Notre Dame vs. Michigan State: Complete Game Preview
ESPN's College GameDay won't be in East Lansing, but the nation's premier Week 3 contest features the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame taking on the Spartans of Michigan State.
Saturday night's game marks the first trip to Spartan Stadium for the Irish since 2010, when the Spartans won the game on a fake field goal pass that caused Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio to suffer a mild heart attack.
The 2012 edition is shaping up to be an equally explosive game.
Let's get started with the preview.
Who: Notre Dame at Michigan State
When: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. (EDT)
Where: East Lansing, MI
Stadium: Spartan Stadium (75,005)
Radio: IMG Notre Dame Radio Network
Internet Stream: N/A
Depth Chart for Notre Dame
QB—Everett Golson, Tommy Rees/Andrew Hendrix
RB—Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood
WR—John Goodman, Daniel Smith
WR—TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels
WR—Robby Toma, Davonte Neal
TE—Tyler Eifert, Ben Koyack
LT—Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley
RT—Christian Lombard, Nick Martin
C—Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Jr.
LG—Chris Watt, Conor Hanratty
RG—Mike Golic, Jr., Conor Hanratty
DE—Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sheldon Day
DE—Stephon Tuitt, Chase Hounshell
NT—Louis Nix, Kona Schwenke
LB—Ben Councell, Romeo Okwara
LB—Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams
LB—Manti Te'o, Jarrett Grace
LB—Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese
CB—Bennett Jackson, Jalen Brown
CB—KeiVarae Russell, Elijah Shumate
FS—Zeke Motta, Matthias Farley
SS—Jamoris Slaughter, Nicky Baratti
Depth Chart for Michigan State
QB—Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook
FB—Niko Palazeti, Lawrence Thomas
TB—Le'Veon Bell, Larry Caper
WR—Tony Lippett, Jeremy Langford
WR—Bennie Fowler, Andre Sims, Jr.
TE—Dion Sims, Andrew Gleichert/Derek Hoebing
LT—Dan France, Michael Dennis
RT—Fou Fonoti, Skyler Burkland
C—Travis Jackson, Ethan Ruhland
LG—Blake Treadwell/Jack Allen, Donavon Clark
RG—Chris McDonald, Nate Klatt
DE—Marcus Rush, Shilique Calhoun
DE—William Gholston, Joel Heath
NT—Anthony Rashad White, James Kittredge
DT—Micajah Reynolds OR Tyler Hoover
LB—Chris Norman, Taiwan Jones
LB—Max Bullough, Kyler Elsworth
LB—Denicos Allen, Ed Davis
CB—Darqueze Dennard, Mitchell White
CB—Johnny Adams, Arjen Colquhoun
FS—Jairus Jones/Kurtis Drummond, Demetrious Cox
SS—Isaiah Lewis, RJ Williamson
What Happened to the Fighting Irish Last Week
Notre Dame returned to South Bend from Dublin, Ireland, for its Week 2 matchup against Purdue, who was a more formidable opponent than most expected.
The Irish scraped out a 20-17 victory over the Boilermakers that had the prevailing feeling of a loss. Danny Hope's squad implemented an excellent game plan that featured a stacked box on defense, giving the Boilermakers control of the line of scrimmage for four quarters.
Notre Dame starting quarterback Everett Golson, a first-year starter, was forced to throw the ball early and often, and finished the day having completed 21-of-31 passing attempts for 289 yards and one touchdown. However, Golson committed the second turnover of his young career, fumbling the ball with 2:12 remaining in fourth quarter and the game knotted up at 17.
Backup quarterback Tommy Rees was inserted for the game-winning drive, leading the Irish to Kyle Brindza's 27-yard field goal that gave the Irish their fifth consecutive victory over Purdue.
The win bumped the Irish to 19th in the USA Today Coaches' Poll and to 20th in the AP Poll.
What Happened to the Spartans Last Week
One week after a nail-biting victory over Boise State, Mark Dantonio's Michigan State squad made the hour-long trek north to Mt. Pleasant, Mich., to take on the Central Michigan Chippewas.
The contest was over before Michigan State even stepped off the bus, as the Spartans rolled to a 41-7 victory over the outmatched Chippewas. And the Spartan rushing attack didn't have to lead the way, either.
Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell accumulated 275 passing yards on 20-of-31 pass attempts to go along with two touchdowns. It was Maxwell's time in the spotlight, as running back Le'Veon Bell had earned that honor in Week 1 against Boise State.
The entire Spartan ground attack accumulated 173 net rushing yards, 37 shy of matching Bell's 210 against Boise State.
The Michigan State victory moved the Spartans to 10th in both the USA Today Coaches' Poll and AP Poll.
What It Means to Both Teams
For the Fighting Irish, capturing a victory on the road against Michigan State would prove to the entire country that Brian Kelly truly has his program on the return to national relevance.
The nation's elite teams win the nationally televised night games, particularly on the road. Notre Dame hasn't beaten a ranked team on the road in primetime since 2006, when the Irish defeated these same Michigan State Spartans, 40-37.
Quite obviously, a win for the Fighting Irish on Saturday night would provide a sense of belonging to a program that has been yearning for a place in the spotlight for nearly 20 years.
On the other hand, a win for Michigan State would serve as revenge for the defeat it suffered at Notre Dame Stadium last season, one of only three losses for Mark Dantonio and Co. a year ago. A win would also catapult the Spartans inside the top 10 of the national rankings, a place the program has not been in quite some time.
Last but not least, a win for the Spartans would make them a dark horse candidate to reach this season's BCS National Championship Game.
Key Player for Notre Dame
Key Player: The offensive line
Rather than select an individual player, I have chosen the Notre Dame offensive line as this week's key player.
The line manhandled a smaller, weaker Navy offensive line in week one, paving the way for the Irish backs to accumulate 293 net rushing yards. Wasn't a repeat performance destined to happen against Purdue? Not at all.
Purdue's defensive line had its way against the Irish offensive line, holding Notre Dame to a combined 52 net rushing yards. Sure, the Boilermakers stacked the box, but defensive tackles Bruce Gaston and Kawann Short made the Irish offensive line look like a group of inexperienced freshmen. The line allowed five sacks on Saturday, the same amount it allowed in the first nine games of last season.
Facing a stout Michigan State defensive front seven won't be any easier of a task, either.
The Spartans feature defensive end William Gholston, a 6'7", 278-pound future first-round NFL Draft selection. He spearheads a unit that has allowed a total of 109 rushing yards in the Spartans' first two games.
Key Player for Michigan State
Key Player: RB Le'Veon Bell
Michigan State's game plan is simple. The Spartans are going to run the football down the throat of the opposition, all while mixing in play-action passes and utilizing the tight end in man coverage.
The engine that makes that offense go is running back Le'Veon Bell, who is a legitimate candidate for Big 10 Conference Player of the Year honors. Bell made his case for the award in week one against Boise State, racking up 210 net rushing yards on 44 carries. He also reached the endzone twice.
Bell possesses an rare combination of size, speed and elusiveness, as witnessed by his ability to hurdle defenders on the move at 6'2" and 244 pounds. He has a high motor, and is a relentless back who matches up well against the majority of linebackers.
Notre Dame Will Win If...
Notre Dame will win if quarterback Everett Golson proves to the Spartan defense that he is capable of consistently hitting open receivers, which will help open up the running game for the Irish.
Michigan State's defense should have encountered a minimal amount of difficulty preparing a game plan, as Purdue showed that stacking the box and forcing Golson to throw the ball will work to near perfection. That's why Golson's mental toughness will be tested early and often, especially with Saturday's contest being his first true road game.
Should Golson succumb to Michigan State's excellent pass coverage, the Irish offense will become stagnant as it did one week ago.
With two weeks worth of starting experience under his belt, Golson will need to prove that he has a stranglehold on the starting job, and that begins with putting on yet another quality performance on Saturday.
Michigan State Will Win If...
Michigan State will win if the defensive front seven can shut down the Irish rushing attack, a task that doesn't seem too difficult entering Saturday's contest.
The Irish were limited to 52 net rushing yards against Purdue last week, a figure that likely has the Spartan defensive line licking its chops. Notre Dame's offensive line was literally and figuratively shut down by Purdue's front, and improvement in that area typically doesn't occur over the span of a week.
The Spartans also must pressure Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, a redshirt freshman in his first season as a starting quarterback.
If the Spartans execute that game plan, a victory is virtually guaranteed.
Beginning in 2009, it seemed as if every meeting between Michigan State and Notre Dame would come down to the wire, particularly the memorable 2010 edition of the rivalry.
However, that streak ended last season, with Notre Dame defeating the Spartans 31-13 in dominant fashion. The Irish limited the Spartans to 29 rushing yards, the lowest amount Michigan State achieved all season. Simply put, that won't happen again.
The Spartans are—if you can believe it—a more complete team this season. The defense is a solid unit once again, and the offensive identity has continued to uphold its reputation as a smash mouth, in your face group.
It'll be too much for the Irish to handle.
My Prediction: Michigan State 24, Notre Dame 14