Spartans need to exploit NU defense

Of the 31 trips opponents have made into the Wildcats red zone this season, Northwestern has held them out of the endzone sixteen times. This will be an important facet to watch as the game unfolds - whether the Spartans play well in the red zone and come away with touchdowns, not field goals, or worse, turnovers.

OKEMOS, MI -- As fast as the Northwestern Wildcats (2-5) scored points in 2005, they gave them up even faster. Despite averaging 32.3 points per game last year, they gave up 33.9.

The good news for the 2006 edition of the Wildcats is that they have chopped 8.3 points off that total and are now giving up 25.6 points per game, and held two teams - Miami of Ohio and Eastern Michigan - without touchdowns, under the direction of former Spartan coach Greg Colby.

Okay, now the bad news - in Big Ten play Northwestern has been shredded through the air and ground. Wisconsin's P.J. Hill rambled for 249 yards on the ground against them, and Penn State and Purdue went over the top, putting up big passing totals.

Something that might surprise you is that despite giving a lot of yards 'between the 20's', the Wildcats have buckled down in the red zone, and in fact, came up with two interceptions deep in their own end to beat EMU.

Of the 31 trips opponents have made into the Wildcats red zone this season, Northwestern has held them out of the endzone sixteen times. This will be an important facet to watch as the game unfolds - whether the Spartans play well in the red zone and come away with touchdowns, not field goals, or worse, turnovers.

NU played quality during the first halves of Big Ten games but things have deteriorated in the second half as the defense is left on the field for long stretches as the offense sputters.

Statistically, Northwestern is not bad, giving up 148.6 yards rushing per game (3.9 yards per carry) and 226.9 yard per game passing. They're giving up 19 first downs per game.

Consider that under Walker, the Wildcats were giving up 25 first downs, 218 rushing yards, and 262 passing yards per game, and you can see the amazing improvement. The improvement is more impressive when you consider the Wildcats had an explosive offense last year and a struggling, sometimes non-existent one here in 2006.

New head coach Pat Fitzgerald has stamped his knack for developing a 'bend but do not break' defense into this group that has been further compromised by offensive turnovers and having to defend a short field on occasion.

For Michigan State, its offense has struggled lately as quarterback Drew Stanton has been harassed into making quick throws with some less than impressive pass protection. Compounding the problem for State is a case of the drops. MSU's offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin is clearly not happy about the way his unit has performed of late.

"The last two games, we've dropped ten balls," said a clearly exasperated offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin. Injuries play a factor, but when you don't execute and do the things that we're capable of doing, the injuries aren't a factor. We've just hurt ourselves. We have not been able to move the football because we've hurt ourselves."

Baldwin also isn't happy with MSU's pass protection. "Everybody looks to Drew and says 'he's not doing the things he's capable' but it's not Drew at all. I felt Drew, the last two games, played well. We did not protect for Drew this last game. He had a guy in his face before he could step up and throw the football." Stanton should be able to find better protection against the NU defensive front seven and be able to attack the Wildcats secondary. It's not a good sign when your secondary makes the majority of tackles and the third, fourth, sixth, and seventh leading tacklers are in the deep zones for the Wildcats.

Stanton will face Second Team All-Big Ten cornerback Marquise Cole who has 33 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, an interception, and three pass break-ups. The other corner is Deante Battle, who has 42 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, four pass break-ups and a forced fumble.

Free Safety Brendan Smith has 41 tackles, one interception, four pass break-ups, and a recovered fumble. Strong safety Reggie McPherson has 31 tackles and seven passes batted down.

Still, Baldwin is pointing to the whipping the Northwestern team put on MSU a season ago- ruining their homecoming in 2005.

"If we can't get fired up to go back into their place and show that we're a better football than that - Drew's the same guy and we've got a lot of the same people on this football team. We better have some incentive to get back on track and especially against this opponent," said Baldwin.


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