Michigan State vs. Northwestern preview: Time to regroup

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson has thrown eight touchdowns this season.

Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down Saturday's Michigan State-Northwestern game at Spartan Stadium (3:30 p.m. BTN/WJR).

Wildcats to watch

Clayton Thorson, QB: The sophomore threw three TDs in the victory over Iowa, the second time this season he’s thrown for three in a game. Thorson became the first Wildcats quarterback to throw at least three TDs without an INT in a road game since Trevor Siemian (Illinois, 2013), and his eight TDs surpass his 2015 total of seven.

Justin Jackson, RB: The junior carried the ball 26 times for a season-high 171 yards, including a season-long 58-yard TD against Iowa. Jackson became the fourth player in program history to eclipse 3,000 career rushing yards and is 678 yards shy of Darnell Autry (1994-96) for third in program history.

Austin Carr, WR: The senior had six catches for 73 yards and a career-high three TDs against Iowa and enters the week as the Big Ten leader in receptions (32), receiving yards (465), receiving yards per game (93) and receiving TDs (six). Carr became the first player in Northwestern history to catch a TD pass in four straight games since Teddy Johnson (2000).

Intangibles

Unknown territory: Michigan State hasn’t lost four straight since 2006, the season before Mark Dantonio arrived in East Lansing.

Turnaround: Northwestern has had its share of issues, losing three of its first four. But it might have found a spark with a victory at Iowa two weeks ago.

Welcome home: It’s homecoming at Michigan State, and while that might not matter to some, the fact plenty of former players will be around could be the sort of lift the Spartans need. Mark Dantonio is 8-1 in homecoming games.

Home sweet … Michigan State has controlled the series against Northwestern, but the last three wins by the Wildcats have come at Spartan Stadium (2005, 2007, 2012).

Detroit News predictions: Michigan State vs. Northwestern

Taking charge: Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor has been the starting quarterback, but if junior Damion Terry or redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke are tabbed, it could be a glimpse of seasons to come.

Facts and figures

■ Northwestern DE Ifeadi Odenigbo single-handedly disrupted the Iowa passing attack two weeks ago when he set a Northwestern game record with four sacks. He is fifth in program history with 18.5 career sacks.

■ Michigan State and Northwestern meet for the 55th time, with Michigan State holding a 37-17 advantage. Dantonio is 5-2 against the Wildcats.

■ Senior Josiah Price surpassed 1,000 receiving yards last week to become the fourth tight end in Michigan State history to reach that mark. Price has 80 career catches for 1,001 yards and is first in school history with 18 TDs.

■ Junior S Montae Nicholson had a career-high 17 tackles last week against BYU, the most since Eric Smith had 19 against Notre Dame in 2004.

■ Northwestern enters the game ranked 13th in the Big Ten in scoring offense (20.6) and 12th in total offense (350.4 yards). The Wildcats are 12th in total defense (404.6 yards) but second in the nation in penalties (18 total).