No. 18 Michigan State looks to keep its perfect record in Big Ten play intact when it travels to face Northwestern on Saturday. The Spartans have won four straight to tie Penn State and Ohio State atop the Big Ten East standings, while the Wildcats have two consecutive victories coming into the contest.
Coach Mark Dantonio’s squad has been powered by its defense, holding three of its last four opponents to 10 points or fewer. Offensively, Michigan State has struggled a bit of late, though the running game led by junior LJ Scott (team-high 495 rushing yards, four TDs) has shown some signs of life in the last two games. Northwestern has also relied on its defense, especially against opposing running attacks, as the Wildcats have held their last five opponents below their season average on the ground. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has a versatile back he relies on in senior Justin Jackson, who leads the team in both rushing (603 yards, six TDs) and receptions (26 for 167 yards).
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Michigan State -2.5
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten): The Michigan State defense continues to come up big, despite the fact it is one of the youngest units in the Big Ten. Only two seniors start for the Spartans’ defense — linebacker Chris Frey and defensive end Demetrius Cooper — yet you wouldn’t know it by the results, which have Michigan State ranked No. 4 in the country by allowing just 262.3 yards of total offense per game. The question is, how will the young players hold up, with games against Penn State and Ohio State still on the slate, but if the first seven games of the season are any indication, the Spartans are going to be tough to move the ball on no matter who the opponent is.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (4-3, 2-2): While Jackson has been playing well, the hope among the Wildcats is that quarterback Clayton Thorson can step up and take charge a little more for the Northwestern offense. Thorson has thrown for 1,688 yards and eight touchdowns, but he’s also thrown nine interceptions, and the team has struggled to score at times, averaging 21.3 points in conference play. As the Spartans stack the line to try to take the threat of Jackson away, Thorson will need to be able to make some throws to keep Northwestern moving the ball, including shots downfield to stretch the defense.
1. Dantonio has won at least one road game at every Big Ten stadium, including a 4-0 record at Northwestern’s Ryan Field.
2. Northwestern LB Nate Hall has recorded 29 tackles over his last three games, and his eight solo tackles for loss this season rank second behind Ohio State’s Nick Bosa (10).
3. Michigan State QB Brian Lewerke, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 239.3 yards, made his first career start last year against the Wildcats.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 27, Northwestern 17