In the pre-season, this game looked like it could be a battle of unbeaten, top 10 ranked teams. Michigan State held up their end of the bargain – barely – by squeaking by Furman two weeks ago, but the Irish sit at 1-1 and are looking for some redemption this weekend for their opening weekend loss. Will the Irish insert themselves back into the playoff conversation, or will the Irish have two notches in the loss column before the end of September for fourth time in seven years under Brian Kelly?
Let’s dive in.
How’d I Do Last Week?
My prediction last week called for a much higher scoring affair, but my margin of victory for the Irish wasn’t actually too far off. I predicted a 31 point margin of victory for Notre Dame and the Irish ended up winning by 29. I’ll take that kind of result each and every week.
I wasn’t too worried about the defense as the Irish moved back into more of their base defensive front and the Irish backed me up with a solid performance. Nevada didn’t reach the end-zone until the game was well out of reach and the reserves were in the game.
I expected more of the Notre Dame offense last week though. The offense was just a bit off all game long. They could have hung 50+ on Nevada easily if they just executed a little bit better. Coming off the short week and double overtime contest though, a bit of a sluggish performance was understandable. The short week was one of my concerns last week and it very well could have played a role in the goose egg Notre Dame laid in the first quarter. A full week of rest and a return to a normal practice schedule bodes well for the Irish this weekend.
What Has Me Concerned this Week
- The tight ends. Remember when Notre Dame threw the ball to the tight ends and we complained Notre Dame wasn’t using all of its wide receivers? Seems like a long time ago. Can Notre Dame find any of the tight ends in the passing game this weekend?
- Trick Plays. Mark Dantonio will have a couple trick plays up his sleeve this week. A fake punt, a wide receiver pass, a fleaflicker. Something. Notre Dame has to be disciplined and be ready. With a young secondary Michigan State could very easily hit the Irish up for a big play over the top in the passing game off of some sort of trick play this weekend.
- Play action passing. At the same time, Notre Dame can’t key on the run so much that they over pursue and bite on the play action. The linebackers will be tested this week – specifically younger guys like Nyles Morgan and Tevon Coney. Both backers are physical and aggressive. They can’t be too aggressive this week though or the middle of the field could be open for an inexperienced quarterback.
- Notre Dame being a big favorite. I never like when Notre Dame is a big favorite – especially at home for some reason. Maybe it’s the years and years of letdowns, but I just don’t ever feel comfortable when Notre Dame is a big favorite.
- Prime time. While the Irish have struggled to say the least on the road in prime time, Notre Dame has been strong at home under the lights. After dropping the first home night game in 20 years to USC in 2011, Notre Dame has won their last four home night games – Michigan (2012, 2014), USC (2013, 2015).
- All of MSU’s preparation time. While Notre Dame was gameplanning for Texas this summer, who here thinks Mark Dantonio and his staff spent late nights worrying about Furman? (Maybe they should have) Michigan State has had all summer long and then two full weeks of preparation for Notre Dame. Notre Dame has had a week to prepare for Michigan State since unlike the Spartans they actually played a real schedule so far this season.
What Doesn’t Have Me Concerned this Week
- The quarterback position. Deshone Kizer had a workmanlike performance last weekend, but it will take more than that this weekend against Nevada. The kid has proven to be unflappable and this stage won’t affect him at all. Kizer’s 3rd career start came on the road, against Clemson, in a monsoon and he was still one of the best players on the field that night. Look for Kizer to shine bright in the lights this weekend.
- Michigan State’s QB. Tyler O’Connor helped Michigan State upset Ohio State last season while Connor Cook was injured. A terrible Ohio State offensive gameplan and the rain, however helped as we well. Notre Dame let true freshman Shane Buechelle light them up with big plays but when they blitzed, they were able to disrupt the passing game despite not registering a sack. Notre Dame should do the same this week and if those blitzes are effective, they should force O’Connor into mistakes.
- Notre Dame’s wide receivers. Michigan State is going to try to be physical and Notre Dame’s wide receivers are exactly the biggest group of wideouts in the country. Mike Denbrock will have his troops ready this week though and will have the “rub” play cleaned up after two offensive pass interference penalties last week.
- Notre Dame’s base defense. Call me crazy, but Notre Dame’s base defense doesn’t worry me. If Michigan State comes out and tries to play smashmouth football like they are known for, I think that plays into the strength of the Notre Dame defense very well. Now, if the Spartans pull out some surprises and go tempo or no huddle that would be a different story, but if the Spartans want to come out and run right at Notre Dame, it plays into Notre Dame’s strength – its front seven. James Onwualu has been great so far this year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a little of Greer Martini at the SAM this week to give Notre Dame more bulk.
Players to Watch
- Devin Studstill – See trick plays warning above. The rookie free safety will be tested and must stay disciplined this weekend to avoid the kind of big play that Michigan State needs to win this game.
- Daniel Cage – The Cager is playing great this year and despite my pre-season predictions for Jarron Jones, I think we’ll keep seeing close to a 50/50 split at the NT between Cage and Jones. Bring in the Cager!
- Torii Hunter – Coming back from injury and playing against a physical defense, Hutner could take a series or two to get back into the flow. Notre Dame needs its most experienced receiver this weekend.
- Nick Coleman – Coleman might as well have a target on his back right now. MSU will be looking for #24 and going at him until he gives them a reason not to.
- Mike McGlinchey – Matching up against another likely NFL 1st Round pick Malik McDowell this will be one hell of a fun match up to watch this weekend. McGlinchey has made the transition over to LT well but will get perhaps his toughest test of the season.
- Jerry Tillery – The sophomore DT graded well against Texas despite missing some tackles – including the game clincher for Texas, but was quiet last week. Notre Dame needs more production from Tillery after what it got from Sheldon Day at the same position last year.
- Daelin Hayes – In 2011 Aaron Lynch toiled on the bench for two games before being unleashed against Michigan State. Hayes hasn’t exactly toiled on the bench, but a break out performance this weekend is possible for the pass rushing freshman.
- Jay Hayes. The other Hayes. Hopefully that balky ankle lets him finally start to cut it loose this weekend. Notre Dame has gotten next to nothing out of WDE Andrew Trumbetti so far this year and Hayes could breathe some life into the position.
- CJ Sanders – Watch for this kid every weekend. He is a playmaker and he is showing it already this year. Expect more big plays from Notre Dame’s pint sized slot receiver this week and expect Michigan State to try and be tough with him at the line because of his size.
I’ve been back and forth on this game all week. On Saturday evening, I wasn’t confident at all. Then the Irish opened as a six point favorite and saw the line grow even more in their direction. As the week went on, my confidence in the Irish began to build.
The closer I looked at Michigan State, the more I started to realize that this is a team Notre Dame can – and should beat – at home. Michigan State’s roster saw just as much shake up at Notre Dame’s leading me to believe the Spartans struggles against Furman weren’t just a fluke. It was the result of a team that needs more experience before it can reach its potential.
Michigan State will come into town without having played in two weeks and only having played Furman on the season. Notre Dame on the other hand has already had a tough test on the road against Texas and then a tune up against Nevada. It’s had much more time an opportunity to get its new starters experience and work out the kinks.
Notre Dame’s defense has Irish fans legitimately concerned following the 500+ yards, 50 point outburst from Texas but a lot of that can be attributed to the ill-fated 3-3-5 defense Notre Dame cooked up. Against a more traditional offense, the Notre Dame defense. led by its front seven, should be much more stout. The Notre Dame linebackers specifically will step up this weekend. The one thing that does have me scared to death, however, are the trick plays. Pray that Notre Dame is ready or that an inexperienced quarterback fails to make the Irish pay when they do happen.
These two teams are evenly matched, but the one area where Notre Dame is heads and shoulders above the Spartans is at quarterback. Deshone Kizer is flashing elite type talent right now and Saturday night under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium he is going to have a national stage to firmly insert himself into the Heisman race. In a close matchup between evenly matched teams, always go with the team with the better quarterback. Notre Dame leads throughout and adds a late score to put it away.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 21
Season Predictions v. Actual Outcomes
|1||@ Texas||W, 27-23||L, 47-50 OT||One defensive stop in the 4th could have saved the prediction.|
|2||Nevada||W, 52-21||W, 39-10||Thought there'd be more scoring, but margin of victory wasn't far off.|
|3||Michigan State||W, 31-21||L, 28-36||Completely overestimated the defense's ability to slow the run game|
|4||Duke||W, 42-24||L, 35-38||I got nothing on this one.|
|5||@ Syracuse||W, 47-38||W, 50-33||Irish show some signs of life and for once an opponent doesn't score more than I predicted.|
|6||@ NC State||W, 42-35|