The Notre Dame Fighting Irish visit East Lansing this weekend to take on the Spartans in their ritual night game at Spartan Stadium. Michigan State will be looking to avenge a tough loss from last year in this rivalry, which snapped a 2 game win streak for the Spartans. MSU comes into the game at 2-0, but have not looked all that impressive and Notre Dame comes in at 1-1, after a heartbreaking last second loss to Michigan last week. This is a statement game for Michigan State and one that they must win, period. If they can do so, they should be 4-0 heading into the Wisconsin game at home. I know I am looking ahead, but this could be a momentum builder that carries over into the coming weeks.
Again, there will be three things that I will be looking for if the Spartans are to be victorious this weekend. The first is the passing game being able to catch up to the run game (No pun intended). At this point in the season, you would have thought it would be the other way around, but the run game has carried the Spartans thus far. Coming into the season, it was the passing game of Kirk Cousins that was going to be the strength, but Edwin Baker and Co. have proved this is not the case. MSU has produced three 100 yard rushers in their first two games, where as Kirk Cousins and the wide receivers have struggled with timing and execution. It will be key this week to get the passing game going because teams will begin to load the box to stop the run and the Spartan offense must be able to take advantage of this.
The Spartans must also improve on third down, both offensively and defensively. The offense went 1-7 and Florida Atlantic was 7-16 on third down and 2-2 on fourth down conversions. This will flat out just not cut it, especially as the Spartans get into the heart of their Big Ten schedule. There must be improvements on both sides of the ball if MSU plans on contending for a conference championship. Finally, I am putting out another challenge to the Spartan secondary. I know I have called them out the last two weeks for underperforming, but this game will really test the secondary. Notre Dame has two All Americans and future first round draft picks in WR Michael Floyd and TE Kyle Rudolph. They are both great playmakers and the Spartan secondary must be up to the challenge, step their game up and stop these guys. Of course it should not rest solely on the defensive backs, but the defense as a whole. It starts up front and the defensive line must be able to get pressure on the quarterback to help out the back four.
When Michigan State has the ball: MSU must be able to establish the run and control the clock to keep Notre Dame’s offense on the sideline. This is a real possibility, considering Notre Dame gave up 258 rushing yards to a quarterback last week (Sorry to break it to you Michigan fans, but he is not that good, Notre Dame’s defense is just that bad!). The Spartans should be able to pound the ball on a defense that does not tackle very well and is soft up front. If they are unable to do so, Michigan State should take a blueprint from the Michigan gameplan last week and pick on Notre Dame’s cornerbacks. If they are going to play eight yards off and bail on the snap, then Kirk Cousins must take advantage of this and throw 10 yard hitches up and down the field, as Michigan did. MSU has the skill players on the outside to cause problems for the defense and they should be able to make plays in the open field.
When Notre Dame has the ball: Michigan State must dial up more blitzes because the front four, for the most part, have not been successful in getting to the quarterback. The double A gap blitz, that worked so well last year with Eric Gordon and Greg Jones, has yet to be seen and this would be a great week to show that and other new blitzes. When you have two great receivers, as Notre Dame does, you must get in the quarterback’s face and force him to get rid of the ball early. The two stud receivers for ND could have huge days if the Spartans are unsuccessful in getting to Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist. We saw how good he can be last week when he has time to sit in the pocket and find the open receiver, throwing for a 53 yard touchdown pass and also a 95 yarder. On the other hand, this will only be his third start and the Spartans must show him many looks and force him into bad decisions by confusing him. If they can do this, it should be a long day for the Notre Dame offense.
I will be very disappointed if Michigan State does not hang 35 points on this team. The Spartans will take care of the ball and win the turnover battle in a hard fought 38-30 victory for MSU!
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Written by David Lesmeister