As the No. 20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish look to pull off a huge upset against the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing, it's necessary that both sides of the ball play at their optimum potential.
The offense, led by quarterback Everett Golson, struggled last week against the Purdue Boilermakers in Notre Dame's 20-17 victory. The redshirt freshman signal-caller was benched for incumbent starter Tommy Rees in the fourth quarter after a turnover, and will look to atone for his mistake this week.
Performing well won't be easy, as Michigan State has one of the toughest defenses in the nation. In two games against Boise State and Central Michigan, the Spartans have given up just 20 points, good for 12th in the nation, and their 225.5 yards per game allowed is the seventh-best thus far.
Especially strong has been the Michigan State pass defense, which did not allow a touchdown pass to Boise State's Joe Southwick or Central Michigan's Ryan Radcliff in its two contests this season.
For Golson, Saturday will almost surely be a game where he simply hopes to manage the offense and not single-handedly lose the game for his team.
The Irish have not won against an opponent ranked in the Top 10 since 2005, having lost nine straight of those contests. To expect a freshman quarterback to go into a hostile environment and be the key reason Notre Dame comes out victorious is unrealistic.
That means the onus will almost solely be on the defense if the Irish hope to pull off an upset victory on Saturday night.
If the first two weeks of the season are any indication, look for the Irish's staunch unit to stuff the Spartans offense and come away victorious.
The overarching key matchup for Notre Dame this week will come against Spartans star running back Le'Veon Bell.
A junior, Bell hopped onto the national stage with a brilliant 44-carry, 210-yard performance against Boise State in Week 1. Also receiving six passes for 55 yards out of the backfield, Bell's all-around performance vaulted him into early-season Heisman talks.
At 6'2" and 244 pounds, he is a grinder who enjoys methodically destroying defenses over the course of the game.
Luckily for the Irish, their run defense is almost the sole reason they come into Saturday night unbeaten.
Notre Dame held Navy's vaunted triple-option attack to 10 points in Week 1, limiting the team to a paltry 3.7 yards per attempt. The Irish followed that effort while stopping Purdue leading rusher Akeem Shavers to only 37 yards on 12 carries.
Obviously, taking down Bell will be a far more daunting task.
Nonetheless, the Irish defense is led by the best linebacker in college football, Manti Te'o, and has a defensive front that thrives at clogging the middle.
If Notre Dame can have expected success against the run, that will put the game in the hands of Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell.
In two career starts, it's been a mixed bag for the junior signal-caller. Facing Central Michigan last week, Maxwell completed 20-of-31 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns.
However, in the team's only true test of the season against Boise State, the Spartans quarterback floundered. Maxwell threw three costly interceptions before Bell eventually ran the clock down and gave Michigan State a 17-13 victory.
He won't be so lucky this time. With a top-notch defense stuffing the run, look for the Notre Dame secondary to cause some critical turnovers and win a close game.
It may not be pretty for the public to watch, but the game will be a thing of beauty for an Irish program that has longed for a landscape-altering victory.
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