2011 Prediction & Game Story
Week 13 - MSU & Northwestern
Big Ten Fearless Predictions &
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Nov. 26 Michigan State 31 … at Northwestern 17
CFN Analysis: Michigan State tried, even though this game really didn’t matter. The team gave the full effort and energy from the start, even with next week’s date in Indianapolis looming, but even so, it still took the Keshawn Martin 57-yard punt return for a score to take control. … Le’Veon Bell isn’t being used as a workhorse with Edwin Baker able to take away some of the workload, but he’s effective averaging 5.4 yards per carry running 16 times for 86 yards. … The defense never let the Northwestern running game get going. There were almost no big, important dashes. … Even at 10-2, the Spartans have to win the Big Ten championship to go to a BCS game – the Rose Bowl – otherwise it’ll probably be the Outback.
Dan Persa closed out his home career with a nice 23-of-32, 245-yard, two score performance, but he didn’t get any help from the running game and he didn’t get the offense in the end zone in the first half. He came out hot to start the second half, but the defense didn’t get the ensuing stop it needed. … Kain Colter only ran four times for 18 yards and caught six passes for 44 yards. Northwestern’s best weapon was kept in check. … The Cats should go bowling, but it’s not a given with so many bowl eligible Big Ten teams.
(AP) EVANSTON, Ill. -- Keshawn Martin returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown just before halftime and Kirk Cousins threw two TD passes to B.J. Cunningham as Michigan State (No. 14 BCS, No. 11 AP) warmed up for next week's Big Ten championship game by beating Northwestern 31-17 on Saturday.
The Spartans had already wrapped up the Legends Division title and a berth in the league championship game next week. Now they have the best record in the division, as well, and 10 victories overall (10-2, 7-1).
Cousins threw a 33-yarder to Cunningham in the third quarter and hit him again on a juggling 29-yarder with 5:17 left to complete a 93-yard drive. It was the 62nd career TD pass for Cousins, breaking the school record held by Jeff Smoker (61).
Northwestern finished the regular season 6-6 and 3-5.
Michigan State (9-2) at Northwestern (6-5) Nov. 26, 12:00, BTN
Here’s The Deal … The two programs have played some classics in recent years, highlighted by the 48-41 Northwestern win in 2007 and Michigan State’s 41-38 epic comeback victory last season. This year, if it’s a great game, it’ll only be because the Spartans are going to try.
MSU has never had back-to-back ten-win seasons, but the motivation might not be there with more important things on the horizon after clinching the Legends last week with a 55-3 blowout against Indiana. Game-planning for the Penn State-Wisconsin winner is more important than anything that happens this week, and while there’s no talk of pulling the starters or doing anything out of the norm, the potential for a clunker like the 24-3 Nebraska loss a month ago.
Northwestern already has bowl eligibility sewn up, but that doesn’t mean anything quite yet. The Big Ten is loaded with bowl teams, and the Wildcats might need to win to be assured of one of the league’s automatic spots. On a four-game winning streak – with a win over Nebraska giving the run some legitimacy along with wins over lightweights Indiana, Rice, and Minnesota – the team has gotten hot at just the right time. Considering the Cats lost four of their final give games last year, closing strong is a really big deal. The last time Northwestern closed out a regular season with a better winning streak was the 1995 Rose Bowl year.
Why Michigan State Might Win: The Northwestern pass rush isn’t going to bother Kirk Cousins. The MSU veteran passer is too good when he gets time to work, and if he’s able to take target practice on the NU secondary, it’ll be a long day. Over the last three games, Cousins has thrown for close to 900 yards and eight touchdowns. Last year he threw for a season-high 331 yards and three scores in the win over the Wildcats.
When properly motivated, the defense is the best in the Big Ten. Statistically, the D has been a force ranking third in the nation in yards allowed and fifth in scoring, but most impressively, the secondary has been a rock. The Spartans rank fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and fourth in passing yards allowed. The Wildcat offensive line is lousy in pass protection and it gives up way too many plays behind the line. The Spartan defensive front could dictate the action from the start, and if the pressure is ramped up from the outside, the NU passing game will have to speed things up a few notches. However …
Why Northwestern Might Win: The numbers are a mirage. MSU’s secondary haven’t played many top passing teams, but Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson threw well late when he had to, Minnesota threw for 295 yards and three scores, and Iowa’s James Vandenberg didn’t have too many problems. With Dan Persa back to being his old, accurate self, the Wildcat passing game is ninth in the nation in efficiency and has stepped up its production after the first month of the season. The Cats have thrown well on everyone over the last seven games, and they’re going to push the Spartan corners all game long. Persa isn’t going to make too many poor decisions.
Michigan State isn’t going to be fired up. How can it be? It might want to keep the momentum going and it might want to get into the Big 12 Championship on a hot high note, but the team has much bigger fish to fry. MSU wasn’t focused or sharp against Notre Dame or Nebraska on the road and got tagged, and it should’ve lost to Ohio State had the Buckeye offense been able to get anything going down the field. Northwestern doesn’t exactly play at another level at home, but this is a smart team of veterans that doesn’t make a slew of mistakes and will be ultra-motivated. Effort level could be the difference.
What To Watch Out For: Persa has spread the ball around well and has done a great job of pushing the passing game down the field more, but he has had a problem win interceptions. After throwing just four last year, he has seven in seven games with four over the last three weeks. He struggled against the Spartans last year with 187 yards and a pick with no touchdown passes, but this year, Northwestern doesn’t have a chance if he’s not sharp.
MSU’s B.J. Cunningham destroyed the Cats last year with a season-best eight catches for 113 yards and a score. This year, he’s been one of the Big Ten’s best receivers with 61 catches for 1,005 yards and seven scores with ten catches over the last two weeks and four touchdown grabs. Northwestern’s secondary has been mediocre and can get beaten deep, and MSU will give it a shot a few times with Cunningham looking to stretch the field.
What Will Happen: This will be Persa’s big moment. The senior will throw a pick, but he’ll also spread the all around well and will lead the way to the team’s fifth straight win. Michigan State’s head will already be in Indianapolis, and it’ll show by the end of the first quarter. It’ll be a fight, though – MSU is better than Northwestern – but Persa will come up with a masterpiece under the pressure of the swarming defense.
CFN Prediction: Northwestern 28 … Michigan State 23
Click For Latest Line From ATS: Michigan State -6.5 O/U: 51.5
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