Nick Medline: Well, poorly. Pat Fitzgerald has been criticized for his conservative approach, which makes no sense given that the team just fell to 0-6 in conference play. The Wildcats are, arguably, the most disappointing team in the country — failing to live up to hype that even brought GameDay to campus. Many of these close losses fall on poor execution rather than bad luck, with the offense failing to close out games they needed to have. They're a better team than the record indicates, but they simply deserved to lose all of these games, making this season quite the nightmare.
Wilson: How much has the loss of Venric Mark impacted the offense? How much will the Northwestern running attack be able to do against a tough MSU run defense?
Medline: They'll likely flounder, aside from quarterback Kain Colter, who can provide the necessary wrinkles for NU. Northwestern will now lean heavily on running backs Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy. Green excelled earlier in the season, but lacks the talent to beat the MSU front. Trumpy, meanwhile, functions as the change of pace power back — though he has taken some option plays in recent weeks. The loss of Mark changes the team dynamic. Colter becomes less effective under center, and opposing defenses can force NU to throw the football. I absolutely don't trust Green or Trumpy to find holes against MSU; the Spartans are too good.
Wilson: Statistically, Northwestern has done a good job getting into the backfield in both pass and run defense. What have they done well defensively so far this season and how often do you think they will utilize the blitz against Connor Cook?
Medline: Northwestern has an incredible four defensive end package that it flashes on third down, with Tyler Scott, Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo. Scott might be the team MVP with his playmaking ability and skillset, and Gibson especially has come on in recent weeks. As a whole, this defense improved tremendously throughout the season, with credit going to coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Freshman cornerback Matt Harris looks excellent opposite Nick VanHoose. The linebackers are likely the team's best unit, and aside from weaknesses at defensive tackle, the front keeps the Wildcats in games. They need to force mistakes–and win the turnover battle–to compete. As for blitzing, that varies heavily for NU; I'm inclined to think they'll be heavy in that department for this specific game. Oh, but one way to beat NU: Play action. All of the time.
Wilson:Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter did some good things against MSU last season. Which one probably sees more time this Saturday and how much is there a rotation there?
Medline: After an awful October, Trevor Siemian turned the corner last week against Michigan with an efficient performance. They need him to complete short passes in relief of Colter, clearly one of the team's best players. Siemian usually enters for the third drive, and from that point forward, they tend to alternate. He's more of the conventional pocket passer, while Colter dominates in the zone read and makes the occasional throw himself. If NU trails early, though, expect more of Siemian than usual. "Normal" would involve 60 percent Kain Colter; we'll see how it shakes out this weekend.
Wilson: What are your top keys to the game and what is your prediction?
Medline: I have one. Literally one. If Northwestern can stop Jeremy Langford in any capacity, we have a football game. I don't need to explain to you guys how exceptional Langford looks, and how difficult a task this seems. NU can't expect to score more than, say, 17 points, making defensive stops imperative.
I'm predicting an absolute blowout. This is a horrible matchup for Northwestern, which should struggle to move the ball against (god) Pat Narduzzi.
Michigan State 38, Northwestern 3