Notre Dame vs. Michigan State: Key Matchups

Prince Shembo - Notre Dame OLB
Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Prince Shembo (55) celebrate in action during a football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Temple Owls, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls by the score of 28-6. (Photo: Robin Alam / IconSMI)

Notre Dame will return to South Bend this weekend for a pivotal early season challenge versus Michigan State.  The Spartans always play the Irish tough and are seeing their form improve each week ahead of this Saturday`s game.  The Irish have had trouble displaying the form they showed last season, especially on defense.  The Spartans bring a physical team to Notre Dame Stadium that will be looking to start to experience consistency on offense.  The Irish will need to improve their form on defense and control the line of scrimmage in order to move to 3-1 and start to earn back the respect of the rest of the nation.  The following are the key matchups the Irish must control in order to be successful versus the Spartans:

Irish running backs versus Max Bullough:  The stable of Irish running backs will be in need of their best game of the season against Michigan State.  The Spartans are extremely physical and stout against the run so the Irish will need Cam McDaniel to continue to earn the hard yards between the tackles as he did versus Purdue.  Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson III will also need to run downhill and secure the football while also making the most of opportunities to get to the edge.  Freshman Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston will also need to justify the hype surrounding them if they receive a chance to carry the ball.  The catalyst of the Spartans hardnosed defense is linebacker Max Bullough.  Bullough, a preseason second team All-American is in his third season as the Spartans starting middle linebacker and has led his team in tackles each of the last two seasons.  Bullough has 15 tackles so far this season and will attempt to continue Notre Dame’s struggles running the ball.

Ronnie Stanley versus Shilique Calhoun:  First year starter Ronnie Stanley is in for a very stiff challenge against pass-rusher Shilique Calhoun.  Stanley has played decent at right tackle for the Irish this season but hasn’t been exceptionally good run blocking and also hasn’t seen a pass-rushing talent like Calhoun.  Calhoun is off to a great start for the Spartans with three tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, eight quarterback hurries and three fumble recoveries.  When the Irish are in obvious passing downs Calhoun will pin his ears back and come after Tommy Rees, who lacks the ability to escape the rush, so it is paramount that Stanley provide Rees with enough time to make plays downfield.

Dan Fox versus Jeremy Langford:  Dan Fox will be once again charged with the responsibility of holding the opposition’s number one running back in check.  Fox leads the Irish in tackles with 24 and has been steady against the run and pass this season.  The Spartans also have a stable of backs to which they give the ball, chief among them being Jeremy Langford.  Langford is experiencing his first season as a starter and leads the team with 200 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns and is also third on the team with seven receptions.  A well rounded back like Langford is pivotal to the success of the Spartans offense as he gets many touches.  All of Fox’s skill will be tested by an all-around back but if he can shut down Langford he can help make the Spartans one dimensional and therefore hurt their offenses ability to make plays.

Prince Shembo versus Connor Cook:  Notre Dame’s edge rusher Prince Shembo is going to need a big game versus the Spartans and will be the key to shutting down Spartans quarterback Connor Cook.  Shembo has 10 tackles and six quarterback hurries so far this season and will need to get to Cook when he drops back to pass as well as contain the mobile quarterback when he scrambles and on designed runs.  Cook took the starting quarterback job away from week one starter Andrew Maxwell and has established a firm hold on it.  Cook has thrown four touchdowns and no interceptions this season and has also run for 70 yards.  Cook can escape the rush and make plays on the run so Shembo must throw off his timing through pressure  while also limiting the damage the Spartans quarterback does on the ground.

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  1. This team historically has played ND well in South Bend except maybe 2011. They seem to play tough when they come to visit. Hope there is a better game plan than what we have seen this year. It’s quite disappointing after 4 years we still don’t have that type of offense BK. was renowned to have. Of course I thought this year might be that breakout year until Golson lost his priority & focus.

    Go Irish, kick Sparty’s butt

  2. The BIGGEST threat to an ND loss – Kelly’s actual gameplan (if he even puts one together). Last year Kelly’s hands were tied from his own wrenches/over tinkering hands which leads to indecision and a team tied up in knots. This year Kelly is back at it again. His game logic has a lot to be desired.

    ND fans the only way the players can overcome Kelly’s destructive gameplans and player decisions….is to gain the necessary experience and talent that can fight through those decisions.

    However this will lead to NO National Championship EVER IF talent, experience are equal to the opponent. Because through 40+ games Kelly still show’s he doesn’t understand how to attack an opponents weakness. ND still show’s up and gives flat performances while opponent coaches are give kudos for a tough fight.

    I ask “How many Magic Moments has Kelly really gotten his team to RISE up to the fight and give a performance that we can talk about?”

  3. Their schedule has been weak, but good teams beat on the teams their supposed to…Which ND hasn’t done this season. It’s hard to tell what you’ll get from MSU, but I wouldn’t dismiss them due to a weak schedule.

    Unfortunately, the chances of ND shooting themselves in the foot this weekend are pretty good.

  4. ND’s problem areas are well-documented so I certainly don’t need to rehash and beat that skeletal-dead horse. And I have no doubt that MSU will be a solid opponent- always a very physical legit game. HOWEVER, #1 DEFENSE IN THE NATION? Ok, perhaps right now and it means NOTHING. They have played 3 high schools.

    Even with all of our weaknesses, playing ND at home after 3 weeks of hedonistic bottom-feeding is probably going to be a rude awakening. If ND loses to MSU, it will be due to ND shooting themselves in the foot, not because MSU has more talent / a better team. Just my .02

  5. I think to win this game, ND needs to really go back to the zone defense that worked so well last year. They gave up lots of yardage, but the key was the lack of points they gave up. ND’s offense is good enough to put up some touchdowns, so if we hold Michigan State to field goals, that should be enough to win.

    I don’t get it, if it worked last year, why not continue to do what worked, at least until it stops working. Don’t make Charlie Weis’ mistake and try to outsmart yourself.

  6. Deep threats to keep defenses honest – check, an offensive line that averages about 315 pounds – check, an alleged awesome strength and conditioning coach – check, cant’t run the ball to save your life – check????

    Why is this?

  7. Gentleman,

    Here is the deal, it’s another challenge against a team that has not played a great schedule. Do the Irish win, don’t they win? My thoughts are this, the team is not what we thought. They are young and inexperienced in key positions on defense. The middle linebackers are not good at covering the middle of the field and the Safties don’t communicate well with the defense. The front seven is not as good as they we thought.

    I think BK needs to realize that his defense is not strong and the offense will need to average 30 points a game to beat teams. He needs to draw up the Tony Pike offense. He needs to adopt chuck and duck offense. I don’t see this team sustaining a runnig game, but I think this team’s strength is the depth at Wide receiver with #10, #7, #20, #3 and for God’s sake teach Atkinson how to catch!

    Will they win this game, I don’t know. I don’t think that ND is a clear favorite in any game because of the defense. It will all depend on whether or not ND is able to score points. Also, OK, USC and MSU haven’t played anyone with an offense that resembles ND. To state they have great defenses is not an accurate statement until they play some teams that are not horrible at offense. OK’s only opp that from their conference is WVU and they almost lost to JMU. USC hasn’t played anyone and MSU hasn’t played anyone. I think MSU out of all of them has the best D but that is just me.

      1. You’re “Displacing”

        Now we all know that “Displacement” is just an unfortunate by-product of “blocking”.

        And innocent by-standers should remain innocent now shouldn’t they?

    1. “the team is young and inexperienced” is, for me, an unacceptable excuse. All the time. For the most part, excuses are for losers.

      Most college teams lose 40% of their starters each year. That is the simple arithmetic of college football.

      Not to go all reductio ad absurdum on a Friday afternoon, but if you have 22 5th year players who are four year starters, then your goose is cooked next year.

      You have to coach up your subs, scheme to accentuate their strengths and minimize the exposure of their weaknesses, and compensate in other areas to overcome your relative weaknesses.

      Observe the Crimson Tide. In 2011 their back 8 may have, perhaps been the best back 8 in the history of college football. In 2012, there were holes in their back 8.

      But they had the best OL in college football, arguably the best since USC in 2005.

      The coaches don’t wallow in excuses, neither ought we.

      1. “duranko,”

        Couldn’t have said it better. I really appreciate your insights when it comes to the games. Like I’ve said before and will do so again, your column is always clearly thought out and argued.

        I can do with out the occasional editorializing and moralizing. But you’re free to say what you want, when you want. I just pray you extend to the rest of us the same courtesy.

        Go Irish!

    1. JC,

      Your doing it again.

      Remember what we talked about?
      Remember your breathing exercises?
      (one, two.. We love you, three, four… love some more, five, six… love’s your fix, seven, eight… Your feeling great, nine, ten… remember to love again)

      Relax, breath deep, enhance your calm.

      That’s better.

      Now let’s recite your vow together ok….

      “Anger is a poor substitute for lost wishes and I am committed to inspiring joy-joy feelings in everyone I meet”

      GREAT JOB!

      Now go out there and face the world with a smile!

      1. OK, you want to get along 100% Irish? You’re not the only one 100% Irish. Drop-it. Enough of the nonsense.

      2. OK,

        And I do want to get along.
        I really, really do.

        Do you want to get along too?

        I hope so, because I do.

        I promise to drop it.

        Can we be Friends again?

  8. What’s a car 54?

    Perhaps this will help,

    Car Stats
    Top Sellers for 1954

    1954 Chevrolet 210 DeLuxe Delray
    1954 VW Beetle
    1954 Desoto Adventurer II Coupe Concept Car
    1954 Nash Allpar
    1954 Cadillac Eldorado
    1954 Cadillac Fleetwood
    1954 Ford Crestliner
    1954 Olsmobile 88
    1954 Chevrolet Woody Wagon

    Zoom…. Zoom…. Zoom!

      1. Hmmm, that’s interesting.

        So your wife wakes you up, it’s the middle of the night, the baby’s crying. You go to the refrigerator to get a bottle of milk, and the milk is black?
        That’s freakin’ weird

  9. Well, can anyone envision a Michigan State Flag spear chucked right in the middle of our field at the end of the game? Hahaha! how did I miss those columns of figures of our inhouse autodidactic stat-specialists! Hahaha! Amazing! Where is car 54?

  10. Can anyone envision the media nightmare that would occure if ND opened the season with 3 straight home games against the likes of 0-3 Western Michigan, 0-3 South Florida, and Division II Youngstown St?

    It’s nothing against the Spartan’s. I think they are a good, physical, well coached team that always plays ND tough.

    The Archangel spoke of disadvantages, but sometimes there are positive advantages that can lead to victory if you know where to look for them.

    1. This works as a advantage for Notre Dames chances. A tough schedule hardens a football team. (if it doesn’t kill it first) I stand behind my position that Temple and Purdue are talent-rich well coached football teams and a potential challenge to anyone in CFB.

      1. Hate to say it, but Ron Burgundy is right in this case. THB will indeed be standing alone if he’s saying Temple (which I believe lost its last game to an FCS school) and Purdue are good teams. No, ND just made them look good, that’s all, THB.

  11. Michigan State is ranked better on both sides of ball. Not to mention, they have eight takeways already this year. The early polls mean nothing? Michigan only won by 4 over the Zips and are ranked #15, what a joke. If We play like we played against the last three teams we are 2-2! So GEE WHIZ, our ZOMBIE TEAM EMOTION only produces a few individual stat heros? Imagine that!

    I don’t care how many times you shuffle the deck of stats! If you don’t WIN THE GAME, they don’t mean a damn thing to real competitors of the game period. Just ask Johnny Heisman after his recent encounter with Bama! So far we are just one big bag of hype.

  12. #1 Defense in the nation . . . with a mobile QB (MSU has moved into the 21st century
    as have all our opponents thus far), and a RB who can catch out of the backfield,
    and their best pass rusher matched against our most inexperienced lineman.
    And throw in some revenge for the last two beat downs.

    So many disadvantages! So many scenarios to lead to potential defeat for our beloved Irish.

    And it doesn’t get much easier with OK and $C ‘D’s’ on their way.
    And don’t expect to hold AZ. St. to a few points.

    Please- not another dink and dunk fest without QB containment.
    Get our 6 best DBs in there on passing downs and, when they aren’t blitzing,
    let them cover the RBs and TE short passes that have killed us all year.

    Bottom line; it’s long overdue for the high-scoring offenses of BKs past to emerge.
    These next four games will determine how far this program has advanced.
    Our offense’s first true test against a solid defense.
    It’s time to maximize EVERY scoring opportunity and throw some new, high pressure
    “D’ schemes against yet another inexperienced QB.

    1. Rees has shown the ability to scramble this year at camp Shiloh Park. If there is an advantage to loosen the intense MSU rush? TR with his legs, focused downfield vision (leading to completions not interceptions) would do the trick. IMO

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