East Lansing — Michigan State doesn’t have time to think about revenge, not when the Spartans are four games into the Big Ten season and find themselves unbeaten and in the East Division race.
Of course, there’s plenty of revenge to be had when a team is coming off a season in which it lost all but one conference game. However, after beating one of those teams last week with the win over Indiana, that’s not at the forefront with the Spartans this week as they get set to head to Northwestern on Saturday to play another team that got the best of them in 2016.
“No, I don’t think we really look at the team that we played as much as we look at ourselves at that point in time,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We are just regaining ourselves and restarting ourselves in every opportunity that we have, and just looking forward and trying to focus on the present, but look forward in terms of, ‘Who are we now?’ Every single week, ‘Who are we, and what do we have to do this week?’”
No. 16 Michigan State (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) will continue that focus at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when it takes on Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.
The Wildcats exploded for 54 points last year in a win at Michigan State, but getting that sort of offensive production hasn’t been the norm in 2017. Expected to contend in the Big Ten West, Northwestern (4-3, 2-2) struggled out of the gate and is in the middle of the pack in scoring offense (26 points) in the conference while ranking ninth in scoring defense (23.3 points).
But after losing handily in back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Penn State, Northwestern has bounced back with two straight wins over Maryland and Iowa, the latest one coming in overtime.
The Wildcats are getting consistent production from senior running back Justin Jackson, but they’re still hoping for more from junior quarterback Clayton Thorson. He’s fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (241.1) but he’s ninth in passing efficiency (117.2) and has thrown nine interceptions.
However, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald remains confident in Thorson.
“I judge a quarterback by wins,” Fitzgerald said. “You need to win. You need to help your football team win. I thought there were some plays he made down the stretch (against Iowa), especially in the second half that were the difference in us winning.”
Getting those plays and winning for a third straight week will be a challenge, Fitzgerald said, and he sees a big difference from the Michigan State team he faced last season to now.
“You see cohesiveness,” Fitzgerald said. “(Brian) Lewerke is the quarterback and you don’t have the quarterback flux they had a year ago. They’re running the ball, they’re really talented at wide receiver and they’re solid up front. Defensively, you don’t see the communication mistakes. I remember getting ready for our game a year ago and reading Mark’s comments about self-inflicted wounds they had, mistakes they had been making just from a communication standpoint. You don’t see that happening now.
“This is a team, you take last year out of it, that the last handful of years you can say have been as consistent as any program in the Big Ten. So it’s a great challenge for us.”
Michigan State at Northwestern
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
Records: Michigan State 6-1, 4-0 Big Ten; Northwestern 4-3, 2-2
Line: Michigan State by 2