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Who Has The Edge: Week 13, Northwestern vs. Michigan State

It’s all or nothing. The final chance. Either Northwestern wins its last two games or the postseason hopes are over. The Wildcats’ first task: beat Michigan State, who can clinch a Big Ten Championship game berth with a win. Let’s look at how the two teams match up.

When Michigan State has the ball

The Spartans have had a turnaround year on offense, and much of the credit goes to first-year starter Connor Cook. The redshirt sophomore quarterback has improved steadily throughout the season, particularly in his field awareness. He was tested last week at Nebraska, facing more pressure than he had in any other game, and he came through with 193 yards and a touchdown against the Cornhuskers’ tight man-to-man coverage. Whereas the pressure was on NU’s defensive line to step up last week, this week the secondary will be put to the task. The defense has been the unit keeping NU in games lately, but they have struggled to get off the field, particularly on fourth down. In the last three games, they have allowed opponents to convert 67 percent of their fourth downs. To beat the Michigan State, they will have to get stops on fourth down and come up with an interception or two.

Edge: Michigan State

When Northwestern has the ball

This Michigan State defense is allowing only 57 rushing yards per game, which leads the country in rushing defense. However, Nebraska was able to grind out 182 yards last week against the Spartans. The Cornhuskers used the spread offense to create some space for running back Ameer Abdullah. While Northwestern doesn’t have a back with the same agility as Abdullah, they could try a similar approach with Treyvon Green or Kain Colter and the option offense. The biggest battle of the game will be between Michigan State’s defensive line versus Northwestern’s offensive line. The only way NU can turn the offensive woes around is if they have more than two seconds before the opponents penetrate the backfield.

Edge: Michigan State

Special Teams

With Northwestern’s offense struggling, they won’t be happy to hear that Michigan State’s punter leads the nation in punts downed inside the 10 yard line. The Cats will probably have some long fields to work with on Saturday. Conversely, NU punter Brandon Williams will be looking to recover from a 10 yard punt and subsequent benching in the fourth quarter against Michigan last week. Luckily they still have a pretty reliable kicker in Jeff Budzien, but this game won’t be won on field goals.

Edge: Michigan State