Michigan State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Notre Dame
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While both teams enter the game undefeated, the Spartans are the only team that has played a true test (Boise State).
The Irish, on the other hand, were tested last week against Purdue, but let's be honest—it's Purdue. There's not much to be excited about when you're describing the Boilermakers' football team.
The game is in East Lansing, Mich., which gives the Spartans an advantage. Let's put it this way, the Spartans have won 19 of their last 23 games at home.
So, what are the keys to a Spartan win?
When your quarterback has more interceptions than touchdowns, that's a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Luckily for Michigan State, Andrew Maxwell's three interceptions this year haven't cost the team any victories.
However, if he continues down this road, it's not going to be pretty Saturday night.
While there are issues in the Notre Dame secondary, Maxwell has to make smart decisions with the football, not forcing the ball when nothing's there. By limiting his interceptions, the Spartan defense will stay on the sidelines a lot longer.
There's no doubt that Notre Dame will bring more pressure than Boise State or Central Michigan could have ever hoped to bring. But, Maxwell has to dig deep and trust his instincts. By making smart decisions, Maxwell will put the Spartans in line for the win.
Win the Battle in the Trenches
In last season's game at Notre Dame, the Irish dominated in the trenches en route to a 31-13 win.
For the game, the Irish had 65 yards from Jonas Gray and 61 yards from Cierre Wood. The Spartans, however, had a combined 29 yards rushing between five guys, with three of them having negative totals.
That can't happen again this year.
On offense, the line has to get a push against the vulnerable Notre Dame defensive line, imposing their will. Le'Veon Bell has already shown he can shoulder the load at running back, now he needs the space to work in.
On defense, the Spartans will have some work to do in containing Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. Wood is coming off a two-game suspension and will be ready to go. Riddick has shouldered the load in the first two games, rushing for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
With two good backs that will split carries, Michigan State is going to have to dominate the Irish offensive line. If they don't, Wood and Riddick might have a field day.
Pressure, Pressure and More Pressure
Whether its Everett Golson or Tommy Rees under center, the Spartans have to put pressure on the quarterback. Giving either time in the pocket could be deadly for the Spartans.
Golson brings another dimension to the field as well with his legs. So, when he's in, the Spartans must also contain pressure, ensuring he doesn't get outside the tackle boxes. If he does, he could be running for a long time.
If Rees is in the game, the Spartans can take advantage of his decision-making, as he threw 14 interceptions last year. To do that, though, pressure will be important.
Whichever quarterback is in the game, the Spartans have to bring pressure. Force quick and inaccurate decisions, giving your secondary a chance to make plays on the ball.
Defense Get Off the Field
Every coach talks about it before and during the game. If it's third-and-long, the defense has to find a way to get off the field.
There can be no stupid penalties and no lapses in coverage.
While it's understandable for third-down conversions to happen at short distances, there's rarely an excuse for it to happen at long distances.
This year, the Irish are 15-for-29 on third downs. Of those, 12 are from short-yardage situations, while two were converted from long-yardage situations.
The defense can't allow any lapses, mentally or physically.
By getting off the field after third down, the Spartans can start to force the hand of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly on what to do with his offense.
Who comes out on top Saturday?
Take Chances on Fourth Down
Like many sports fans, I love to see a team take chances on fourth down.
Whether they have the opportunity to kick a field goal or have to punt, when a team pulls a trick play on fourth down, I get excited.
Now, I'm not saying that the Spartans should go for it on fourth down every time. That would be stupid.
Take the three points when it's absolutely necessary. But, if there's a chance for a conversion on fourth down, the fan in me says go for it.
Even though it doesn't work sometimes, the excitement that comes with a fourth-down conversion far outweighs the feelings I get for a field goal. Still, you have to be smart with these decisions.
Maybe one early in the game will keep the Irish on their toes, making it guesswork for them the entire game.
Then again, if they fail on fourth down, Mark Dantonio will look like an idiot. And, we wouldn't want that to happen.
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