WNUR’s David Tyson previews Northwestern’s game against Michigan State this weekend.
On Saturday at 11CST, the Northwestern Wildcats (7-3) look to take down the Michigan State Spartans (5-5) as they travel to East Lansing, MI. Following a devastating loss last week spurred by a Denard Robinson hailmary and capped off by an overtime loss, Northwestern will seek to claim their 8th victory before heading into the final game of their season against Illinois.
Despite starting the season with high expectations, the Spartans have struggled mightily this season. While they have had impressive wins over Boise State and Wisconsin, they’re still a 5-5 team coming off of a heartbreaking 28-24 loss to Nebraska.
The Spartans are led into battle by RB Le’Veon Bell, who leads the team with 1,249 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Similarly, the Cats’ offense is led by the electric Venric Mark who is having a career year with 1,176 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
Although many have Northwestern pegged as the victor in this matchup, the Wildcats will still have to focus on several keys on their march to victory.
1. Control the Ball: In wins over Boston College and Indiana, Northwestern ran more than 80 plays and were close to that in their victory over Vanderbilt with 76 plays. Last week, they didn’t even come close to this trend. Penn State controlled the ball for 39 minutes and never gave Northwestern the chance to get into an offensive rhythm. If they can control the ball, their offensive production should bounce back from their weak showing last week.
2. Venric Mark: Venric Mark has been the lifeblood of this offense. With both Siemian and Colter struggling to throw the ball, Mark has been thrust into the role of being an offensive playmaker. With 1,176 yards rushing, Mark has more rushing yards than either Siemian or Colter have passing. This trend will need to continue of they’re to be successful.
3. Pressure the QB: While Junior QB Andrew Maxwell has put up impressive numbers throughout the season, his 54.5% completion rate leaves much to be desired. If the Cats’ can force pressure on to him, expect him to throw a lot of incompletions and maybe even a turnover or two.
4. Finish Strong: This is not new for the Cardiac Cats. All of their losses- Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan- have occurred through fourth quarter comebacks. Northwestern needs to find a way to grab an early lead, and maintain it. But that’s easier said than done. Heck, it might be better if they trail heading into the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Northwestern 35-31.
Coming off of a tough loss to Michigan, expect the Cats’ to be fired up and come out with aggression and intensity. They’ll surely head into halftime with a lead, but whether they can maintain that lead is the real question. I think they can.