Notre Dame Football: Keys to Victory in Showdown with Michigan State

Ben ChodosCorrespondent IISeptember 12, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: George Atkinson III #34 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Navy 56-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Notre Dame and Michigan State will continue their rivalry this weekend in an epic showdown between two top-25 teams.

Both teams will head to East Lansing with undefeated records, and the Megaphone Trophy will not be easily won this season.

The Spartans have national title aspirations this season and the Fighting Irish would be thrilled to spoil their season by beating them at home.

Here is how Notre Dame can defeat Michigan State on Saturday.

Win the Battle in the Trenches 

Notre Dame surprisingly blew out Michigan State early last season. The Irish were able to control the game by running the ball effectively on offense and stopping the Spartans’ ground game on defense.

The Irish held Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker to 53 yards on 17 carries and kept the two Spartans back out of the end zone while Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray combined for 126 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns.

In Brian Kelly’s first matchup with Michigan State as Notre Dame’s head coach, Bell and Baker combined for 204 yards and the Spartans won on an infamous fake field goal in overtime.

Heading into this game Bell has 280 yards and four touchdowns in two games while the Irish are coming of a game against Purdue where they averaged 1.4 yards per carry. Kelly must make sure he can contain Bell and run the ball against a talented Michigan State defense.

Make a Big Play

With two extremely stingy defenses, a single big play will be a decisive factor in this game.

Last year, George Atkinson III provided the Irish with a spark when he returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first quarter. The play was following a Michigan State field goal, and it put the momentum firmly of the Irish’s side.

Atkinson is capable of providing a similar spark on special teams or in the running game this year, as are fellow running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Wood will make his 2012 debut after serving a two-game suspension

If one of these running backs can make a big play, it may be just enough to win the game against Michigan State. 

Play Tommy Rees 

Brian Kelly is sticking with Everett Golson as his starter against Michigan State despite Tommy Rees’ late-game heroics against Purdue.

Golson brings athleticism and mobility to the quarterback position, and this will help the Irish grind out yards on the ground.

However, Rees proved he has the ability to come off the bench cold and lead a two-minute drill when needed. Kelly should not hesitate to use Rees at the end of either half if the Irish need points quickly.

Both quarterbacks bring different skill sets to the Notre Dame offense, and each will likely be needed to score against a tough Michigan State defense.