After both teams coming off disheartening losses in which they were both favored, Bleacher Creatures Dan Scofield and Joe G. take a detailed look into Saturday's matchup between the Spartans and the Fighting Irish.
One week and a pair of losses later, both teams are looking to find their way back onto the track of success in South Bend this week. Lets take a look at the recent meetings between the two:
- Notre Dame leads the all-time series, 44-27-1. The Spartans have closed the gap by winning 7 out of the last 10 contests since 1999.
- Since 1999, Michigan State is 5-0 in South Bend.
- Notre Dame has not beaten the Spartans in South Bend since 1993 when Lou Holtz was roaming the sidelines.
- Charlie Weis has achieved only one win in four chances against Michigan State in his career.
Notre Dame pass offense vs. Michigan State pass defense
Jimmy Clausen and his offense have proved to the country that they belong in the discussion among the elites.
Clausen (196.3 passer rating) has gotten off to a great start in '09 with seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Another promising stat for the Irish—they are averaging 325.5 yards of offense this season.
The Spartans were heavily focusing on stopping the deep ball on Saturday, allowing for Central Michigan to beat them with short passes. Unfortunately for Michigan State, they will have to focus on stopping long, medium and short passes against this passing attack.
Dantonio wasn't impressed with the unit's performance on Saturday. Starting the first two games of the season, fifth-year senior Danny Fortenor will be replaced in the starting lineup by promising sophomore Trenton Robinson.
Giving up three touchdowns and 352 yards to CMU cannot be a good sign in terms of this week's match up for the Spartans. Clausen and his receivers will make them self back at home against the Spartan secondary.
Floyd, who is expected to play after receiving 15 stitches in Ann Arbor, will most likely be used as a decoy to open up Tate, Rudolph, and the others.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Michigan State pass offense vs. Notre Dame pass defense
After given high expectations at the start of the season, the Irish secondary had a disappointing outing in last week's loss.
Darrin Walls showed signs of rust in the final drive against Michigan and Blanton and McNeil both contributed missed tackles. The secondary must get back on track in order for the Irish to get back on track.
Harrison Smith and Kyle McCarthy are doing exactly what was expected of the duo. While leading the team in tackles, McCarthy had a crucial interception last week while Smith has shown exceptional speed in open space.
Sophomore Kirk Cousins has been impressive in his first two starts this year. He has passed for 167 yards and a touchdown, while being ranked sixth in the nation in passing efficiency. Keith Nichol, a similar quarterback, will also see some time this weekend.
At receiver, the Spartans are experienced and fairly talented. Blair White leads the unit with 267 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Notre Dame will need to take White away as a deep-threat to control the Spartan passing attack.
Although the Irish secondary is considered one of the team's best units, last week's performance didn't give me enough confidence to give them the edge here. The Cousins and White connection makes this one a push.
Notre Dame run offense vs. Michigan State run defense
A breakout game for Armando Allen was spoiled when Tate Forcier tossed a last minute touchdown pass last Saturday.
Allen had a certain "swagger" to him last week—pushing for extra yards after being hit, and getting first downs that looked unattainable. He even took a screen play to the house. Oh...wait.
Even though he did suffer a bruised hamstring, he is expected to start this weekend. He has pulled away from the pack by averaging 105.5 yards a game.
Jonas Gray has produced decently so far, but needs to gain his trust back after a costly fumble in Ann Arbor. Another observation thus far-Gray looks a little hesitant with his vision and hitting the holes.
The Spartans, compared to the Irish, are rather undersized at an average of 250 lbs per lineman. This advantage should allow the Irish to impose their will on their opponent with outside rushes (think—Young and Duncan.)
The star of the Michigan State defense mans the middle of the field. Greg Jones leads the Big Ten in tackles with 14.5, which is good enough for second in the nation. The Irish need to stop Jones from making an impact on the running game.
However, the Spartans do have some promising stats regarding rush defense. They held Cental Michigan-hero Dan LeFevour to a miserable .8 yards per carry last week.
Armando Allen and the size advantage for the Irish are the reason for the push decision here.
Michigan State rush offense vs. Notre Dame rush defense
To put it simply—Notre Dame's weakest link is its rush defense.
Giving up 171.5 yards per game on the ground looks better on paper than the defense has been. By allowing the gates of heaven to be opened in the middle, opponent rushers have been gaining double-digit gains regularly.
Irish defensive tackles have been getting moved around with ease and the outside rushers have not been able to establish consistent pressure on a quarterback thus far.
With Javon Ringer gone, someone had to step up for the Spartans to carry the tradition.
Red-shirt freshman Caulton Ray has stepped into the starter's role, averaging 61 yards per game. Ray is backed up by contributing backups, including Nichols.
Nichols has averaged 17.5 yards per game on the ground. The Irish will face another test against a quarterback with legs in this contest.
In order to win this game, the defensive line must make strides in this one. They need to show they can stop a rushing attack against a pro-style team in order to be entrusted once again. Randy Hart may have his hands full this weekend.
Advantage: Michigan State
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 20