Notre Dame hits the road for second week in a row looking to improve to 3-1 and exorcise a bunch of demons tonight in East Lansing. Can they win a close game? Can they win a night road game? My weekly preview which comes a day late because of moving, looks to predict answers to those questions.
How’d I Do Last Week?
Score wise, I wasn’t too far off. I predicted a 25 point Notre Dame win (ND 35-10) and the Irish won by 29 (ND 49-20) so I was a little conservative in my scoring totals, but not too far off on the margin of victory for Notre Dame. Where I was way off, however, was in thinking that Brandon Wimbush would go off against Boston College through the air. Wimbush had a historic day running the football against the Eagles with 207 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground – both Notre Dame quarterback records, but didn’t top 100 yards through the air.
I also thought Equanimeous St. Brown was going to have a big day but Notre Dame’s #1 wide receiver had just one catch for 3 yards. ESB is struggling this year as Notre Dame hasn’t been able to throw the ball. Three games into the season and St. Brown has less than 100 yards in aggregate. That’s not what anyone expected from him this fall.
What Concerns Me This Week
Tackling. Notre Dame was sloppy in the tackling department last week. It didn’t really burn them a week ago but it will this week if they are similarly sloppy. Notre Dame had numerous changes to make stops in the backfield that turned into 3-4 yard gains. Michigan State will turn those into 8-10 yard gains – or worse – if that isn’t cleaned up. Notre Dame’s defense also has to win the field position battle for the offense much better this week than they did last week. Sure tackling will go a long way towards that happening.
Notre Dame’s fundamentals are better than they were a year ago, but they still have a lot of work to do in this area. Michigan State is the kind of team that will kill you if you aren’t fundamentally sound.
Notre Dame’s Wide Receivers. We still haven’t seen any Notre Dame wide receiver show that he can win the battle for contested balls. Michigan State is going to stack the box and make Notre Dame throw the ball. That is going to lead to a lot of one on one matchups for the Notre Dame wide receivers and with their size Brandon Wimbush has to be able to throw up a few 50/50 balls and have his receivers win. Michigan State’s secondary is the weakness of their defense. The Irish receivers have to beat the 1:1 coverage they will likely see and make plays. We haven’t seen any receiver, including St. Brown, do that this year. Until we do, that is a concern again this week.
Personnel Usage. We saw a little more of Dexter Williams last week, but just one carry when it mattered. Get the kid on the field more and let him make plays. We’ve seen a lot of Dexter Williams in WatchND videos catching passes out of the backfield. Unfortunately we haven’t seen that in games. After stating before the Boston College game that Williams would be more involved, he saw just that one carry until the game was out of hand. I’d love to see a designed screen play to Williams early on that gets the ball in his hands in space. The next time we see that though will be the first time. Hopefully it happens tonight.
Trick Plays. Mark Dantonio, for as conservative as Michigan State is, loves trick plays. There will be at least one in store for Notre Dame tonight and given Notre Dame still has work to do on fundamentals, I am worried they won’t be ready for it. Until we see Notre Dame execute its base offense too, I am hopeful that we don’t see too many – or any – trick plays from the Notre Dame offense.
What Doesn’t Concern Me This Week
Justin Yoon. After the hiccups in week one, Yoon was excellent against Georgia and true on all seven extra point attempts last night. If Notre Dame needs to call on Yoon in a clutch situation, I would feel confident in Notre Dame’s chances inside 50 yards. This is the kind of game that Notre Dame has to be able to count on their kicker too.
Notre Dame’s Offensive Line. The Notre Dame OL bounced back well last week, but it was still just Boston College. Other than Harold Landry, there wasn’t much to worry about with their defensive line. This will be a much tougher task for the Irish offensive line. Road game, hostile environment, against a team that is going to be hell bent on stopping the Notre Dame run game. I think the line comes out and plays well. MSU will stack the line, but the Irish offensive line will still make some space for Josh Adams – and maybe Dexter Williams if he’s allowed on the field before the 4th quarter – for the ground game to move the ball.
Brandon Wimbush. OK hear me out. After last week, I think it’s a bit pie in the sky at this point to think he will throw for 300 yards or anything like that. I’d love to see Wimbush air it out and shut up his doubters but he might need a few build up performances before that. What I’m not at all concerned about with Wimbush is his demeanor heading into this game. He’s struggling throwing the ball, but I don’t think we’ll see an Everett Golson type regression where once the wheels got loose, they completely fell off. Wimbush has the demeanor that will allow him to weather the storm and keep coming out firing. He might not throw for 300+ with 4 touchdowns tonight, but he will be better than we’ve seen.
The Night Road Game. Call me crazy but the night road game in Spartan Stadium doesn’t really bother me too much. Notre Dame hasn’t won a road night game in a while, but last year’s disaster skewed that. In 2015 Notre Dame lost road night games to Clemson and Stanford, but let’s be honest, this isn’t 2015 Stanford or Clemson Notre Dame is facing.
In the preseason I felt much better about this game because I felt much better about the Notre Dame passing game. If Notre Dame’s aerial attack was further along than it is right now, I would feel pretty comfortable about this game actually. As is though, we know the Spartans will try to force Wimbush and the passing attack to beat them. I think we’ll see Notre Dame hit on a few more downfield plays this week, but we’ll also see the Irish miss a bunch of opportunities for big plays that will keep this game close throughout.
With this being a night game on the road, I expect Michigan State to come out really strong early on. The Spartans hold the lead in this one at half-time before a seesaw second half. The Irish and Wimbush get the ball back with less than two minutes to go down one point just like they did two weeks ago against Georgia. This week Wimbush gets the Irish into field goal range and Justin Yoon nails the game winner as time expires.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Michigan State 28
Preseason Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Michigan State 13
Yearly Prediction Summary
|Game||Pre-Season||Game Week||Actual Outcome|
|Week 12: Stanford||ND 24-21||ND 31-17|
|Week 11: Navy||ND 49-17||ND 45-24||ND 24-17|
|Week 10: Miami||ND 31-27||ND 38-24||UM 41-8|
|Week 9: Wake Forest||ND 34-24||ND 42-13||ND 48-37|
|Week 8: #14 NC State||ND 34-17||ND 34-24||ND 35-14|
|Week 7: #21 USC||USC 38-24||ND 34-31||ND 49-14|
|Week 6: North Carolina||ND 31-21||ND 41-17||ND 33-10|
|Week 5: Miami OH||ND 42-17||ND 49-13||ND 52-17|
|Week 4: #16 Michigan State||ND 24-13||ND 30-28||ND 38-18|
|Week 3: Boston College||ND 35-10||ND 35-10||ND 49-20|
|Week 2: #3 Georgia||UGA 29-27||UGA 29-27||UGA 20-19|
|Week 1: Temple||ND 31-21||ND 31-21||ND 49-16|