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Saturday, October 23, 2010
It's game day at Ryan Field

By Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Greetings from still-dry Ryan Field, where No. 7 Michigan State defends its unblemished record for the first time outside the state against a Northwestern squad coming off of a bye.

Good atmosphere around the parking lots today, as plenty of tailgates are going on. Spartan Nation certainly is here.

The rain hasn't started yet, but we're supposed to get hammered right around kickoff. Weather will be a major factor today.

Ryan Field has a natural grass surface rated among the nation's best, so we'll see how it holds up. The rain should favor Michigan State, which boasts a far superior rushing attack to Northwestern -- No. 26 nationally vs. No. 71 nationally -- and the three-headed monster of Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. Northwestern's short passing attack relies on timing and good footwork by both Dan Persa and his receivers, so it'll be interesting to see how they handle a slick track. On the other hand, Michigan State has more team speed, which could be neutralized a bit.

Northwestern enters the game pretty healthy, although junior superback Drake Dunsmore (ankle) is a game-time decision. Michigan State starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker will miss his second straight game with a suspension. Freshman Darqueze Dennard held up well last week, but Northwestern is the best passing offense the Spartans have faced since Notre Dame, which threw for 369 yards against the Spartans on Sept. 18.

Michigan State has won the past two matchups rather comfortably, but the series has featured some wild games. In 2006, the Spartans mounted the biggest comeback in NCAA history, rallying from a 35-3 deficit to beat Northwestern 38-35 in Evanston. A year later, Northwestern rode a record performance by quarterback C.J. Bacher to a 48-41 overtime victory in East Lansing.

I doubt we'll see that many points today, but you never know. Michigan State has looked every bit like a top-10 team, executing extremely well in all three phases. The Spartans aren't a dominating team, but they make fewer mistakes than their opponents, especially on defense, where they've already doubled their interceptions total (12) from last year.

Northwestern started the season 5-0 but looked more like a 3-3 team. The Wildcats have struggled to run the ball and execute on special teams, and penalties are a new bugaboo. They'll have to play a lot cleaner today and possibly shake things up on offense to have a chance to upset Michigan State.