As the sun settled over Notre Dame stadium last Saturday, the Irish walked off the field earning a gritty win against the Boilermakers. While not nearly as impressive from just one week earlier, this is the type of game they would have lost in past few years. As injuries and costly mistakes piled up on both sides of the ball for Notre Dame, they still found a way to fight through them and notch a win at the end of the day. There were some definite positives that fans can take away from this win, and there are some old questions that still need to be answered and new ones that have arisen. Some of those questions need to be answered very quickly as the Irish travel to East Lansing this weekend to face a very tough Michigan State team. Michigan State has returned 9 defensive starters, and have a shown a propensity to run the ball extremely well. This is by far Notre Dame’s biggest challenge of the year so far, and their first real road game. There are multiple reasons that each team’s fan base can look to and justify a win for their beloved squad, and most of them would be legitimate. The team who walks away with a victory Saturday night will have overcome its weaknesses and will have found a way to improve upon them during the week of practice leading up to the game
Why Notre Dame Could Win
TIGHT END PLAY – The Irish are extremely talented at this position and have one of the best in the country in Tyler Eifert. At 6’6 251 pounds, Eifert is a nightmare for opposing defenses to cover with a linebacker, and really requires a double-team to limit his effectiveness. Troy Niklas has also been very impressive in his ability to find the open spot in the defense, catch the ball and make plays. Ben Koyack has also seen some success and at 6’5, he provides yet another legitimate weapon for the Irish offense.
MULTIPLE THREAT QB – While only a Sophomore, Everett Golson has shown the ability to make good decisions under pressure, and provide mobility in the pocket. Although most would not consider him a true threat to run the ball consistently quite yet in his young career, that does not mean he can’t. He is extremely elusive and forces the defense to always keep an eye on him. Michigan State has a strong defensive line, and his ability to create and provide more time for his receivers to get open will be incredibly invaluable come Saturday night. His talent to throw on the run will also play a huge part in Notre Dame’s ability to move the ball consistently on the Spartans defense.
DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN – For the most part the Irish front seven have been very successful in the early part of the 2012 campaign. Stephon Tuitt has played like a man amongst boys and leads the Irish defense with 4 sacks. Louis Nix isn’t far behind, as he has become a true disruptive force in the middle of the Irish defensive line. Manti Te’o leads the team in tackles and has been very good at the point of attack this year. If Kapron Lewis-Moore is healthy, he and Ishaq Williams also provide some true punch up front, and they will all need to be at the top of their game if the ability that Le’Veon Bell has shown in his first two games is legitimate.
Why the Irish Might Lose
MSU RUNNING ATTACK – Le’Veon Bell sure seems to be the real deal in 2012. He possesses the rare gift of power, speed, and agility all in one package. If Michigan State’s offensive line can control the line of scrimmage, it could be a long evening for Irish fans. Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta could play a huge role in trying to limit the Spartans’ run game, but the bottom line is whoever controls the line of scrimmage, most likely will control the scoreboard also. Notre Dame cannot afford to miss tackles and blow assignments as they did against Purdue, or Spartan fans could see another performance out of Bell like they did in the Boise St game.
MICHIGAN STATE’S DEFENSE – As mentioned before the Spartans return 9 starters on a very physical defense. The Irish did well last year against this defense, but it is a different set of circumstances this year. An immensely talented defensive line for Michigan State that is headlined by Kawann Short will throw as many different looks as possible at the Notre Dames offense, and if the Irish offensive line plays like they did against Purdue, Sparty could really gain a huge advantage here.
SPARTAN STADIUM AT NIGHT – Although there is no B.J. Cunningham or Kirk Cousins, that doesn’t make East Lansing any easier of place for visiting teams. It’s also no surprise that the Irish are a very young squad at key positions and playing here at night for your first true road game is no easy task. The crowd of 75,000 will have revenge on their mind, and will take every moment to remind the Irish of how much they dislike them.
Obviously there will be a lot more factors that play into who walks away with a victory this Saturday, and these are just some of them. This game has a huge impact for both teams on the rest of the season. Michigan State still has Ohio State and Nebraska visiting East Lansing, and has to hit the road and play in the hostile venues of Wisconsin and Michigan. The Irish need to grab every win they can, as their schedule is no easier with games left against Michigan, Miami, Oklahoma, and USC.
Both coaches understand the importance of this game, now it’s a matter of which team decides to put it all together for three hours on national television in prime-time.
Notre Dame -24
Michigan State – 21