Monday, June 1, 2020

Know Thy Enemy: Northwestern has "confidence across the board"

September 20, 2019
<p>Khari Willis (27) advances the ball after an interception during the game against Northwestern on Oct. 6, 2018 at Spartan Stadium. </p>

Khari Willis (27) advances the ball after an interception during the game against Northwestern on Oct. 6, 2018 at Spartan Stadium.

Photo by CJ Weiss | The State News

Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of the Spartans to the eyes of MSU football’s next foe. The State News asks the opposing team's beat reporter a few questions to see football through a different lens.

As Michigan State will head out to Northwestern for its first road game, we have reached out to a fellow football student reporter from The Daily Northwestern to hear their take on the matchup.

Here's what Jonah Dylan had to say:

Q: Knowing Northwestern has been victorious in this series against MSU, what do you think the mindset of the players is? Confident? Just another game?

A: It’s worth noting that Northwestern’s best weapon against MSU has been quarterback Clayton Thorson, who’s now on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. So the Wildcats come into this one with Hunter Johnson – who’s still a bit of an unknown – at the helm. If anything, Northwestern’s rush offense will be especially motivated to improve on what was a dismal performance a year ago, but there should be confidence across the board.

And this is a big game for NU. The schedule only gets tougher from here, and this is without a doubt a winnable game and one the Wildcats can’t afford to let slip. They’ll be plenty motivated. 

Q: Chicago is a popular Spartan hub for MSU fans, therefore does the abnormal amount of “away” fans that attend the game affect the Northwestern team at all? Does it still completely feel like a home game?

A: It feels like any other Big Ten home game, where the opposing team has at least half of Ryan Field filled up. Sure, Michigan State travels well, but there won’t be more Spartan fans than when NU faces, say, Sparty’s big brother.

Q: Who has been a surprise player this season on the Northwestern team? Who should Spartan fans look out for?

A: Redshirt freshman Drake Anderson had a breakout game a week ago, rushing for a career-high 141 yards and a touchdown in Northwestern’s win over UNLV. With Isaiah Bowser still nursing an injury, Anderson – the son of legendary Wildcat running back Damien Anderson – may be called on to lead the NU rushing attack once again.

Three years ago, defensive end Joe Gaziano burst onto the scene when he absolutely destroyed Brian Lewerke for an early safety, and the now senior hasn’t looked back since. He’s one of Northwestern’s best players and containing him will be a key for the MSU offensive line. 

Q: Who are you looking out for on the Green & White roster? What Spartan poses a threat to Northwestern?

A: Whoever the 12th guy on the field is, right? Northwestern rushed for eight yards when these two teams met last season and it won’t be any easier this time. Kenny Willekes is a monster in the middle of the field, and the Wildcats will need to focus most of their offensive game planning on finding some way to contain him. Lewerke has thrown for 774 yards in his last two games against NU, so Pat Fitzgerald’s defense will no doubt be looking for ways to curb his effectiveness. That’ll be tough, especially when Darrell Stewart is playing like he is right now. 

Q: What is your score prediction?

A: Northwestern 31, Michigan State 28.
This is a tough one to forecast, because it’s the Big Ten opener and both teams have looked uneven through nonconference play. These two teams always seem to play high-scoring, chaotic games that have recently gone the way of Northwestern, so I’d bet on more of the same this weekend. The Wildcats haven’t looked great this year, but they consistently show up against the Spartans.

Related: With small margin for error, MSU's defense takes on the challenge of perfection

Related: Michigan State ready to regroup ahead of Big Ten opener


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