In a battle of the undefeated, the #20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0) squares off against The #10 Michigan State Spartans (2-0) Saturday at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, MI at 8pm. It will be broadcast on ABC.
Last week at home, Notre Dame finished off fierce instate rival Purdue Boilmakers in a squeaker 20-17. The Spartans crushed the lowly Central Michigan Chippewas 41-7. The ranked schools faced off last season in week three in a game which saw the blue and gold win 31-13 behind Running Back Cierre Woods’ two touchdowns and an epic Robert Atkinson III 89-yard kick-off return for a score.
Saturday’s game will mark the 76th meeting of the two schools in a rivalry dating back to 1897. Notre Dame won that inaugural game 34-6 and holds a 46-28-1 record in the overall series. Each year the victor is awarded the coveted Megaphone Trophy, colored blue (Notre Dame) and green (Michigan State).
Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio and Irish play-caller Brian Kelly have a long-standing relationship themselves. Dantanio coached the Cincinnati Bearcats from 2004-06 prior to Kelly’s three-year tenure (2007-09) there.
Without further ado Ladies and gents I present to you your week three Notre Dame Fighting Irish preview…
Notre Dame Offense
This season the Fighting Irish have yet another quarterback dilemma on their hands. Not one subpar one this time (Hello Jimmy Clausen) but rather two very good ones in Sophomore Tommy Rees who engineered a game-winning comeback last week against Purdue and newcomer Everett Golson (33-of-49, 433 YDs and 2TDs). Kelly will look to Golson on Saturday to lead the team to a third straight Notre Dame victory. But nothing is set in stone according to the Notre Dame coach.
“We know Tommy and Andrew (Hendrix) give us some really good assets at that position if they are called upon and we need them.”
Running back Cierre Wood is back and rejoins fellow back Theo Riddick (165 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries) in the Fighting Irish rushing attack.
The receiving corps of All-American TE Tyler Eiffert (concussion) and WR Devarious Daniels (ankle sprain) exited last week’s game with injuries. Notre Dame will need WR Antavian Edison (2 touchdowns) to continue his hot streak and a solid performance from Eifert (eight catches, 120 YDs, 1TD) who will be a tough cover for the MSU backfield. With three catches on Saturday Eifert could further cement his legacy at Notre Dame by becoming only the third Tight End in with 100 career receptions.
The blue and gold offensive line was a glaring weakness yielding five sacks (the same amount after nine games in 2011) and supporting a poor 52-yard rushing effort against Purdue. This unit must play 100% better against one of the country’s top defensive lines on Saturday.
Notre Dame Defense
The goal for the Fighting Irish defense will be to stop Michigan State dymano Running back Le’ron Bell. Last year the squad held the 6’2” 244 pound back to 27 yards on seven carries. The Irish pass rush led by superstar Linebacker Manti T’eo (18 tackles) will be the strongest faced by MSU QB Maxwell this season. It remains to be seen if the bruised sternum and the loss of T’eo’s grandmother and close female friend will effect his performance.
Safety Zeke Motta (14 tackles) will play a pivotal role in slowing down the MSU ground attack and force the Spartans to beat them in the air. Defensive End Stephon Tuitt (4 sacks, 8 tackles) will be doubled in the 3-4 and called upon to keep Bell in check. Cornerback Bennett Jackson will keep an eye on the Spartan cadre of wily receivers. His two interceptions against Purdue were the most in a game by a Notre Dame cornerback since Harrison Smith notched a three against Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl against Miami. Last week the squad did not give up a third down conversion to Purdue.
Michigan State Offense
The success of the Spartans rests on the legs of its star Runningback Le’von Bell (280 YDs, 4 TDs) He is the 6th leading rusher in the nation averaging 140 yards a game and 4.5 yards a carry. Bell’s backup, Larry Caper is no slouch himself averaging 6.2 yards per rush.
The Michigan State offense runs through the capable Quarterback Andrew Maxwell (60.9%, 523 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) who is a quick study and plays well in the clutch with a 51% third down completion rate. He had a lackluster game against Boise State (248 Yds, 3 INTs) and the ND defense may be the best he will face. The importance of playing the Fighting Irish is not lost on Maxwell.
“When you’re playing a team like Notre Dame, having it be a trophy game, a game with so much history, to already be in a huge environment already is going to help us going in. Just like any other game, we got to prepare, prepare, prepare throughout the week. We got to bring a little something special this game.”
The Spartans have a solid young corps of recievers featuring Bennie Fowler (10 receptions, 13.5 YPG, 1 TD) and Dion Sims (10 receptions, 11.3 YPG, 1 TD).
In contrast to the Fighting Irish, the MSU O-line has been solid supporting its nationall-ranked rushing attack and have given up 0 sacks this season.