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If Notre Dame wants any chance of a possible BCS bid, or to keep Charlie Weis off the proverbial hot seat, they must win out. And their “season” starts tomorrow, when Michigan State- a team that has found unusual success playing in South Bend- enters Notre Dame Stadium.
When Notre Dame has the ball:
When you have wide receivers like the Fighting Irish have, you must go above and beyond to ensure them the ball. And for the first two games, that’s exactly what Clausen has been doing. Mike Floyd and Golden Tate have combined for 23 catches, 494 yards and six touchdowns, living up to the billing as the nation’s most dynamic duo.
Michigan State’s defensive backs on the other hand, had a real tough outing last week. Central Michigan quarterback Dan Lefevour torched them for over 300 yards passing with simple jump balls to his wide receivers.
So what does this mean? The Spartans must drop at least six guys into pass coverage to contain the Domer’s potent passing attack. If their front four- who are a talented bunch by the way- fail to get pressure on Clausen, it’s going to be a long day for the Spartan defense.
If they decide to blitz, Notre Dame’s offensive line has been doing a good enough job to give Clausen time to find one of his weapons. Armando Allen Jr. is becoming a suitable pass catcher coming out of the backfield and tight end Kyle Rudolph is great option down the middle of the field.
If Weis implements a lot of play- action passing into his game plan, I think he could really confuse the Spartan defense. He’ll be holding their defensive backs for just as long as it takes for Floyd and Tate to streak down the field. For this to work of course, the Irish linemen need to be bullies inside the trenches.
When Michigan State hast the ball:
The Spartans have yet to name a starting quarterback for tomorrow’s ballgame. The spot will either go to Keith Nichol or Kirk Cousins. From the look of last week’s game, Cousins looked more comfortable in the pocket, displayed a strong arm and threw some darts that were right on the money. Nichol is more of the big play quarterback and is capable of escaping the pocket for a long run. I expect both to see the field, but Cousins should ultimately get the most reps.
Wide receiver Blair White is the Spartans go-to guy. He’s tall, has incredible hands and can catch the ball in traffic. Tight end Charlie Gantt is also a guy that can make plays for the Spartans offense. The 6’5 junior is more than capable of making five or six catches a game.
Last week, Notre Dame’s defensive front got pushed around by Michigan. Not so much in the power running game, but when the Wolverines ran stretch plays (when the running back takes the handoff outside of the tight end), the Irish failed to penetrate through their blocks and were taken for big gains. Look for the Spartans to feature similar running plays, especially when Notre Dame is playing zone defenses.
If the Irish let Cousins find a groove, he can be an extremely accurate passer. The Spartan’s offensive line isn’t as powerful as Michigan’s, so the Irish should find some success getting to the quarterback.
To sum it all up:
Both teams are coming off of devastating losses, which makes this game more difficult to predict. If the Irish play it as a must win, they could come out too tight and fall behind by a couple touchdowns. But if they’re loose and focused, they have much more talent than the Spartans and should be able to move the ball with efficiency. And if the Irish find a way to put pressure on the opposing quarterback, it could be a long day for Michigan State.
Prediction: Notre Dame: 35, Michigan State 18