Ahead of the Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 2-2 B1G) game against Michigan State (6-1, 4-0 B1G), we spoke to McLain Moberg of The Only Colors (MSU’s SB Nation blog) to preview this matchup. Thanks to McLain, and make sure to read our answers to their questions at The Only Colors.
Q. Why is Michigan State so much better than last year's catastrophic 3-9 season? Northwestern put up 54 points on this MSU defense on the road last year. What happened? How are they suddenly so good?
2016 wasn't a good year for Michigan State football. It will always be remembered as one of the worst seasons in the Universities history. Last year this team struggled coming together as a unit and it extended far off the field. There were plenty of rumblings about an unhealthy locker room. The off-season drove that suspicion home. The Spartans had some guys on their squad with questionable character (everyone knows about the plethora of guys getting dismissed from the team over the summer).
Now that this team is squared away, fans and analysts alike get the feeling that they really are a team, they are brothers who are fighting, clawing, and playing for each other all week at practice and especially on Saturday's. So in terms of why this team is suddenly so much better my answer would begin with chemistry. After that fact I would say Mark Dantonio and his coaching staff have done an amazing job with the talented players that they still have. The 3-9 season gave the Spartans the ability to be put back in their comfort zone, which is having the opportunity to play with a chip on your shoulder.
Q. Is Lewerke any better than he was last year?
Yes. Brian is better than last year. I know it's hard to see (we had a small sample size last year before he broke his leg against Michigan) but he is the man for the job. I think Lewerke is a tremendous leader out on the football field. His throwing and running abilities are obviously added bonuses. He isn't perfect by any means though. Being a young quarterback in the Big Ten means you are bound to make a few throwing errors, take a sack when you shouldn't, or accidentally fumble the football. There is always room for improvement but for now the Spartans are going to live and die with Brian Lewerke as their QB.
Q. What are some X-factors on offense and defense that will shape this game?
Offense: LJ Scott. We have moved past the whole not having a license incident and head coach Mark Dantonio did allow him to play in the Indiana game so I think Spartan fans can rest easy knowing that their most talented running back will be taking the field Saturday afternoon. He has ran for 281 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. The junior running back out of Ohio is finally hitting is stride and needs to be between those lines prior to kickoff.
Defense: Joe Bachie. The sophomore is always all over the field and this year he has totaled 63 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception through seven games. Four of those games have featured 10 tackles or more. If he isn't the commander and chief of this defense then he's pretty darn close.
Q. Everyone's focus will rightly be on the Ohio State/Penn State game this weekend, but the Spartans are 6-1 with their only loss coming to a really, really good Notre Dame team. Do you think there's any chance Michigan State can complete a massive turnaround and make the Big Ten Championship Game? How about a New Years' Six Bowl? What are your goals for the season now?
My pre-season prediction for this team was 7-5. My expectations have recently gotten higher and rightfully so, but not so high that I am delusional. The Spartans still have to face Penn State (who just dropped 40+ plus on Michigan) and Ohio State (who just put 56 on Nebraska while on the road). So, in my mind, there is no way we are beating either of these teams no matter what happens in the ultimate showdown at 3:30 EST. That leaves us with Northwestern, Maryland, and Rutgers. Michigan State's ceiling increased to 9 wins on the year in my opinion. But they should absolutely be able to reach eight without an issue. If the Spartans can't take two games out of the three I mentioned already then it would be a let down.
Q. Like Northwestern, Michigan State has a great defense and an iffy offense. Do you think both defense will cancel each other out in this game? How do you see the game going?
I think this game is going to be low scoring. I’d expect something like 14-10, 17-10. I just haven't been able to envision either team putting up 20+ on the other all week. It's going to come down to the defensive battle and the one down in the trenches. Whoever is able to score early might just be the winner of this game based upon how both offensives have struggled to move the ball recently.
Q. Which spoonerism is better: Dark Mantonio or Fat Pitzgerald?
I like them both a lot but I'm going to have to go with Fat Pitzgerald.