NU driving for a 6-0 start

Matt Forman

As Northwestern prepares for Saturday’s game against Michigan State, its toughest tasks of the season are on hand: Containing the nation’s second-leading rusher in Javon Ringer, and continuing its offensive rhythm.

Two weeks ago, the Wildcats surrendered 169 yards on the ground to Iowa. Only 30 of those yards came in the second half, as NU rallied from behind for the win.

Iowa’s Shonn Greene was good two weeks ago. Javon Ringer is next.

“Ringer is a complete back, he can do it all,” junior safety Brendan Smith said. “He can sit there, pound it all day long and then break a long one from there.”

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he’s been impressed with Ringer’s vision, patience and physicality. He said that the senior, who is on pace to rush for 1,976 yards and 24 touchdowns, gets stronger as the game goes along. Junior strong safety Brad Phillips agreed.

“I think his numbers speak for themselves,” Phillips said. “He’s running the heck out of the ball and he’s not going down. He just keeps running and running.”

Stopping Ringer will not be an easy task. NU (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) saw his abilities last season. The senior tailback rushed 12 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns while catching six passes for 54 yards.

While the defense has its hands full, senior quarterback C.J. Bachér and the offense need to stay sharp. Bachér turned in his best statistical performance against Iowa – a 284-yard, three-touchdown game in NU’s come-from-behind victory.

Bachér has been at the heart of historical contests with the Spartans (5-1, 2-0) over the last two seasons. In 2006, he led NU to an early 38-3 lead before the defense allowed 38 unanswered points in a 41-38 loss.

That was Bachér’s first game as a starter, and the Cats were on the wrong side of the largest comeback in NCAA FBS history. It was a game in which Fitzgerald said that NU was “hit by a haymaker.”

A season ago, NU topped Michigan State 48-41 in an overtime thriller. Bachér passed for a school-best 520 yards and five touchdowns to four different receivers in the victory. The teams combined for 1,092 yards of total offense.

“It was almost surreal, the track meet we went through,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a hard fought battle. It was just a great, great football game.”

Cats senior running back Tyrell Sutton did not play in last year’s game due to injury, and the Spartans had a difficult time containing Omar Conteh. Conteh had 149 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns.

“As an offensive player, it was a lot of fun,” senior wide receiver Eric Peterman said. “It just seemed like whoever had the ball last would win.”

It turned out that Michigan State held the ball last, in overtime. Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw four straight incompletions to seal the NU victory.

A year later, the teams have striking similarities. Both squads have won five consecutive games, with skilled seniors at quarterback and running back. But Fitzgerald said the comparisons don’t end there.

“Both teams are led by tremendous leaders in the locker room,” he said. “I think both teams are playing their best football of the year right now. And both teams are very hungry to improve… It’ll be the toughest game we’ve played so far.”

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