a hard time against Northwestern as of late, so while this seems like a game the Spartans should win on the road, there is certainly nothing guaranteed.

For more on Northwestern, check out our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece.

What do you think?

Poll

Does Michigan State finally beat Northwestern?

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  • 68%
    Yes
    (81 votes)
  • 31%
    No
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