Preview: Spartans vs. Wildcats

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: LJ Scott #3 of the Michigan State Spartans runs with the ball during the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Spartan Stadium on September 24, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

Michigan State vs. Northwestern Preview

On Saturday, October 15th at 3:30 EDT the Michigan State Spartans will take on the Northwestern Wildcats at Spartan Stadium.  What once looked like an easy win for Sparty has now become a pivotal game for the Spartans.  Michigan State is currently riding a three game losing streak, something that has not been too common in recent years, considering the Spartans have won 66 games since 2010. However, to some Spartan fans, they still have the DNA of champions.  In order for the Spartans to win, they will need a couple of things to go right for them in some key areas.

Run Sparty, Run

Michigan State needs to get back to that physical, pounding ground game that they have become known for.  In last year’s upset win over the Ohio State Buckeyes, everyone in the Stadium knew what was going to happen, yet Ohio State could not stop it. The 22 play drive to clinch the Big Ten Championship against the Iowa Hawkeyes last year was textbook Michigan State ground and pound football.  In last week’s home loss to the BYU Cougars, the Spartans only gained 85 yards on 32 carries. Michigan State relies heavily on its ground attack to set up its pass game.  Without first establishing the run, the Spartans have struggled to move the ball through the air.  Look for the Spartans to try to get LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes involved early in the game, to stay ahead of the chains.  If the traditional ground game struggles look for the Spartans to get creative and get senior wide receiver RJ Shelton involved with different variations of the jet sweep.

Quarterback Play

It is no secret that quarterback play has been inconsistent to say the least.  With Michigan State currently in the midst of a three-way quarterback battle, it’s not clear who will come out as the starter.  Whoever is named the starter whether its Tyler O’Connor or Damion Terry, who came in for O’Connor during the BYU game or the third member of the competition Brian Lewerke look for them to get easy throws early to try to settle into a rhythm. If Terry is named the starter, look for the Spartans to use his running ability to get him into a rhythm and mix up their traditional run game with a little bit more of a zone read as seen last year against Ohio State. Terry also brings the added dimension of extending plays with his legs and his scramble ability, as seen in this clip from the Spartan Spring Game.

Regardless of whoever is named the starter, do not expect them to go out and win the game with their arm.  It is too soon for that, and that just is not the style of play the Spartans would like to play unless they have a soon to be NFL quarterback like Kirk Cousins or Connor Cook.

Get Well, Defense

The Spartan defense has been bitten badly by the injury bug, particularly at linebacker where they have been without Riley Bullough and Jon Reschke for an extended period of time. This has caused Sparty to be softer in the run game than they have been in previous years.  Last week against BYU the Spartans gave up an uncharacteristic 260 yards on the ground.  Hopefully the time off from games as allowed the Spartan linebackers to get healthy.  They will need it against Northwestern and Justin Jackson.  Northwestern in currently facing their own quarterback issues, and they love to ride their workhouse running back Justin Jackson to get their offense moving and take as much pressure of their quarterback Clayton Thorson as possible.  If the Malik McDowell and Spartan defensive line can create havoc in the run game disrupt the Northwestern run game that features several pulling lineman and misdirection, they can hopefully provide the Spartan linebackers with clear lanes to run through to attack Justin Jackson.

Prediction:

The Spartans are at home; in a game they must have.  I don’t think there is anything else to be said.  This Northwestern team, is tough and improving rapidly from where they started the season at.  The quarterback play from both teams is a push, but I think Michigan State is the more talented team across the board.  I think the Spartans win a low scoring affair 17-10.

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