MSU-Northwestern Preview

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, whose coaching careers have been shaped by defense, ran into each other at Spartan Stadium last season after the Wildcats' wild 48-41 overtime victory.
"When Mark and I saw each other in the tunnel after the game, two defensive guys, we said, `Wow that was a lot of fun, wasn't it?"' Fitzgerald said. "It was almost surreal the track meet that we went through."
Two years ago at Ryan Field before Dantonio arrived at MSU, there was another memorable game. Michigan State trailed 38-3 in the third quarter and stunned Northwestern with a monumental rally for a 41-38 victory that then rookie coach Fitzgerald called as tough a defeat as he'd ever experienced.
The teams meet again Saturday, and whether the offenses are as relentless remains to be seen, but both squads are riding five-game winning streaks.
Northwestern (5-0, 1-0) is off to its best start since 1962, when it jumped out 6-0. The Spartans (5-1, 2-0) have slipped into the AP Top 25 at No. 23 and haven't lost since dropping their season opener at California.
To keep its winning streak going, Northwestern will have to slow down Michigan State's Javon Ringer, who's rushed for 12 touchdowns and has 988 yards rushing -- the highest rushing total through six games in school history. He is next in the nation to Connecticut's Donald Brown.
"His numbers speak for themselves. He's running the heck out of the ball and he's not going down. We just have to put a fence around him," Northwestern safety Brad Phillips said.
If the Wildcats stack the line to slow down Ringer, quarterback Brian Hoyer has been efficient with a favorite receiver in Mark Dell, who has 20 catches. Hoyer is only 100 yards shy of becoming the seventh quarterback in Spartans history to reach 5,000 yards passing.
"This is obviously going to be a huge challenge for us. This is the most physical football team that we've played yet this year," Fitzgerald said.
Both teams beat Iowa in their previous games. Northwestern downed the Hawkeyes 22-17 in Iowa City behind three TDs pass from C.J. Bacher before having a bye. The Spartans needed a late stop by their defense to upend Iowa 16-13 last week at home.
Last year against Michigan State, Bacher passed for a school-record 520 yards and hit for five touchdowns. And now the Wildcats hope to have a healthy Tyrell Sutton available; Sutton missed the Michigan State game with a leg injury last season.
Sutton has gained 464 yards this season and also caught 18 passes. But with Sutton hurt a year ago, Omar Conteh scored three TDs against the Spartans -- catching a scoring pass from Bacher in overtime -- and rushed for 70 yards.
"Sutton catches the ball very well out of the backfield," Dantonio said. "Conteh had an outstanding game against us last year. Both of them can go the distance any time they touch the ball."
So, with both teams showing an ability to score, it could be the team that plays the best defense Saturday that keeps its winning streak intact.


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