Notre Dame returns home this week to host the Spartans of Michigan State. Here is a full preview of how the two squads stack up courtesy of Sonic Zack from the UHND forum.
Notre Dame Quarterbacks
The Irish come in with the 16th ranked pass offense that averages 326 yards a game and starting quarterback Tommy Rees is 7th in the nation in terms of total passing yards. Rees has thrown for 969 yards and has a 60.7 completion percentage and has completed 65 out of 107 passes with 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix has appeared in all 3 games so far this season but has only completed 1 of 5 passes for 9 yards this season.
Notre Dame QB’s vs. Michigan St. Pass Defense:
The Spartans have the 5th best pass defense in college football and have done an amazing job against opposing quarterbacks by only allowing 34.7 percent of passes to be completed and have intercepted 4 passes this season. They allow only 126.7 yards a game and they have intercepted 4 passes this season. Tommy Rees bounced back from throwing 2 interceptions against Michigan to throwing zero interceptions against Purdue. Rees needs to be accurate and to not force the ball or get into turnover situations. He has done well this season, but is going to need to be at his best against one of the top pass defenses in the nation.
Michigan St. QB’s
The Spartans have used multiple quarterbacks this season in Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook, and Tyler O’Connor. The pass offense overall is only 107th in the nation in passing yards with 160 passing yards per game. Connor Cook will most likely be the quarterback face as he is coming off a win over Youngstown St. where he completed 15 of 22 passes (68 completion percentage) for 202 yards and 4 touchdowns. Overall this season he has completed 27 of 49 passes for a 55.1 completion percentage with 276 yards and 4 touchdowns. In addition, Cook has ran for 70 yards on 15 attempts for a 4.7 yard average and a long of 20 yards. Andrew Maxwell has completed half of passes this season on 15 completions to 30 attempts for 114 yards and zero touchdowns. Tyler O’Connor has thrown for 90 yards on 9 completions to 14 attempts and a 64.3 completion percentage. The Michigan St. quarterbacks have not thrown any interceptions this season but the longest pass by any quarterback has only been for 26 yards (Done by both Cook and Maxwell).
Michigan St. QB’s vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense:
The pass defense for the Irish has been very inconsistent this season. The Irish come in with the 91st ranked pass defense that has allowed opponents to complete 57 percent of their passes for 259.3 yards per game and have allowed 7 passing touchdowns. The Irish have intercepted just 2 passes this season but both went for touchdowns for Notre Dame. While Connor Cook is the likely quarterback that Notre Dame should face, the Irish need to account for the possibility of the Spartans using more than one quarterback in the game. Consistency is extremely important here and Notre Dame needs to prevent the Spartans from completing their passes and prevent long gains. Since Cook is the teams 4th leading rusher, that also must be accounted for as well as preventing plays from being extended is also important. The Spartans may have one of the lowest ranked pass offenses, but they are not to be underestimated at all.
Notre Dame RB’s:
Amir Carlisle leads the Irish in terms of rushing yards with 148 yards on 30 carries for a 4.9 yard average. Cam McDaniel is second with 125 rushing yards and 1 touchdown and a 4.3 yard average. George Atkinson III has 98 yards on 18 carries with a 5.4 yard average and 1 touchdown. Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston each have 14 rushing yards for the Irish. Will Mahone has yet to have any rushing yards yet but had missed the first game of the season with injury. The unit overall gives Notre Dame the 92nd ranked rushing offense with 125 rushing yards a game.
Notre Dame RB’s vs. Michigan St. Rush Defense:
Michigan St. is also strong against the run as well as they are the 4th ranked rushing defense that has allowed just 50.3 yards a game and only 1 rushing touchdown and for opposing ball carriers to have just 1.8 rushing yards per attempt. Notre Dame may be talented, but no single running back has emerged to be the main ball carrier. Cam McDaniel closed out the game for the Irish in the win over Purdue and could potentially be the starter for this game, but Notre Dame has a variety of running backs to play and it might be time for Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston to start getting more carries. This might be the best run defense the Irish face this season, but quite a few Notre Dame opponents have high-ranked rush defenses at this time.
Michigan St. RB’s
Michigan St. comes in with the 44th ranked rush offense that averages 209.6 yards per game and has averaged 4.8 yards per rush and has 5 rushing touchdowns. The top player for the Spartans in the ground game is Jeremy Langford who has 200 rushing yards on 44 carries for a 4.5 yard average and a team-leading 4 rushing touchdowns. Nick Hill has 179 rushing yards on 25 attempts and a 7.2 yard average with 1 rushing touchdown and the longest run on the team at 35 yards. Riley Bullough has 82 rushing yards on 21 attempts and a 3.9 yard average.
Michigan St. RB’s vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense:
Notre Dame has the 26th ranked rushing defense that has allowed 112.6 yards a game, 3.8 yards per rush, and 2 rushing touchdowns. Containing Langford, Hill and Bullough will be important, but Notre Dame shut Purdue down on the ground and allowed only 38 yards on 21 attempts and zero rushing touchdowns. The Irish need to build upon that and contain the Spartans running game.
Notre Dame WR’s and TE’s
This has been one of the best units on offense for the Irish. DaVaris Daniels has a team-leading 299 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns on 17 receptions and a 17.6 yards per catch average. TJ Jones has been the leader in receptions and makes many key plays with 19 receptions for 289 yards, a 15.2 yard average and 1 touchdown. Tight end Troy Niklas has done well with the loss Tyler Eifert and has 8 catches for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns and a team-leading 18.9 yard average per reception. Chris Brown has 7 catches for 125 yards and a 17.9 yard average. All four of the top receivers for the Irish have caught a pass of 40 or more yards this season with the long being 82 yards by Daniels. CJ Prosise has made 2 catches for 28 yards and Corey Robinson has 1 catch for 12 yards. Quite a few players have seen playing time at the receiver position. DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones are 16th and 21st in the nation in terms of total receiving yards his season.
Notre Dame WR’s vs. Michigan St. DB’s:
Michigan St. had an experienced unit coming into the season despite the loss of Johnny Adams (1st team Big 10 last season). The best player in the secondary is senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard who was also 1st team Big 10 last season. Dennard will most likely be matched up against DaVaris Daniels who made quite a few plays for the Irish and has the lead on receiving yards and touchdowns for the Irish this season. Dennard has done a great job in defending the pass with 5 pass breakups and has been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks with 2 quarterback hurries even. Even though Michigan St. has a talented secondary they have a significant amount to account for in the passing game with Daniels, Jones, Brown and Niklas all capable of making big plays for the Irish.
Edge: Notre Dame
Michigan St. WR’s and TE’s:
Macgarrett Kings has been the top player in terms of receiving yards and is tied for first in receptions and receiving touchdowns. He has 8 catches for 99 yards and 1 touchdown with a 12.4 yard average. Aaron Burbridge has 8 receptions as well with 80 yards and a 10 yard average per reception. Bennie Fowler has 5 catches for 73 yards and 1 touchdown along with a 14.6 (team-high) average and Tony Lippett has 4 catches for 41 yards and a 10.2 yard average. Keith Mumphery has 6 receptions for 47 yards and tight end Josiah Price has 3 catches for 28 yards.
Michigan St. WR’s vs. Notre Dame DB’s:
The main targets for the Spartans are Macgarrett Kings and Aaron Burbridge who have 16 of the teams 51 receptions. However the ball has been spread around extremely well with a combined total of 15 different players having at least one reception and 4 players that have a touchdown reception which also ties all 4 players for the lead in touchdown receptions. Notre Dame won’t be able to focus on one specific player as the ball has been spread around well. Consistency is extremely important here and the Irish need to improve on that if they want to shut down the passing game.
Notre Dame OL:
The offensive line has been doing a decent job in the pass protection area as they have allowed just 3 sacks, which is tied for 23rd in the nation in sacks allowed. The opponents they have played are tied for 28th in the nation for sacks (Purdue) and two are tied for 51st (Michigan and Temple) However, they have also allowed 15 tackles for loss and the running game is averaging 4.1 yards per rush and 125 yards per game.
Notre Dame OL vs. Michigan St. DL:
Michigan St. has been great in the sack department with a tie for 10th in the nation in sacks with 9 sacks and getting into opposing backfields has been easy with 18 tackles for loss this season. The defensive line has 7 of the Spartans 9 sacks this season as well. Keeping Tommy Rees protected is important as the Irish will need to be able to get passes off quick as the quarterback pressure is also a strong point for Michigan St. with 27 total quarterback hurries. The battle in the trenches is once again one of the most important battles Notre Dame must win.
Michigan St. OL:
Run blocking has been solid for the Spartans who average 209.7 yards a game on the ground and 4.9 yards per rush. They have done a great job in containing opposing defenders as they have allowed just 2 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. They have also allowed only 9 quarterback hurries as well.
Michigan St. OL vs. Notre Dame DL: The Irish haven’t done as well at getting to the quarterback with only 3 sacks, but have 12 quarterback hurries. Part of this could be attributed to facing quarterbacks who are capable of extending plays on the ground and make it easier to avoid sacks. Notre Dame does have 14 tackles for loss. The Irish have done well in run defense, but this is going to be an even matchup considering the Irish have a strong defensive front led by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III.
Notre Dame DL:
Louis Nix III leads all defensive lineman in tackles with 8 and 1 tackle for loss. Sheldon Day has 7 tackles and 1 tackle for loss and Stephon Tuitt has 4 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries, and an interception touchdown. Issac Rochell has 3 tackles as well and has appeared in all three games this season. The unit has had solid losses due to injury in the offseason as well. Sheldon Day had been injured vs. Purdue and is coming along, but should play against the Spartans. Considering injuries, the Irish can’t afford to lose anyone.
Notre Dame DL vs. Michigan OL:
The Spartans have done well in the blocking and protection departments. This is one of the most interesting matchups between the two lines. Louis Nix III will most likely be double teamed when playing. The Irish need to able to stuff the run and pressure the quarterback to win this matchup.
Michigan St. DL:
The Spartans may have lost William Gholston and Anthony Rashad White, but the defensive front remains strong once again. Tyler Hoover has 9 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble and 1 quarterback hurry. Marcus Rush has 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble, and 1 quarterback hurry. Shilique Calhoun has been the best lineman for Michigan St. this season so far with 5 tackles (all solo tackles), 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception return (that went for a 56 yard touchdown), 8 quarterback hurries, and 3 fumble recoveries (2 of which have gone for touchdowns). Calhoun is the 2nd leading scorer for Michigan St. and is a major impact player on defense to keep an eye on. Micajah Reynolds has 10 tackles and 3 quarterback hurries.
Michigan St. DL vs. Notre Dame OL: The defensive line that Notre Dame will be facing is possibly one of the best the Irish face all season. Shilique Calhoun has been absolutely dominant for the Spartans with 3 defensive touchdowns on returns. Tyler Hoover and Marcus Rush will also pose problems. Blocking is going to be important in preventing turnovers and keeping Rees protected. As it has been all season, the battles in the trenches are most important for either team.
Notre Dame LB’s:
Three inside linebackers make up the top 3 tacklers for the Irish defense in Dan Fox, Jarrett Grace, and Carlo Calabrese. Fox leads with 24 tackles and 2 tackles for loss, while Grace has 20 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and a pass breakup. Carlo Calabrese has 18 tackles and a team-leading 3 tackles for loss and 1 fumble recovery. Prince Shembo has 10 tackles and 6 quarterback hurries (leads team) and Jaylon Smith has 7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 pass breakup. Ishaq Williams has 6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack.
Notre Dame LB’s vs. Michigan St.: The Irish have seen quite a bit of impressive play out of Jarrett Grace and Jaylon Smith. Grace has been better suited for pass coverage and could wind up starting over Dan Fox or Carlo Calabrese by seasons end if he continues to play as well as he has this season. Jaylon Smith is continuing to improve week after week and looks to be another 4 year starter after the graduation of Manti Te’o. The Irish will need to contain the run-first Michigan St. as the running game has been a stronger area on offense.
Michigan St. LB’s:
Denicos Allen is tied for 1st on the team with 3 tackles for loss and has 15 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup, and 3 quarterback hurries. Max Bullough also has 15 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup, and 3 quarterback hurries as well. Taiwan Jones has 9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 quarterback hurry. Jarius Jones has 11 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 interceptions.
Michigan St. LB’s vs. Notre Dame:
The starting unit features all upperclassmen in seniors Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, along with a junior in Taiwan Jones. They give the Spartans one of the top linebacker units in the country that that had returned the 1st and 3rd tacklers overall from a season ago. Notre Dame has some talent they will have to account for, as Troy Niklas will be a matchup nightmare with his size and strength. The front seven of Michigan St. might be one of the best in the country with the experience and the play making ability.
Notre Dame DB’s:
The secondary has been a step down from the unit a year ago that rarely allowed opponents to pass for 200 or more yards, but has been made a couple of plays in recent times that had impact. Bennett Jackson has 17 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception (that went for a touchdown), and 1 quarterback hurry. Matthias Farley has 13 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 pass breakups. KeVarae Russell has 8 tackles and a pass breakup and Austin Collinsworth has 3 tackles and 2 quarterback hurries. Cole Luke has seen extensive amounts of playing time as a true freshman with appearances in all 3 games this season along with 3 tackles and 1 pass breakup.
Notre Dame DB’s vs. Michigan St. WR’s:
The Spartans certainly have options at receiver, but not a single player is dominant at this position as the total numbers per player might look like what one gets in a single game compared to three games into the season. Either way, the Irish secondary will need to be at their best in coverage and prevent any deep passes and short gains turning into long ones. No matter what stats a player has so far on the stat sheet, all must be accounted for.
Michigan St. DB’s:
Kurtis Drummond leads the Spartans in tackles with 17, has 1 interception (went for a touchdown), and has 2 passes broken up. Isaiah Lewis has 11 tackles, 1 pass breakup, and 1 quarterback hurry while RJ Williamson has 11 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 pass breakup. Darqueeze Dennard has 9 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 5 passes broken up, and 2 quarterback hurries. Trae Waynes has 5 tackles and 2 pass breakups.
Michigan St. DB’s vs. Notre Dame WR’s:
The Michigan St. defensive backs may have experience on their side, but they face the best receiving unit so far this season in Notre Dame’s unit that has a trio of receivers who can all catch long passes and turn short passes into long gains. Trying to account for DaVaris Daniels, TJ Jones, and Chris Brown will also be a challenge. Tight End Troy Niklas will also be a factor as he can catch the ball too, but might get used for blocking with how great the Spartans pass rush is.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Kicking Game:
After missing his only attempt of the Temple game, Kyle Brindza has hit 4 field goals in a row and has shown steady improvement with a long of 44 yards. He also handles punting duties with a 39.5 yard average with a long of 47 yards, 2 touchbacks, 3 fair caught, and 2 inside the 20. Alex Wulfeck has 1 punt for 38 yards that was also fair caught and inside the 20. Kyle Brindza is at his best generally in kickoffs with a 64.2 yard average on 18 kickoffs, and has 10 touchbacks as well.
Michigan St. Kicking Game:
Kevin Muma has made 4 of 5 field goals with the miss being for 25 yards and has a long of 30 yards. Mike Sadler handles punting duties with a 41.2 yard average, a long of 54 yards, 2 touchbacks, 4 fair caught and 11 inside the 20. Kevin Muma has a 63.2 yard average on 18 kickoffs with 10 touchbacks. Kevin Cronin has 2 kickoffs for 125 yards for a 62.5 yard average and 1 touchback.
Stronger Unit: Even
Notre Dame Return Game:
While not to the level of his freshman year, George Atkinson III has done well with 8 returns for 235 yards, a 29.4 yard average, and a long of 50. TJ Jones has returned 4 punts for 41 yards with a 10.2 yard average and a long of 18.
Michigan St. Return Game:
Nick Hill has returned 4 kickoffs for 87 yards for a 21.8 yard average and a long of 27 yards. Andre Sims has returned 14 punts for 121 yards, an 8.6 yard average, and a long of 33.
Stronger Unit: Even
The Irish return home after a road win over Purdue and a loss at Michigan. Michigan St. has one of the best defenses in college football. However, the level of competition is quite suspect as they have played a Division 1-AA team, South Florida who might be the worst BCS-Conference in the nation (0-3 with a blowout loss to a Division 1-AA team and a non-BCS Conference team), and a winless non-BCS team in Western Michigan. Michigan St. has had issues with quarterback, but it looks like it is Connor Cook that will start. Notre Dame will need to pass the ball and run the ball on the highly ranked Spartans defense.
The defense accounted for 4 of the 6 touchdowns in Michigan St.’s first two games against Western Michigan and South Florida. This will be the first road game of the season for Michigan St. who opened with 3 straight home games this season. The offensive line will need to protect Tommy Rees and the running game from the strong pass rush and front seven of Michigan St. Notre Dame’s defense will need to improve and be consistent as well. The battles in the trenches are going to be important as well. The Irish receiving unit does give them a big edge in the passing game and limiting turnovers along with field position will be big as well.
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Michigan St. 13