For the third straight year, the Wildcats and Spartans will square off in a Big Ten crossover game. On October 6th, the ‘Cats will try to make it three straight wins.
Last year’s game provided one of the best season highlights for the Wildcats. The ‘Cats had a walk-off interception from linebacker Nate Hall in triple overtime, followed by the students storming the field.
Even though the final score was 39-31, the game was much more of a defensive battle than the score made it look. It was tied 10-10 after the third quarter, and 17-17 heading to overtime. Additionally the final stats look somewhat ridiculous, with MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke throwing for 445 yards on 57 (!!) passing attempts. Clayton Thorson threw for *just* 356 yards for the ‘Cats.
So as college football tends to go, these teams will both look pretty different this year. Let’s take a look at some of the key matchups to watch at Spartan Stadium this October:
Brian Lewerke vs. the Sky Team
Ok, so most of the original Sky Team from this dope poster is gone now, but I’m keeping the nickname because it’s really cool.
Montre Hartage and Jared McGee (2/5 of that poster) are still around, and are expected to be the senior leaders of that unit. Trae Williams and J.R. Pace should round out the secondary. Making up for the losses of Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro presents a big challenge, but Pace showed some exciting flashes in his true freshman season and the other three guys are all experienced.
The ‘Cats allowed the most passing yards per game (249.5) in the Big Ten last year, and Michigan State especially has seemed to exploit that. In their last two games against Northwestern, the Spartans have thrown for 869 yards, which is a lot even with the overtimes factored in.
Brian Lewerke had a breakout year last year and is expected to be one of the better returning quarterbacks in the entire conference. Given how the last couple games between these teams have gone, expect him to try to air it out often.
Lewerke has some dangerous weapons at his disposal in the Spartan offense. Running Back L.J. Scott is returning for his 5th-year senior year, and he’s led the Spartans in rushing each of the last three years.
Senior receiver Felton Davis is returning as well, after being named 2nd team All-Big Ten last year. Sophomore Cody White came on strong in his true freshman year, and especially torched the ‘Cats with 165 yards on nine catches last year.
Joe Gaziano (& Co.) vs. the Spartan O-line
Gaziano is a stud. Easily one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten, and he could be in the conversation as one of the best pass rushers in the country.
He tied with Nick Bosa for the Big Ten lead in sacks with nine last year, and comes in to his junior year with high expectations. He notched a sack in each of his last two games against the Spartans as well.
At the other end spot, Samdup Miller turned some heads in his true freshman season. He picked up six sacks, and earned a spot on the freshman All-American team.
The Spartan offensive line looks pretty solid. Even though the Spartans are set to start three underclassmen in that unit, they’re bringing four of their starters from last year back. The biggest loss is center Brian Allen, who was picked in the 4th round by the Rams.
Michigan State allowed just 1.6 sacks per game last year, which was tied for 2nd-best in the Big Ten. But the Wildcat pass rush doesn’t necessarily need sacks to have success. If Gaziano and Miller can make Lewerke uncomfortable in the pocket, that could change the entire gameplan for the Spartans. And might force Lewerke to make a horrible throw at a horrible time. That was fun.
Flynn Nagel vs. MSU Secondary
Senior Northwestern receiver Flynn Nagel has had the two best games of his career against the Spartans. Last year, he caught eight passes for 87 yards with a touchdown, and the year before he caught five for 81 yards and a score.
Nagel entered last season as a popular breakout candidate, but for the most part he plateaued. His statline was very similar to his solid, but unspectatular sophomore year.
Once again, Nagel is expected to take on a huge role with this receiving corps, and he seems to have the Spartans’ number. Michigan State returns all of its key secondary members, but Nagel seemed to have no trouble slicing up this same group last year.
The unit was thoroughly average last year, finishing 7th in the conference is passing yards allowed per game (202.3). Regardless, they still haven’t seemed to have figure out Clayton Thorson and the Wildcat offense.
It’s hard to imagine a boring game between these two teams, given their recent history. Right now, it seems that the scales tip slightly in the Spartans favor, given that they are bringing back so many key contributors at every level. The Wildcats have to deal with replacing stars in their backfield, D-Line, and secondary, which can oftentimes take more than 4-5 games to figure out.