Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#333 Michigan State -8.5 vs.
#334 Northwestern 38.5
Saturday, September 21, 2019 at 12:00pm EDT
Ryan Field, Evanston
Written by Ricky Dimon

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#333 Michigan State University
#334 Northwestern University
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The Northwestern Wildcats and Michigan State Spartans will contest the Big Ten opener for both teams when they collide at Northwestern’s Ryan Field on Saturday afternoon.

Defense not the problem

Michigan State is looking to bounce back from its first loss of the season, which came via a 10-7 decision against visiting Arizona State this past weekend. The Spartans had previously defeated Tulsa (28-7) and Western Michigan (51-17). Their defense was once again stingy, limiting the Sun Devils to what should have been a crippling 216 yards of total offense. For a while it was impossible for Arizona to find the endzone, as the visitors went into the fourth quarter with just three points. But a touchdown with 50 seconds remaining gave ASU the lead and it held on when Michigan State’s tying field goal was waved off due to 12 men being on the field.

“You better be able to regroup,” head coach Mike Dantonio assured. “If you can’t regroup then that’s a problem. We will regroup, I can promise you that. We will coach with energy, I can promise you that. I can promise you that we will address the issues, and we will continue to get better.”

If there is one thing that cannot get any better it’s the Michigan State run defense. Sparty is surrendering a meager 23.3 yards per game on the ground through three contests. Arizona State gained only 76 rushing yards, averaging fewer than three yards per attempt. Tulsa, one of the proudest programs in the nation when it comes to rushing the football, “gained” negative-73 yards on the ground; that’s right: negative-73!

Rush offense vs. run defense

The Wildcats have played only twice so far, having enjoyed an off week in between their loss at Stanford and home win over UNLV. Northwestern is hoping to build on its head-to-head victory in 2018, when it went on the road and toppled the Spartans 29-19 on Oct. 6. The ‘Cats beat Michigan State in triple-overtime the last time these two teams clashed at Northwestern (Oct. 28, 2017).

Perhaps the biggest key to the rematch will be the battle between Northwestern’s rushing attack and Michigan State’s run defense. The Wildcats are averaging 184.5 yards per game on the ground after redshirt freshman Drake Anderson churned out 141 yards and a touchdown during last week’s 30-14 defeat of UNLV. Anderson did not lose any eligibility after playing almost none in 2018 (he got two carries against Michigan State).

“I’m just gonna pray,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald joked, referring to how his team is going to run the ball on Michigan State. “Hope it all works out…. I think it’s just opportunity (for Anderson). He was really close to playing and last year. We actually went up to Michigan State really not sure where we were at yet. We were very unsettled at the position and you saw him get a little bit of time in that game. So just opportunity presented itself and he’s ready. I think he’s a big-time player, I think he’s going to be a great player for us for a long time. And I told you guys at the start of camp, I felt pretty solid about that room. We just got to keep getting an experience.”

“They make it really hard, they’re really good,” Fitzgerald continued. “They know exactly what they’re doing and exactly how they want to stop you… We’re gonna be one-on-one. We’re gonna have to win, because they’re not going to allow you to outnumber them in any way, shape or form in the run game.”

The key for the Wildcats will be the performance of Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, who has struggled with accuracy in the first two games as the quarterback. He’s completed just 18 of 42 for 220 yards passing this season with one touchdown and three interceptions.

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Northwestern has excelled in this head-to-head matchup of late and Anderson’s emergence can only help the home team in its effort to solve Michigan State’s defensive front. MSU’s offense has been mediocre at best, averaging just 4.3 yards per carry. The unit was positively hopeless against Arizona State last weekend. Northwestern should be more rested, too, having played only two games so far this season. The Spartans are 1-4 ATS in the last five meetings between the two teams. Northwestern is 5-2 ATS in its last seven after rushing for more than 200 yards in its previous outing.

Prediction: Northwestern Wildcats

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Northwestern is doing nothing through the air, which is trouble given how hard it is to do anything on the ground against Michigan State. Quarterback Hunter Johnson is completing just 42.9 percent of his passes for 220 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. The under is 10-1 in the Spartans’ last 11 overall, 4-0 in their last four on the road, 7-0 in their last seven against the Big Ten, and 6-0 in their last six after scoring less than 20 points in their previous game. It is also 5-2 in the Wildcats’ last seven overall, 42-13-1 in their last 56 at home, and 5-1 in their last six against the Big Ten. Take the UNDER to the bank.

Prediction: Under
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Written By Ricky Dimon

A 2006 graduate of Davidson College, Ricky is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to joining the Winners & Whiners Staff, he worked with various websites in the sports handicapping industry and is generally a fan of going with the hot hand while in most cases showing a willingness to take favorites and give the points. Beyond the four major sports, Ricky is an avid tennis fan—and writer—and covers the ATP Tour on a daily basis.