Game Preview: Cats ready for road test against Spartans

Robbie Levin

For the last seven quarters, the Wildcats have put on a defensive demonstration. Dating back to the second quarter of the Purdue game, NU has allowed just 13 points. In that time, Mike Hankwitz’s crew has come away with eight turnovers and 11 sacks.

If the Cats want to leave East Lansing, Mich., with a win for the third straight time, they are going to need their defense to step up once again.

“We just have to play physical,” junior linebacker Nate Williams said. “We have to play our brand of football. We’ll bring some guys up to the box and crowd it a little bit to stop the run. But once we’ve got that stopped, I have full confidence in our corners and our safeties in back to get the job done in the secondary.”

The Spartans rank second in the Big Ten and 28th in the country in total offense, racking up more than 400 yards per game. The key to Michigan State’s high powered attack has been a lethal passing attack – quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol have combined for an average of 280 yards per game. The duo is also dangerous on their feet, as they have combined for 172 yards on the ground this year.

“I don’t know if we’ll stop them because nobody has stopped them yet, but hopefully we can slow them down,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When you’re playing two dual-threat quarterbacks, the hard thing for our secondary is once they start scrambling, knowing when to come back to the football, being disciplined so you don’t come up too soon and let them dink it over your head.”

Lately the Cats’ offense has been hampered by injuries. After being limited against Miami (OH), NU is hoping that junior running back Stephen Simmons can take on a larger role in the offense this weekend. Simmons has been sorely missed in the running game – in four games without him, NU is averaging 83 ground yards per game.

But according to Fitzgerald, Simmons isn’t the answer to the offense’s woes. Alone.”He’s just one guy,” Fitzgerald said. “We need to play better as an offense collectively as a group. Our philosophy hasn’t changed; we’ve got to put our guys in the right position to go make plays.”

Last year the Spartans jumped out to a 17-point lead in Evanston and never looked back.”They played outstanding that day, ” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to need to…find a way to get better and compete against the Spartans up in East Lansing.”

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