Michigan State remains the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten, sitting alone at 3-0 in the conference and 7-0 overall. This is only the sixth time in the rich history of MSU football that a team has started with seven straight victories, and the Spartans only appear to be getting stronger each game. They jumped five spots in the AP poll to number eight, and in the initial BCS rankings the Spartans are number seven. Michigan State will travel outside of Michigan for the first time this year, as they visit Evanston, Indiana, to take on the Northwestern Wildcats this weekend. This will be another tough game for the Spartans, considering the Wildcats enter the game with a 5-1 record, with their first loss coming two weeks ago against Purdue. I will not do my normal three keys to the game this week, but instead will just talk about the first half of the season, and how the Spartans can continue this successful run.
MSU must take it one game at a time, as they have done all season long. The Spartans have used this approach of not looking ahead, and it has served them well in the first seven games of the season. They have played hard and with enthusiasm each week, never taking a team for granted or letting their guard down against an inferior opponent. Along the same line, MSU controls its’ own destiny, and having this mindset of one week at a time will surely benefit the Spartans as the games become more important down the road. It seems as if this team realizes how special of a season this can be, in which they take every game seriously, like it was against a ranked opponent. I do not see this team having any letdowns this year, and it will surely take a team to play it’s best to beat the Spartans.
The secondary, once thought to be the weakness for Michigan State, has turned out be one of the better units for the Spartans. They have really stepped it up the past few weeks, becoming a playmaking unit with 9 interceptions now on the year. The defense has improved drastically from last year in important categories, such as turnover margin and takeaways. It will be vital that the secondary continue to play well if the Spartans are to have a chance of winning the Big Ten crown. Just as important as the defense is to the success of the second half of the season, quarterback Kirk Cousins must maintain this poise and composure he has shown all year. He does not get much publicity, but he runs this team as good as any other quarterback in the country. He is a great leader, and the team seems to just gravitate towards him in tough times, feeding off of his energy. He has the makeup to lead a team to a championship, not to mention, he has NFL caliber skills in terms of all the physical tools. I would take him over any other quarterback in the country, and I believe his team feels the same way.
When Michigan State has the ball: MSU was held to under 100 rushing yards for the first time all year last week, but RB Edwin Baker is still on his way to over 1,000 yards, with already 725 through seven games. He averages 100.9 yards a game and has 6 touchdowns on the year. I look for the Spartans to get the run game going again this week, against a defense that ranked 48th against the run. It will difficult for the Wildcats defense to stop Cousins and Co., as he has 11 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions on the year. WR’s B.J. Cunningham, Mark Dell, and Keshawn Martin should take advantage of a pass defense that is ranked 71st overall in the nation, giving up over 215 yards a game. Michigan State will have to account for some key defensive players for the Wildcats in the pass game. DE Vince Browne has 8 tackles for a loss and 5 sacks, while the secondary is full of ball hawks, who have accounted for 10 interceptions this year.
When Northwestern has the ball: Michigan State will look to stop another dual threat quarterback this week, in Dan Persa. He is the Wildcats leading rusher and passer, accounting for over 325 yards a game. He has 1,663 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, good for 15th in the nation. The vastly improved secondary for the Spartans will have to deal with a talented and deep group of Wildcat receivers, lead by Jeremy Ebert. He has 560 receiving yards, averaging 93 a game, and 5 touchdowns. It will be up to the front seven for MSU to continue to pressure the quarterback and contain Persa. Last week, the Spartan defensive line had four sacks and also numerous quarterback hurries. It is no coincidence that the secondary plays better when the front seven is getting pressure on the quarterback. The key for the Spartans will be to stop the pass, because Northwestern does not run the ball very well, only averaging 140 rushing yards a game.
Michigan State will take care of business outside of the mitten state for the first time this season. They will force a Northwestern team, who does not protect the ball very well (14 fumbles and 7 lost), into several turnovers…
Michigan State 35 Northwestern 24
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Written by David Lesmeister