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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Michigan State

The Wildcats can’t get ahead of themselves in this game.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern goes to East Lansing to take on Michigan State at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday. Last season, the ‘Cats lost 31-10 at Ryan Field in the forgetful 2019 season. Now, Northwestern has a chance to win the Big Ten West at Spartan Stadium. Here are three reasons why Northwestern will punch their ticket to Indianapolis and three reasons they’ll have to wait.

Why Northwestern will beat Michigan State

The Sky Team shuts down the Spartan’s passing attack

Michigan State has gained a majority of its yards this season through the air, as it has the worst rushing attack in the conference at just below 74 yards per game. They have had to resort to putting their trust in quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who hasn’t been impressive himself, completing 57.1% of passes and throwing more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6). Northwestern’s strong secondary should be able to shut down the MSU passing attack early on and cause the Spartans to make mistakes.

Drake Anderson and Isaiah Bowser come alive

Early on, it appeared the thunder and lightning duo of Bowser and Anderson would be what carried the Northwestern offense. Over the past two weeks, that storm has subsided. The duo has accumulated just 47 yards during that span and has created little opportunity for a balanced attack. Against a struggling Michigan State defense, the two have the opportunity to get back on track. Northwestern needs to revitalize the dying ground game in order to win going forward and create sustainable offense.

Northwestern’s personnel is simply stronger than MSU’s

Northwestern is 5-0 for a reason. Michigan State is 1-3 for a reason. The ‘Cats have gotten more out of their players this season and have more talent at every position group. Michigan State could play spoiler on NU’s undefeated season, but that motivation is hard to produce after losing two ugly blowouts. The ‘Cats simply have much more to play for, and they are simply better equipped to win.

Why Northwestern won’t beat Michigan State

Northwestern doesn’t respect Michigan State

It would be easy for the ‘Cats to walk into Spartan Stadium expecting to win. Michigan State has proven to be arguably the worst team in the conference, and Northwestern has shown itself to be one of the best. There is a chance that the ‘Cats look at the discrepancy of records and the 13.5-point spread and figure this will be a cakewalk. It’s been a pattern within the Big Ten this season that anybody can beat anybody. If Northwestern forgets that, it could be a long afternoon.

The offense struggles to put up points

If there has been a weakness for Northwestern this season, it’s been in picking up yards consistently, especially on the ground. The ‘Cats rank second to last in the Big Ten in yards per game (ahead of only the Spartans) and often have trouble moving the ball downfield. While MSU’s defense is a lesser unit than ones they’ve faced this season, there is a chance that the problem lies more with the ‘Cats than in the strengths of their opponents. In order for Northwestern to continue to win, it needs to be able to put up points on a more consistent basis. That includes winning the field position battle.

The ‘Cats get sloppy with their play

It’s not uncommon for a team coming off of its biggest win of the season to experience a hangover the next week. Stepping into East Lansing riding off a top-ten high, there is a chance that Northwestern gets sloppy with their play. If the ‘Cats come out of the gate turning the ball over on offense and causing penalties, they may find themselves in a hole early against the Spartans. It’s hard to believe that this will be the case given that Fitz continuously emphasizes the “1-0 mentality,” but any team can fall victim to over-celebration.