Basanez passed for 3,622 yards with 21 touchdowns and had just eight interceptions, and also added another 550 yards and seven scores on the ground. Wide receiver Mark Philmore caught 55 passes for six touchdowns in 2005, and Jonathan Fields had 60 receptions, both are now gone as well.
That is a lot of offense to replace.
Still, Michigan State head coach John L. Smith says Northwestern still poses problems for the MSU defense. "They're still solid in everything that they do," said Smith. "They run a scheme where you have to be 'right' mentally because they're going to test you and they have answers. They're going to know how you're defending them and defending the option and make some changes from there. So you can't totally give them one look, you have to give them some other things."
However, probably the biggest loss has been the departure of offensive cordinator Mike Dunbar, who has departed for California after having the fourth ranked offense here last year. The new cordinator is Garrick McGee who hasn't been up to the task so far.
To start the season at quarterback, the Wildcats went with Mike Kafka (477 yards passing 58% completion rate), a redshirt freshmen who is considered the best pass-run quarterback on the team. It wasn't a great start for Kafka, but he did manage to run for 111 yards against Nevada before eventually getting hurt.
Andrew Brewer took over and played against Penn State and has gotten a lot of playing time of late. Brewer has good 4.5 speed and is athletic. There is some futility in the passing game, as the Wildcats have only one touchdown pass for the entire year, none to a wideout, and are passing for a mere 120.7 yards per game. Brewer has thrown for 344 yards passing with a 50.7 completion percentage and no touchdowns.
MSU expects to see a heavy dose of option football led by the Northwestern running backs. "They have two pretty good running backs and their scheme is pretty darn good" said John L. Smith. "It makes you prepare."
The starter is Tyrell Sutton who was the Big Ten Freshmen Of The Year in 2005 after rushing for 1,474 yards and catching another 43 passes out of the backfield. This year Sutton has run for 487 yards and three touchdowns, and has caught 15 passes with the lone receiving touchdown pass for NU.
Terrell Jordan will also see time out of the backfield and has run for 155 yards and three touchdowns. Sutton is nursing a sore shoulder which could be a concern.
Perhaps this is where MSU linebackers and safeties can really test the stabilty of Sutton's shoulder and still be aware of the misdirection runs of the quarterback. Injuries could be an issue in run support as linebacker David Herron is recovering from his concussion, Cliff Ryan is bothered by a sore calf, and safety Otis Wiley has a injured hand. All three players are expected to play.
Northwestern is hurting at the wide receiver position. Shaun Herbert was coming off a year in which he caught 79 passes and six touchdowns. This year he has a mere 24 receptions and no touchdowns in seven games.
The other wideouts include Rasheed Ward who has caught thirteen passes, and Ross Lane who has caught 12 passes. That is not much production when you consider last season the Wildcats caught over 300 passes on the year for over 307 passing yards per game.
After seven games in 2006, the Wildcats have caught just 90 passes on the year for only 120.7 yards per game, a big drop from a team that had over 3700 passing yards in 2005, and now have just 845 yards via the air in 2006. The loss of Bazenez, the two wideouts, and their head coach and offensive cordinator have taken a toll on the offense.
On the plus side is one of the better offensive lines in the country despite the loss of 1st Team All-American Zach Strief to the NFL.
Last year, the Wildcats averaged nearly five yards per carry for 194 yards per game on the ground, and gave up only eleven sacks the entire year, which is an incredible ratio for any program. That ratio was helped of course by the quick throws and experience of Basanez directing the attack. This year the 'Cats' are rushing for 4.7 yards per carry and 164.7 yards per game which is excellent when you conside that NU has been one dimensional because of the lack of a passing attack.
They have given up 15 sacks this year which probably can be expected with the other problems in the passing game.
Trevor Rees is the anchor at center after sitting out 2005 because of academics and is among the best in college football. Joe Tripodi has recovered from a car accident early in his career to be become a decent left guard. The right guard position is Austin Mathews, who played center in 2005 after Rees could not play. He played at tackle in the spring, so there has been some line juggling. Ryan Keenan is the right tackle after starting twelve games at right guard in 2005. Clearly, there was a lot of line shuffling to get the preseason All-Big Ten center Rees into the equation.
The challenge for the MSU defense will be in the trenches in their attempt to stop the running of Tyrell Sutton. This will require proper assignment football and being aware of misdirection.
Defensive line penetration and disruption by the defensive front four of the Spartans is important so the Wildcats will not get MSU to passively react and put them on their heels in the open field. Something that was disastrous for MSU last year. The Wildcats passing game shouldn't test the Spartans too much, then again, a lot of teams lick their chops and get healthy against the Spartan secondary.