Michigan State Football vs. Northwestern Game Preview

Following an unexpected bye week, Michigan State had extra time to prepare for Northwestern. Will it show on the field?
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East Lansing, MI – After an unexpected bye week, Michigan State is back for a matchup vs. Northwestern inside Spartan Stadium on Nov. 28 at 3:30 p.m.

It's been a bumpy ride for MSU in 2020, as they come off recent losses to Iowa and Indiana by a combined score of 73-7 and the first shutout at home since 1985.

Obviously, those are numbers fans cringe at, and with an undefeated Northwestern team heading to East Lansing, good fortunes don't appear on the horizon.

The Spartans need to clean things up in all phases of the game and get on track offensively if they wish to compete, but with additional practices, that's precisely what MSU hoped to accomplish.

"We came back Friday with a walk-through focused on Northwestern," MSU coach Mel Tucker said. "Then we came in Saturday and had a spiders practice which is basically shorts and helmets – it had a Northwestern emphasis … Sunday was a mandatory day, but it was more of a recovery day."

How will Michigan State's extra preparation affect the outcome on Saturday? 

We'll have to wait and see. 

The Basics 

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The Numbers

  • 2019 Record: 3-9 (1-8 B1G)
  • 2020 Record: 5-0 (Conference-Only Schedule)

Last Five Games

  • Nov. 21, 2020 – Wisconsin, W 17-7
  • Nov. 14, 2020 – Purdue, W 27-20
  • Nov. 7, 2020 – Nebraska, W 21-13
  • Oct. 31, 2020 – Iowa, W 21-20
  • Oct. 24, 2020 – Maryland W 43-3

Pat Fitzgerald's 15th season at Northwestern is highlighted by its first 5-0 start since 2015.

With last week's victory, the Wildcats picked up their first Top-10 win in nearly 10-years (NU defeated No. 9 Nebraska, 28-25, in 2011).

And in case fans forgot, Northwestern has won three straight games in East Lansing, including three of the last four meetings. 

The Wildcats feature 32 B1G wins in the past five seasons; second-most in the West and fourth-most in the league. 

Plus, NU defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz put together one of the nation's best defenses, which doesn't bode well for an MSU team struggling to score points. 

Wildcats To Know

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  • QB Peyton Ramsey (6'2", 220, Senior): 96-for-155, 926 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, 41 carries, 128 yards, one score.
  • WR Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman (6'2", 203, Senior): 22 catches, 290 yards, four touchdowns.
  • LB Paddy Fisher (6'4", 240, Senior): 46 tackles (28 solo, 18 assisted), one pass defended, one forced fumble.
  • DL Eku Leota (6'4", 250, Sophomore): Nine tackles (eight solo, one assisted), four sacks, one forced fumble. 

During his weekly presser, Fitzgerald was cordial, explaining what happens in year-one of a rebuilding situation. 

As the second-longest tenured coach in the conference, he knows a thing or two about maintaining a program.

"You're creating new norms, you're creating new expectations, and you're kind of going through a little bit of a storm while all those changes are happening," said Fitzgerald. "And then once you get through that, then there comes really the formation, the foundation of what you're doing. You are starting to see that happen (at Michigan State) right now."

It might pain MSU fans, but the Spartans aren't on par with Northwestern, and beating them will be a challenge, particularly when their defense is on the field.

NU has allowed 63 points (12.6 ppg) through five contests, the fewest amount given up by a Northwestern squad since 1995. 

They also rank top-15 nationally for total defense (15th), scoring defense (4th), rushing defense (13th), team passing efficiency defense (1st), turnover margin (5th), redzone defense (T-14th), and third-down conversion percentage defense (9th). 

The Wildcats' 15 takeaways (11 interceptions, four fumble recoveries) are the most in the Fitzgerald era – dating back to last season, NU has forced a turnover in nine straight games. 

Whereas, Michigan State scored seven points in its last two matchups, and moving the football has come at a premium, coughing it up 14-times, one turnover shy of NU's total. 

MSU is ranked outside of the top-90 for total offense (No. 114), 3rd-down conversion rate (No. 99), first downs (No. 107), rushing (No. 124), scoring (No. 123), team passing efficiency (No. 96), turnovers lost (No. 109). 

It might be another long day for Spartan Nation. 

How the Spartans Matchup

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It's hard to imagine a scenario where Michigan State finds Tucker's first victory inside Spartan Stadium this weekend. 

The offensive line is in shambles; there's an ongoing quarterback competition, and against Indiana, a large chunk of it's secondary remained on the sidelines. 

So, the question is, how healthy is Michigan State? And can they bounce back following two dreadful losses?

"We used this week to recharge, to try to get more healthy," said Tucker. "To really focus on technique and fundamentals and ultimately just grind here at State within our football program."

Northwestern is a team filled with talented veterans who take care of the football and play stout defense. 

The margin for error is small, and Tucker knows it. 

"We're going to have to play complementary football in order to have success this week," Tucker said. "We've got to take care of the football, and we gotta run the ball efficiently so we can have balance on offense ... we want to end every series with a kick, preferably an extra point."

Prediction 

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Northwestern won't put on the show Iowa or Indiana did, but their defense is too good for MSU to overcome. 

The Wildcats aren't going to stumble inside Spartan Stadium; instead, they will improve to 6-0 and notch another victory against Michigan State.

MSU falls to 1-4, and the prospect of winning another game in 2020 moves further out of view. 

NU 17 MSU 3