Brendan Wilner: @b_wilner16
Michigan State is now 2-3 and is looking to stop a three game losing streak. They play Northwestern at Spartan Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Spartans haven’t been in a position like this in a while and have to find a way to win on Saturday or else things will keep getting worse.
The X-factor for this game is going to be the starting quarterback. We don’t know who it is quite yet as Tyler O’Connor, Damion Terry, and Brian Lewerke are all battling for the starting job in practice this week. However, it doesn’t matter who is starting as long as that player leads his team.
In football, it all starts with the quarterback. He is the leader of the team, and leadership is what is missing from MSU this year. They don’t have that “it” factor from their quarterback and you can see it in the players’ body expressions. Whoever is starting for MSU needs to be a confident QB who can lead his team to victory.
The key for whoever starts is to not turn the ball over and pass efficiently. If he can do that, and as long as the Spartans don’t have too many three-and-outs and put points on the board then they have a good chance of coming out with a victory.
David Manion: @The_Manion1
An important X-factor for the Spartans to excel in has to be slowing down the Wildcat ground game. The Spartans’ defense uncharacteristically struggled against the BYU rushing attack last week, surrendering 260 total rushing yards as Jamaal Williams led the way with 163 yards.
Justin Jackson is the workhorse of a Northwestern squad whose identity is crystal clear: ground and pound. Thanks to a veteran offensive line, Jackson has racked up 510 yards and four scores on the ground. Shutting down the heart and soul of the Wildcat offense is a solid goal for MSU.
With the Wildcats being a primary run team, the Spartans need to force quarterback Clayton Thorson to use his arm to win the game for Northwestern.
MIchigan State has generated little pass rush this year, evidenced by their zero sacks in the last nine quarters of play. The biggest key for MSU is to apply penetration, especially on passing plays by blitzing Chris Frey, Andrew Dowell and Shane Jones to counter the run heavy raid.
Malik McDowell can’t be the only threat on the defensive line, which means starters Demetrius Cooper, Kevin Williams, and Evan Jones need to emerge and deliver in big time moments. The banged up McDowell can’t keep up this ridiculous pace any longer. It’s physically exhausting.
Containing Jackson and the dual threat Thorson, who’s also dangerous in the running department, will allow MSU to get the necessary stops to keep them in the game. The secondary anchored by Montae Nicholson will be relied on to help out in run support.
The linebackers must stay vigilant on defending the read option by not neglecting the quarterback, like they did when BYU’s Taysom Hill strolled for a touchdown in the red zone in the fourth quarter last week.
It’s also crucial for them to not only wrap up properly, but to also attempt to jar the ball free and snatch some much needed turnovers. The Spartans also have to be cautious not to overpursue the ball carrier, sticking to each of their assignments and staying at home on play action passes.
Andy Chmura: @andy_chmura
Each of Michigan State’s three losses have one thing in common; MSU was the first team to score. The Spartans have had no trouble moving the ball in the first quarter, especially on their first drive.
However, MSU can never seem to sustain this offensive success. They stall in the second quarter and only get weaker from there. This is largely due to horrific play calling because of predictable and conservative plays. These kinds of play greatly limit main contributors like Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton to expose their skillset and potential.
Whether Mark Dantonio starts Tyler O’Connor, Damion Terry, or Brian Lewerke, the Spartans’ X-factor remains the same. They need to take shots downfield. They must play aggressively and find ways to make big plays. They also need to control the tempo of the game and give the defense time to rest.
If MSU runs the same generic plays on offense that seemingly give them five yards at most, they have no chance against the Wildcats. But if they fight aggressively and play to win as opposed to playing to not lose, MSU might just win the next two games.