I’ve noticed that my football-related posts tend to be much more pessimistic in tone than my basketball posts. I’m not sure why that is. The obvious explanation is that the MSU football team has a long history of disappointing us after getting our hopes up. I think it also has something to do with the fact that I watch a lot less college football than I do college basketball, so I tend to be unrealistic about how good a team should be to deserve being ranked.
Regardless, chalk me up as a believer today. I vow to say nothing but positive things in this game recap. Big picture:
- Six wins are now in hand.
- Seven wins and a bowl game would seem to be a foregone conclusion.
- Eight wins is a reasonable expectation at this point.
- Nine wins isn’t out of the question. (Did I hear someone say “New Years Day bowl”?)
Oh, and we now have four more wins than that school down the road in Ann Arbor.
This was clearly MSU’s best all-round performance of the season–controlling a game against a ranked opponent on the road from start to finish. The first glance at the box score raises the concern that the Wildcats outgained us by 176 yards. But much of that was due to their inferior average field position. MSU held Northwestern to just 4.9 yards per play on the day.
C.J. Bacher threw for 283 yards, but it took him 61 attempts to do it. Of Bacher’s 34 completions, only 9 went for more than 10 yards. And, believe it or not, only one of those pass completions went for 20 yards or more. The secondary and the linebackers held their ground all afternoon, allowing short gains but nothing more. Linebackers Ryan Allison, Eric Gordon, and Greg Jones each had 11 tackles.
Michigan State once again benefited from turnovers by its opponent, but at this point I think we have to start to say those turnovers are a function more of MSU’s defensive ability than of random chance. MSU has now forced 16 turnovers in 7 games. (And we’ve only turned the ball over six times on offense.) Both interceptions today looked to be a function of MSU defensive backs knowing just when to break on the ball to take advantage of Bacher’s relatively weak arm strength.
On offense, Northwestern did as good a job as it could have hoped to in containing Javon Ringer. He finished with an average of just 3.5 yards/carry (124 yards on 35 carries). But Brian Hoyer made Northwestern pay for stacking the box. Hoyer played flawlessly, completing 14 of 20 pass attempts (70.0%) for 169 yards (8.5 yards/attempt) and two well-executed touchdown throws.
And, last but not least, our special teams play was superb. Brett Swenson was perfect once again, Aaron Bates pinned Northwestern deep in key situations, and the return game set the stage for the early lead that would never be seriously threatened. (Note: As great as Javon Ringer is, it’s clearly much preferable to have a guy returning kicks who can go all out with fresh legs on every return.) Plus there was the heady fair catch on the onside kick attempt.
Expectations do still need to be reasonable going forward. Of our five remaining games, two are against BCS-quality teams and two are against teams that, as subpar as they’ve looked on the field, still probably have more overall talent than we do.
Sorry, that was just a tad on the negative side. I said I wouldn’t do that. Here’s the bottom line: Today’s win puts MSU in a position where everything from here on out is gravy. (Well, losing to Purdue would be bad, and you’d hate to lose a game to a team that had recently lost to a 1-4 MAC team. But you get my point.)