After allowing 54 points last year, defense gears up for Northwestern
A year ago, the Spartans entered their sixth game of the season against Northwestern bruised, battered, nursing a 2-3 record.
They, of course, didn’t know the end result of the campaign, so there were still intermediate hopes left to play for. A bowl game, a date with Michigan coming up, all in the works.
Then they went up 14-0 on the Wildcats; then-redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke was making his first ever start at quarterback. He marched right down the field, completing the drive with a touchdown pass to Josiah Price.
Another then-freshman, Justin Layne, had an interception returned for a touchdown. And the Spartans were off.
But the consistent motif for the Spartans in 2016 was that they stumbled, losing games in disappointing fashion. Against Northwestern, it was more or less the same.
As the dust settled following MSU’s fourth straight loss at the time, the Wildcats put up 54 points on the scoreboard, still the most ever by an opponent in the Mark Dantonio era.
So as MSU heads to Evanston, Illinois to take on those same Wildcats Saturday, those memories are still fresh. The defense still remembers the beating, linebacker Chris Frey said.
Though even just one year later, the two teams aren’t exactly the same.
“We know that we’re a completely different team,” Frey said. “Completely different mindset going into this game and this season. We’re worried about who we are as a team, not about who they are.”
The Wildcats, too, aren’t of the same breed even compared to the beginning of the season. Especially on the defensive end, according to Dantonio.
“I think they’re a better football team now than they were at the beginning of the season, and will be a great challenge for us,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans do have a pair of players on their radar, though: star tailback Justin Jackson and quarterback Clayton Thorson. All eyes were on Jackson last year when he gashed MSU for 194 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but Thorson himself had a solid game.
His statline tells a significant part of the story, a 27 of 35 effort for 281 yards and three touchdowns.
Thorson showed out in front a Spartan Stadium crowd experiencing a quarterback controversy. Aside from Lewerke that game, Tyler O’Connor saw significant game action on the gridiron.
“They’re going to be disciplined at what they do,” safety Khari Willis said. “They’re going to come out, do what they do. They’re going to run the ball. They’re going to establish themselves. They’re capable, this is a good team.”
The Spartans, now at the end of phase three of four, will head into Northwestern with one thing on their mind — win.
“Everything that we want in this season is in front of us, it’s in our hands,” Frey said. “We’re in the driver’s seat. We got to do what we go to do to get in the place that we want to be. That’s the mindset that we’re going to have going into this game and the rest of this season.”