Michigan State Spartans vs Northwestern Wildcats Game Preview, Prediction

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mark-dantonio

The spirit of former Illinois Fighting Illini Head Coach Lou Tepper is certainly strong in the Michigan State Spartans, and that will certainly be well on display in their next game, Saturday at Northwestern.

You might recall the Tepper tenure in Champaign, 1991-96, in which he went 27-31-2 with a lot of extremely low scoring and well “pragmatic” games. That’s the word English soccer writers and announcers used to describe tedious affairs: “pragmatic.” Say what you want about the Michigan State Spartans and their style of play- they can go anywhere in the country, play anybody, and turn it into a rock fight.

Spread: Michigan State -6.5 (did Vegas confuse the spread with the over/under?)

Kickoff/broadcast: 11 AM central, ABC, Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy, Tom Luginbill

Recent Series History Notes:

The 2017 meeting in Evanston took three overtimes to decide, as NU won 39-31. When the Cats went up to E.L. in 2016, they ruined Homecoming by winning 54-40 in a game that was actually more lopsided, at least in the second half, than that sounds. Last year, also up in Sparta, the Wildcats came in as double digit underdogs and won by double digits.

If Northwestern wins on Saturday, they’ll make the MSU senior class winless against NU. Of course, if MSU wins, then Coach Mark Dantonio separates himself from Duffy Daugherty and becomes the all-time wins leader in school history.

dantonio

Getting back to other series milestones and highlights, in 2006, Michigan State came to Ryan Field and rallied back from a 38-3 deficit to win 41-38. The Wildcats’ 35 point blown lead is a NCAA football record.

Of course, nothing was more utterly coco loco and guano crazy than the ending to the 2001 meeting.

Here is the box score scoring summary from the last 32 seconds, courtesy of ESPN.com’s college football page:

michigan state northwestern

Michigan State Spartans (2-1) Preview:

The main player to watch here is DL Raequan Williams. He’s a big physical DT who can push the pocket. His size and speed combination make him an elite level prospect and he’s a huge reason State led the Big Ten in scoring defense.

Beyond all that, and much more importantly, Williams is a hero among his Spartans teammates. MSU players love to talk about Williams because he possesses tremendous leadership skills, and he stands out as an example of someone who has truly overcome obstacles.

Adversity is a word that gets thrown around way too much in sports, and 99% of the time it’s egregiously misused. Williams has overcome real, true adversity, and because of that the sky is truly the limit to what he can achieve in life.

The Founding Director of  Williams’ youth football team, the Garfield Park Gators, says eight of his former players have killed from gun violence during his 15 years in charge. It hits even closer to home for Williams, as he’s lost two family members to the gun violence epidemic.

His younger brother, Corey Hill, was shot and killed in June 2017 in the Garfield Park neighborhood on Chicago’s west side. A little more than a year earlier.

Antonio Pollards, a cousin that Williams considered to be like a brother, was also gunned down, at a spot in close proximity to where Hill died.

raequan williams

Wiliams will play very close to home for the final time in his collegiate career. The makeup of the crowd will turn this contest into a de facto neutral site game. Expect slightly more than half the fans to be in green and white.

MSU led the nation in run defense last season (77.9 yards per game allowed) and that spells trouble for a Northwestern team that may still not have Isaiah Bowser. As you can see five of the top seven are Big Ten teams, although it’s near certain that Illinois will fall way down this chart.

The Michigan State Spartans offense is actually not as bad as you might think. Versus Arizona State last week they gained 404 yards and 23 first downs, but scored only seven points. There are many reasons for that, and the officiating certainly didn’t help, but MSU’s kicking game is absolutely shambolic right now.

Northwestern Wildcats (1-1) Preview:

Even though it goes against what they normally do, and doesn’t fit their standard base formation, Pat Fitzgerald and his staff should deploy some form of 3-3-5 or 3-5-3 in this game, because you can bottle up the Spartans rushing attack with only a front six, and dare them to beat you through the air.

hunter johnson

Northwestern beat Michigan State the past two years by not making mistakes, forcing Sparty into errors, and then seizing upon the opponent’s mistakes. That should be the approach here.

QB Hunter Johnson made a lot of progress from week two to week one, and no doubt the decreased quality of the opponent had a lot to do with that. Now we’ll see how he does against the No Fly Zone.

“He took what the defense gave him,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Johnson’s performance.

“He didn’t try to force anything, and I think he learned from that rep [his interception in the 2nd quarter] a lot. He got a little greedy, tried to play a matchup instead of a scheme, and their kid made a nice play. He [Johnson] had great command of what we’re trying to get done. He was opportunistic with the football, running it too.”

“He’s gotta do a better job of taking care of himself at the end of some plays, but I thought he did a nice job improving, and he’s going to keep doing that week after week after week.”

pat fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is a vocal proponent of the ugly, throwback defense heavy and run-game oriented low-scoring brand of football that has become synonymous with the Midwest. Think of the old “black and blue division” of the NFC North and earlier. The style is synonymous with Wisconsin (however, they are slinging it this year) and Iowa, with MSU now also joining in.

Fitz often likes to use the term “neckroll” when describing this motif, harkening back to his playing days.

Prediction: Michigan State Spartans 7, Northwestern Wildcats 0

MSU gets a field goal and two safeties.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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