Michigan State Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense
Michigan State has started the season by beating up on two lesser opponents. As has been their M.O. this decade, the Spartans are doing so with a multi-faceted running game. 4 Edwin Baker (5'9", 208) is averaging 16 carries and 150 yards a game, while 24 Le'Veon Bell (6'2", 240) is averaging 10 carries and 95 yards. That's right, both backs are averaging 9.5 yards a carry. Each have also cashed in three touchdowns.
22 Larry Caper adds a third weapon to the MSU running game. Caper, who scored two touchdowns against the Irish last year, has however missed the first two games with a hand injury. He's listed as questionable for this Saturday.
Quarterback 8 Kirk Cousins has had five non-sack rushing attempts for 18 yards. In addition, two Spartans receivers have each seen individual carries. Michigan State does employ a fullback in a base pro set, but he has yet to see a touch on the ground.
The Irish defense's rushing stats are no doubt tainted by Denard Robinson's performance from last week. However, the positive is that it is the middle linebackers, and not the safeties, who lead the team in tackles. Manti Te'o has 22 stops, and Carlo Calabrese has 19. A somewhat concerning stat is that Notre Dame has only three tackles for a loss, with one coming from Te'o and one each from cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton.
Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Michigan State Run Defense
Armando Allen and Cierre Wood have been the primary ballcarriers for the Irish, with Allen getting the bulk of the carries. Armando is averaging 16.5 carries and 91 yards per game, while Wood is averaging 6.5 and 34. Both are over five yards per carry, a very positive sign.
Irish quarterbacks have had 13 non-sack rushing attempts for 60 yards, while the only receiver to run the ball so far is Theo Riddick. Riddick had limited success in two attempts against Michigan, running for zero and three yards.
MSU's 4-3 defense is led by an experienced set of linebackers. 53 Greg Jones is the star, and so far 43 Eric Gordon and 10 Chris Norman have been able to match his production. The trio have combined for 57 tackles in two games. As a whole, the Spartans defense has held opponents to just 65 yards per game on the ground.
Michigan State Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense
Kirk Cousins returns for his second season as Michigan State's starting quarterback. Thanks to the effectiveness of the running game, Cousins has only needed to attempt 19 passes per game so far. On average, he will complete 11 of those passes for 164 yards.
Cousins' favorite target so far has been wideout 2 Mark Dell, who is averaging 3.5 catches and 50 yards per game. After Dell, no one is averaging more than one catch per game.
Cousins does like to use his tight ends, as three Michigan State TEs have two catches apiece this year. That may not seem like much, but remember it accounts for over one-fourth of all MSU completions. Of the remaining 16 passes, 15 have gone to wide receivers (including Dell) and only one to a running back.
Due to nagging injuries to Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy, Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta were the only safeties available to play for Notre Dame last week. Slaughter does hope to be back this week though. Speaking of depth in the secondary, Notre Dame stayed in its base 3-4 set for the entirety of the Michigan game, although it's unclear whether that was because of the lack of defensive backs or because they wanted extra linebackers in against Robinson.
The Irish are giving up 232 passing yards per game. Ethan Johnson leads the team with two sacks, while Ian Williams, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Kerry Neal have one apiece.
Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan State Pass Defense
Dayne Crist has been an effective, if not flashy, passer so far, completing 62.7 percent of his passes. Crist is averaging 25 attempts, 16 completions, and 241 yards per game.
Kyle Rudolph has been Crist's favorite target so far, due to his ability to get open in almost any situation. Rudolph is averaging 6.5 catches and 103.5 yards per game.
Michael Floyd is averaging five catches and 74 yards per game, yet the team thinks he isn't getting involved enough. Against Michigan, Floyd primarily played as the lone receiver on the short side of the field, and Michigan was able to shut him down with double coverage. The Irish will look to move Floyd around this week to get him more opportunities.
All the attention paid to Floyd has given a chance for TJ Jones to show his ability. Jones is averaging three catches and 57 yards per game, and leads the team with two touchdown catches.
Theo Riddick is averaging two catches per game, while backs Armando Allen and Cierre Wood are averaging one apiece.
Opponents have gone to the air often against Michigan State, but that may be a result of the leads the Spartans have been putting up. MSU is giving up 247 passing yards per game, while recording only three sacks on 90 passing attempts.
Defensive end 89 Colin Neely leads the team with 1.5 sacks and 4.0 tackles for loss overall. Strong safety 11 Marcus Hyde has recorded the team's lone interception.
The strong-legged 4 Dan Conroy takes over as MSU's full-time placekicker this year. He's a perfect 4-for-4 on the season with a long of 50. For the Irish, David Ruffer has also converted all four of his field goal attempts. Ruffer's long is 46 yards.
18 Aaron Bates, a four-year starter, is one of the best punters in the nation. On eight tries, he's averaging 46 yards per kick, with a long of 57. But he's not outkicking his coverage, as the Spartans are holding opponents to six yards per return. Ben Turk is averaging 36.8 yards per punt with a long of 47. The good news is that Irish opponents have yet to be able to return a punt.
Receiver 82 Keshawn Martin and starting free safety 39 Trenton Robinson have been returning kicks for the Spartans, although Le'Veon Bell has been bumped ahead of Robinson on this week's depth chart. Martin is averaging 22 yards per return, Robinson 21. David Ruffer is averaging 62 yards per kickoff for Notre Dame, with two touchbacks on 12 kicks. Irish opponents are averaging 22.6 yards per return, giving them an average start on the 26.
Cierre Wood has been ND's primary kick returner, averaging 23.5 yards per with a long of 38. Theo Riddick has added one return for 19 yards. 17 Kevin Muma kicks off for the Spartans. He's averaging 62 yards per kick with two touchbacks on 14 tries. MSU is surrendering 22 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 30.
Keshawn Martin also returns punts for Michigan State. He's averaging a modest 13.4 yards per return with a long of 47 yards. Armando Allen has returned two punts for the Irish this year, one for nine yards and one for 38. That's an average of 23.5 yards.
Notre Dame Players to Watch
Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Ian Williams, Jamoris Slaughter, Eric Maust, Cierre Wood
Notre Dame 23, Michigan State 20
This article originally appeared on Kanka's Sports Page