Michigan State vs. Northwestern Scouting Report and Prediction

Publish date:

Michigan State vs. Northwestern  Scouting Report and Prediction

A look at this week’s opponent…

The Wildcats come into the High Cathedral of the Spartan Nation looking for a fight. The Cats are a formidable foe with young, but incredibly talented, head coach Pat Fitzgerald. 


The Cats are fundamentally sound and will play hard for the entire game. If the Spartans get a lead, this is one team that can make a comeback and win. Up or down, one of the most impressive parts of this team’s psyche is that they play hard from whistle to whistle.


When MSU has the ball…

The Spartan game plan rarely changes. They want to run it down your throat. The Illini didn’t look at the game tape evidently of the Spartans three game losing streak, but the Wildcats did. They will try to flood the box and force MSU to win through the air. Can the Spartans do that? Sure they can.


One of Coach Fitzgerald’s strengths is that he doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or be cute to get recognition. Something I have asked him about. “I think sometimes coaches think too much. This isn’t rocket science. We know what teams do and they know what we do. It is about execution and winning. If we stop what you do and force you to do other things, we have a good shot at winning.”


The Spartans will look to impose their will on the Cats. Larry Caper will get ideally 30-35 carries as he continues to emerge on the national stage as one of the premier freshman backs in the nation.


Caulton Ray will also be used as the other back to Caper, and the two of them should be able to do the job. If Edwin “ROCK” Baker appears in this game, it isn’t a good thing. That means the Spartans had to take off his red shirt, because of the failure of the multitude of backs behind him to step up.


If Baker plays, this game is a loss because of the long-term ramifications. It would clearly set the stage for some exodus from the program for the litany of backs that would essentially be behind him. Sure I want the win, but I also don’t want to see Baker. I don’t expect to see him either.


The Spartans need to use the play action pass, screens, and of course, the running game to nickel and dime this team. The Northwestern offense will attack, attack, and attack some more. The longer the Spartans keep them off of the field the better they will do.


I wouldn’t be shocked to see MSU go to the air, however, to try to get a knock out punch on the Cats and take some wind out of their sails. The Spartans would love to get a early lead like ILL and with the momentum of the big crowd take the Cats out.

If they do take this approach, Spartan fans need not and shouldn’t leave early. The Cats will not give up and it will be critical to watch for the Spartans to let up.


When MSU is on defense…

The Spartans will do what they do. Coming off of the last two games, the Spartans will look to keep what they are doing. Ironically, the people who thought Pat Narduzzi forgot how to coach during the three game slide, now see what happens when his crew executes. Narduzzi is doing essentially the same calls and schemes as he did during the slide, his guys are just taking care of business.


The Spartans will move Greg Jones all over the field trying to get him different looks, and they will send blitzes from all sides of the field. I will be watching the MSU DL closely. Over the last three weeks they have continued to get pressure without the Spartans having to send the entire house, and if they can sustain that, the Spartans should walk away with this.


The NW offensive attack is predicated on finding weak links in the Spartan chain. They will use the dink and dunk pass and run to just nickel and dime their way down the field. They call plays that use the entire field, sideline to sideline, and they do that trying to find a player loafing for out of position and when they do look out!


They spread the field so when you do blitz, you are creating man on man situations, and if your defenders don’t make good tackles, there isn’t a lot of swarming support. The Spartans have to make tackles on their own in space to be fine.


They are known for the big play, but in actuality the Cats game is simple little stuff waiting for you (the defense) to make a mistake and then they crush you. They are the most patient and schemed dedicated coaching staff in the nation and you can stop them all day and then they get you.



The Spartans are back to .500. They are disappointed with how their season has gone, but finally they have some fun back in football. They will be welcomed home to a big crowd, and since Mark Dantonio arrived you haven’t seen this team lose momentum when they have it.


Remember the rule of five. If MSU wins that, this game is over. For those who don’t remember it, it has to do with sacks and turnovers. If the Spartans have three sacks and gives up two that means they are plus one. If they then get four turnovers and give up only one that means they are plus three. That would give them a plus four for the day. They want to get to a plus five ratio at least every game.


Here are the intangibles for this game:


#1 How will the Spartan players react if they get a lead? Will they play like they expect the Cats to quit? If they do, NW will make a comeback. I want to see that killer instinct that goes for the kill. I am looking for the Spartans to play a full four quarters of football for the first time this year.


#2 How do the Spartans handle tackles in the open field? One on one is how the Cats make a living and I want to see nice boring tackles. No Sportscenter highlights, but a dominating win that they play the full game like they are clawing from behind even when they aren’t.


#3 Aerial attack. Coach Roushar agreed with me last week when I suggested that the Spartans rushing attack this year does better when set up by the pass. I want to see a game where passes aren’t dropped, just good solid receiving and watch what is an amazing aerial attack do what it does. I expect the Spartans to use the air effectively. I also expect guys to solidify their game as the Spartans hope to use this game as springboard for bigger things, most notably the Hawkeyes the following week. If the Spartans are going to have a special season (and there certainly is still time for that, they can’t drop passes. I am looking for Cousins to get his rhythm back and the WRs to catch balls.




This Spartan team is back on track. If they simply play solid, make tackles in space, and don’t drop passes they will walk away with this game. I expect them to use a great pass/run combination with significantly more passing yards than rushing and walk away with this.


I fully expect the best start to finish game of the season from the green and white and MSU wins this 31-17.