(UHND.com) – I had hoped to write about how the Irish were one game away from completing a perfect September and ready to go on cruise control on November, but things didn’t quite work out for Notre Dame and they now sit with a 2-1 record and their margin for error for the rest of the year is much smaller.
A trip to East Lansing is on slate for the Irish this weekend, a place in which they have won their last two games (2002 and 2004), the only two wins in the last nine meetings with Michigan State. The Spartans gave the Charlie Weis his first loss as the head coach of Notre Dame last year with a 41-38 overtime thriller.
The lasting memory of that September afternoon, however, didn’t come during the first sixty minutes of the game or during the overtime session. The last memory of that game came moments after Jason Teague’s winning touchdown for Michigan State when a few of his teammates ran to mid-field and planted their flag in the ground of Notre Dame Stadium.
It’s been a hot topic this week and while Weis and his players have said over and over that they are not focusing on it, you know it in the back of their minds. Notre Dame doesn’t need much added motivation on top of Michigan State’s recent mastery of the Irish as well as last week’s embarrassing loss, but something tells me the players and coaches are talking a bit differently on the topic in the locker room.
The Irish will need more than motivation from the flag plating however if they plan on leaving East Lansing without another notch in the loss column.
Michigan State brings in a high powered offense led by their Heisman hopeful Drew Stanton. The dual threat signal caller had a huge day against the Irish last year with 327 yards and three touchdowns through the air to go along with an additional 48 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Notre Dame has had trouble with mobile quarterbacks in the past, but so far this season, the only dual threat quarterback they have faced, they held in check. Reggie Ball had a few runs throughout the Georgia Tech game, but nothing major ala Troy Smith in the Fiesta Bowl.
With the additional speed on defense this year, the undersized Notre Dame linebackers might be an advantage this week for the Irish as they attempt to stuff the option plays that killed them last year against Michigan State.
The Notre Dame linebackers will be key for the Irish this week. If Stanton and the Spartans get their option plays going, it could be a long day for the Irish because unlike other teams that run the option, Michigan State can throw it with the best of them meaning the Irish safeties won’t be able to cheat up as much as they would against an option team like Navy.
Stanton isn’t the only one who can hurt the Irish on the ground. Javon Ringer is a speedster who is averaging 7.7 yards a carry this season. Ringer is averaging 118.7 yards a game and has a long of 71 yards – fairly impressive numbers.
In the passing game, Stanton will look to his talented wide receiving corps of Matt Trannon , Jerry Reed, and Jeramy Scott. Trannon and Scott have both had good success against Notre Dame during their careers. Trannon torched the Irish secondary for five catches and 136 yards with two touchdowns in South Bend a year ago.
Bottom line is the Irish defense will be facing a daunting task this week as the Spartans have one of the better offenses they will face this year. For the defense to contain this Michigan State offense they have to keep Stanton contained and not allow him to scramble around and make things happen with legs.
With the speed they have at linebacker we might see Travis Thomas on a couple well timed blitzes this week like we saw early on against Michigan last week. I don’t think we’ll see the Notre Dame safeties cheat up to stop the run nearly as much as last week, however, after seeing it expose the Irish corners.
It will be important for the defense to get their hits on Stanton when they can and when they blitz, they have to make sure they get to the talented quarterback.
Offensively, the Irish had just as much success as the Spartans a year ago. Brady Quinn set a Notre Dame single game record, which he would later break again, with five touchdown passes during a furious second half comeback. Quinn picked apart the Michigan State secondary last year and will need similar success this year.
The key to success for the Notre Dame offense, however, rest squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line. The Irish have had virtually no rushing game the past two weeks and as a result the passing game has suffered as well. If the Irish can control the offensive line and win the time of possession battle and keep the Michigan State offense off the field, they will win this game.
The line is going to have to give Quinn more time to pass early on as well. In each of the first three games this year, Quinn has gotten hit early and often and it has effected his accuracy. If the line can protect Quinn and let him get into a groove early, Michigan State will have a hard time stopping the Irish offense.
I can see this game going a number of ways. If Notre Dame comes out and makes a concerned effort to run the ball, this one could be lower scoring than most people think it will be. If the Irish fail to establish the run again this week, however, this one will be aired out and could resemble a WAC game.
I think Notre Dame comes out fired up and tries to play a physical game and control the line of scrimmage and the clock. The passing game will be there, but after the abysmal performance of the running the past two weeks I think Weis will try and establish the run early. Notre Dame’s improved speed at the linebacker position will help this week, but the defense is going to have it hands full. Still, the Irish will have to score plenty of points to win this game.
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Michigan State 28