The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 17, 12 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Spartan Stadium (75,005) -- East Lansing, Michigan. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: NW 5-1, MSU 2-4. Away Record: NW 2-2, MSU 3-1. Neutral Record: NW 0-0, MSU 0-0. Conference Record: NW 3-3, MSU 2-4. Series Record: MSU leads, 36-16.
GAME NOTES: Needing to win one of their final two games to become bowl eligible, the Michigan State Spartans welcome the Northwestern Wildcats to Spartan Stadium for a Big Ten Conference showdown.
Michigan State will have had two weeks to prepare for this contest, as the team had a bye this past week. The break came at just the right time for the Spartans, who have dropped three of their last four outings. Most recently, they suffered a 28-24 home setback to Legends Division leader Nebraska two weekends ago.
With seven wins on the year, Northwestern has already qualified for postseason play. But after starting the season 5-0 and climbing into the national rankings, the team has spent the past month alternating wins and losses from week to week. The Wildcats are coming off a 38-31 overtime loss at Michigan this past Saturday.
MSU has won the last four meetings and leads the all-time series, 36-16.
Northwestern enters this tilt ranked 14th in the nation in rushing offense (238.6 ypg) but are 110th in passing offense (164.9 ypg). Coach Pat Fitzgerald has divvied up the quarterback reps between dual-threat junior Kain Colter and sophomore Trevor Siemian, the more traditional pocket passer, with mixed results. Last week at Michigan, Kolter completed 8-of-14 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown, while also running for 82 yards on 24 carries. Siemian completed 6-of-7 passes for only 87 yards, but two of his six completions resulted in touchdowns. Venric Mark, the Big Ten's fourth-leading rusher (118.1 ypg), added 104 yards and a TD on the ground, marking his seventh 100- yard rushing game of the season. All told, NW put up 431 total yards against a Michigan defense that entered the game ranked seventh nationally in total defense. However, the offense went four-and-out on its only overtime possession.
Shortly after Northwestern regained the lead from Michigan midway through the fourth quarter, Wildcats senior cornerback Demetrius Dugar came up with a huge interception with just over three and a half minutes to play in regulation. Unfortunately for NU, the Wolverines got the ball back with 18 seconds on the clock and Devin Gardner completed a 53-yard Hail Mary pass to Roy Roundtree. That connection set up a 26-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime, where the Wolverines eventually prevailed. Gardner, who was announced as the starter just before the kickoff in place of the injured Denard Robinson, carved up the Wildcats on the ground and through the air. He ran for 47 yards and two scores, and he also threw for 286 yards and two more TDs.
The good news for the Spartans coming out of their last contest is that they finally cracked the 20-point barrier for the first time in four games. The bad news is that they still didn't score enough points against Nebraska to come away with the win. The Spartans have boasted one of the nation's stingiest defenses throughout the season, but they currently rank 108th nationally in scoring offense with an average of 19.7 ppg. When you consider that MSU has the Big Ten's leading rusher in Le'Veon Bell (124.9 ypg), the team's struggles to put points on the board become even more magnified. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell has completed only 54.2 percent of his throws this season, as he has been mostly unable to make defenses pay for stacking the box. Maxwell completed just 9-of-27 passes for 123 yards against Nebraska, while Bell ran for 188 yards and two scores. Still, MSU lost in the final seconds after spoiling a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
As mentioned, Michigan State's defense is hardly to blame for the team's hot- and-cold season. The unit leads the Big Ten and ranks among the national leaders in both total defense (288.0 ypg allowed) and scoring defense (16.3 ppg). In fact, Nebraska was only the second opponent this season to put more than 20 points on the board against the Spartans. However, a few key plays led to their demise in that game. Darqueze Dennard had an interception return for a touchdown called back, and the Spartans also gave up a costly 38-yard completion on 4th-and-10 late in the game. In the waning moments, Dennard was whistled for pass interference on a third-down throw in the end zone, which ultimately opened the door for Nebraska's game-winning touchdown with six seconds remaining.
For the Spartans, the question is how will they respond from such a devastating loss. They have had a couple of weeks to perhaps and let the sting subside, but they really need to pick things up on offense in order to win this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 23, Michigan State 17
11/14 10:34:29 ET