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3-2-1 Preview: 3 things we want to see, 2 key stats and 1 best bet for Michigan State vs. Northwestern

We’re so back, baby

Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images


Back to game day. Back to the 3-2-1 Previews. Back to Spartan football.

If you’re new around these parts, it’s a simple concept — we list three things we want to see in the upcoming game, two key stats and I lay down a best bet on the game for you fine folks.

If you’re returning to these previews, I cannot thank you enough for spending a few minutes (or a lot of minutes if you’re a molasses-slow reader like myself) reading this.


3 Things We Want To See

Good quarterback play

(Duh. That’s so obvious that I won’t even count it as one of the three here.)

A hot start from the linebackers

Antjuan Simmons has left the building and leaves a big hole in that two-linebacker scheme. Returning senior Noah Harvey and highly sought-after transfer Quavaris Crouch are presumed to be the starters, with transfer Ben VanSumeran, returning junior Chase Kline and redshirt freshman Cal Haladay rounding out the two-deep (Itayvion “Tank” Brown couuld also be in he rotation, but he has been seen working as a stand-up edge rusher at practice).

Northwestern’s top threat on offense could very well still be at running back even with star Cam Porter out for the season. Evan Hull will be carrying the load, and he’s got that big-play capability if he breaks through the second level. With two linebackers in the scheme, discipline will be the name of the game.

It goes without saying, but seeing a solid game by the linebackers will bode well for the rest of the season. You should feel good about the front four. There’s reason to feel good about the secondary with transfers Chester Kimbrough and Ronald Williams joining returning players Xavier Henderson, Kalon Gervin, Michael Dowell and Angelo Grose. Right now, the biggest question mark rests in the middle with those two linebackers.

2019 Hunter Johnson

I’m very intrigued in Northwestern’s decision to name Hunter Johnson the starting quarterback weeks before the game, but here we are.

If not for the surprise factor of not naming a starter, I’m just surprised it is Hunter Johnson in general. I remember watching the 2019 Michigan State-Northwestern game and questioning if he was even throwing with his correct hand. He ended the game with a state line of 15 for 26 passing, 88 yards and one interception. The 2019 season as a whole was pretty much on par with that too — 52.6 percent completions, three touchdowns and five picks on the year.

I’m assuming Johnson has gotten a little better because I don’t know how it could’ve gotten any worse. But if he starts the game on a rocky note and gets his confidence shaken a little bit, it should be a good (if not easy) evening for the Spartans.

Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line

I firmly believe the offensive line is the most intriguing — and important — position group heading into the season. The new quarterback won’t be able to thrive if he can’t get any protection. Kenneth Walker III, Eli Collins and Jordan Simmons can’t cook if they’re getting nuked at the line of scrimmage every play. Point blank, this offense will go as far as this offensive line can push it.

It’s an exciting start to the season for this unit as well for a few reasons: 1.) You get Outland Trophy Watch List member Jarrett Horst anchoring the line at left tackle. Which allows…2.) Kevin Jarvis is back home in between the tackles. He’s had to play tackle the last two seasons due to injuries, but with Horst and AJ Arcuri at both tackles, he can finally roll at guard again. And 3.) This unit has tremendous experience — eight guys in the two deep have started a combined 121 games.

I’m not saying this will be an all-world offensive line, but there is reason to think they will be a good unit. And that’s what they have to be — just good. Give the quarterback breathing room, give the wide receivers time to run deep routes, give the running backs a hole to run through and all the other basic stuff.

2 Key Stats

34 percent

That’s how much production is returning for Northwestern, which is *checks notes* NOT IDEAL FOR THE WILDCATS.

That’s actually second to last place amongst the 127 FBS teams, only besting BYU. For reference, only six teams in the whole country return less than 50 percent of their production from last season. Michigan State is a tad north of the median, checking in at 73 percent production returning which is good for 49th in the country.

The Wildcats have lost their quarterback. They’ve lost their top four pass-catchers. They’ve lost their top linebackers in Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher. They’ve lost star cornerback Greg Newsome. They’ve lost two offensive linemen. Oh, and their star running back blew his knee out a few weeks ago too.

Listen, if there’s anyone capable of pulling together a decent season out of a patchwork roster in the Big Ten, it’s probably Pat Fitzgerald. But, HOO BOY, this will be a mighty tough task even for him.



That’s the average punt for Wildcats senior Derek Adams last season, which put him at eighth in the conference.

Listen, this will be a low-scoring game by all accounts. And this isn’t just coming from my dumb brain — this is coming from Vegas who has set the over/under at a smooth 45.

The old cliché of “field position is everything” will be in play here, and Northwestern is rolling in with a solid punter. Nothing spectacular, but solid.

1 Best Bet

Northwestern -3, o/u 45

Spartans. Wildcats. Beth Mowins on the call. ESPN.

That alone just sounds like a grimy, classic low-scoring Big Ten game.

Add in new-ish quarterbacks for both sides, the early season jitters and two programs that own great defensive blueprints...I just see this game as a race to 20 points.

I also don’t hate the MSU +3 pick, but boy do I wish it was still the +6.5 that it opened on. Still, if you like the idea of Northwestern replacing two-thirds of its production and you have faith in Mel Tucker and the boys, go for it.

Pick: Under 45

Record: 0-0-0


What’s your best bet for Friday night’s game?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Northwestern -3
    (18 votes)
  • 59%
    MSU +3
    (195 votes)
  • 9%
    Over 45
    (31 votes)
  • 25%
    Under 45
    (83 votes)
327 votes total Vote Now