Evanston, IL – A week after clinching the Big Ten Legends Division title and a spot in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, No. 11 Michigan State will travel to Evanston, Illinois to close out the regular season against the Northwestern Wildcats.
Michigan State blasted Indiana, 55-3, last weekend, which was the third straight win for the Spartans. MSU is 6-1 in conference, and clinched a berth in the Big Ten title tilt with the help of Michigan's 45-17 win over Nebraska. Michigan State has won 20 of its last 24 games overall.
Northwestern is red-hot, having won four straight and the team is coming off a 28-13 win over Minnesota last weekend, as Dan Persa threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns. The Wildcat defense has given up just 19 points in the last two outings.
"It has BCS ramifications," said Michigan State head coach Mike Dantonio at his weekly press conference. "But it's another statement for when you look back and you leave here, you're a senior, you're part of a program that's won 10-plus games two years in a row, those type of things."
He continued, "We want to continue to work hard and win out in November. That's a statement, as well."
Michigan State leads the all-time series with Northwestern, 35-16.
In the win over Indiana, Michigan State was led by Kirk Cousins' 16-of-23 effort for 272 yards and three touchdowns. The Spartans amassed 174 yards and three scores on the ground, as Edwin Baker ran for two touchdowns and Le'Veon Bell rushed nine times for 68 yards. B.J. Cunningham had a fine game at wide receiver, as did Keshawn Martin. Cunningham caught six balls for 132 yards and two touchdowns, while Martin caught eight passes for 99 yards and a score.
Cousins is the field general for the Spartans, who have been also consistent running the football this year. Cousins has thrown for 2,521 yards and 19 touchdowns against only five interceptions, while Bell averages 64.3 yards per game. Cunningham is fourth in the Big Ten with 5.55 catches per outing, and third in receiving yards per game with 91.3.
The Michigan State defense is one of the best in all of college football, and the unit completely shut down Indiana last week. The Hoosiers had just 142 yards passing and 94 yards rushing, and finished 3-of-15 on third down. Michigan State also forced two turnovers. The Spartans rank third in the country in total defense, fifth in scoring defense. The Spartans are also tenth in rushing defense and fourth in pass defense, giving up 101.1 yards rushing and 156.0 yards passing per game. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in interceptions with 16.
Against Minnesota, Persa completed 22-of-31 passes for the aforementioned 216 yards and two scores. He also threw one interception. Northwestern had 152 yards rushing with two touchdowns, with Jacob Schmidt leading the way with 13 carries for 69 yards and one touchdown. Kain Colter didn't throw a pass for the Wildcats, but ran six times for 16 yards and added five catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. On the year, Persa has thrown for 1,918 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while Colter has produced 660 yards and five touchdowns passing. Colter leads the team in rushing (114 carries, 571 yards, eight touchdowns) and is third in receiving (34 catches, 410 yards, three touchdowns).
"They are a no huddle, speed it up type of offense, and they are going to be in empty," said Dantonio. "They are going to be in all these different formation sets, and they have got skill; and they have guys we put in position of space and we have to tackle well in space."
Northwestern's defense has also been key to the late-season run. Minnesota compiled alot of rushing yards last weekend (269) but the Wildcats kept the Gophers from sustaining drives and forced two turnovers, as well as limiting Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray to 9-of-24 passing for 124 yards and one interception. The Wildcats allow 410.0 total yards and 26.9 points per game. Ibraheim Campbell leads the team with 7.3 tackles per game.