By: Nick Shepkowski of Domer Sports Report
Two years? It's really been that long? It seems like just yesterday I was sitting by my computer in my dorm room, listening to all the things in the world that went wrong for the Spartans in East Lansing, as related by none other than Mike Valenti.
In a way, that was a turning point for MSU as they struggled the rest of the season and replaced John L. Smith with Mark Dantonio after 2006.
Needless to say, it's been a change for the better in Spartan-land.
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame hit the road this weekend for the first time in 2008 as they enter East Lansing in hopes of improving to 3-0 on the year. Fresh off a 35-17 victory over Michigan, the Irish must improve on a few aspects of the game if they hope to pull an upset as they enter as 8.5-point underdogs to a 2-1 Michigan State team.
When Michigan State has the ball
Irish fans, meet Javon Ringer. Remember him? He's the guy who has been tormenting the Irish for the past decade, or so it seems, when it's really only been the past three seasons. Ringer will enter Saturday just shy of 500 rushing yards with a total of 498 as he runs for just under five a carry at 4.8 yards per attempt.
Simply put, stop him or even slow him down, and the chances of pulling out a win in East Lansing skyrocket.
What is concerning about the fact that Ringer is the go-to man offensively is how the Irish performed last week against Sam McGuffie of Michigan. Only a freshman, McGuffie was able to scrap off 131 yards on 25 carries.
Ringer is bigger, stronger, faster, and more experienced than McGuffie, so the Irish defensive front will have no choice but to improve before this weekend.
Michigan State fans were very high on Brian Hoyer entering this season after he showed potential in his first season as the starting quarterback a year ago. Unfortunately for Spartan fans, Hoyer has struggled through the first three weeks of 2008, completing only 44 percent of his passes with just one touchdown thrown.
The good of Hoyer? He's thrown just one pick so far in 75 attempts.
It's obvious what this means, Irish fans: Make Michigan State put the ball in the air. Be able to do so, and the Irish should be in business.
The Irish will also find a very capable deep threat in East Lansing this Saturday in Mark Dell. He has been the go-to man for the Spartans in passing situations as he has hauled in over a third of the team's 36 receptions with 13 of his own for 320 yards.
BJ Cunningham is thrown to about half as much but has still pulled in eight catches, averaging 17.4 yards per reception.
Sure, the stats are a bit intimidating, but remember Hoyer's percentage of completed passes and know that getting pressure on the quarterback will be key. If the Irish can "make" him make a play, instead of "let" him make a play, they should be okay in pass defense.
To sum up the defense as a whole this weekend, I feel the Irish should do all in their power to control the running game and take their chances against Michigan State's passing game. Hoyer hasn't seen quite a defense like Notre Dame's so far this season.
Do I mean the Irish bring that great of one to East Lansing? No. I mean what Notre Dame's gameplan consists of, which is blitz, blitz, and blitz again for the most part.
To a quarterback that has not seen it before, or at least this season, this can wreak havoc. Expect the Irish to try to use that to their advantage in obvious passing downs.
When Notre Dame has the ball
We saw Jimmy Clausen come alive in the fourth quarter against San Diego State and keep the momentum going into the first half against Michigan. Obviously the weather and score of the game changed the Notre Dame gameplan for the second half, but the key stat to me from one week ago was the number 3.3.
The Irish entered with a struggling running game and faced one of the best front seven units in college football with Michigan, a team that was allowing right about one yard a carry against opponents entering last Saturday.
The Spartans bring a defense to the game Saturday that struggled very much against Cal in Week One, allowing 467 yards of total offense that day as Michigan State struggled to find a way to slow down the Bears.
I hope to see good weather this Saturday in East Lansing because this is a game where I feel the Irish are capable of throwing the ball around once again.
Coming off last week it is easy to say this, but against Michigan State I feel that it will be crucial for Notre Dame to get an early lead and to not turn the ball over. Golden Tate has been the go-to guy so far when the Irish have needed a play, and for the most part he has come through for the Irish in 2008.
The defense of Michigan State has allowed big plays this year, so there is no reason why the Irish shouldn't be able to break one or two again this week.
Michigan State brings in talent, but a lot of question marks still lie in their defense where experience is not there in most respects. I feel that this game is going to turn into a shootout to some degree based on both teams' defenses.
Notre Dame is facing a front seven which is not nearly as talented as that of Michigan. What does that mean exactly for the Irish? Success in establishing a running game, as well as the ability to give Jimmy Clausen time to throw the ball downfield. I would be surprised if the Irish offense can't put at least 24 points on the board this weekend.
Looking at special teams, Notre Dame's have come on very strong this season. Last week there were only two real mishaps: one when Armando Allen fielded a ball that was going out of bounds and gave the Irish poor field position, the other when a third quarter punt was partially deflected.
Other than that, special teams came up huge for Notre Dame, keeping Michigan deep in their own territory—something they need to do to Michigan State again this week.
I'll be honest: Before writing this article and researching Michigan State a bit more, I did not like the Irish's chances too much in East Lansing. However, if Notre Dame can catch a couple of breaks and be able to do the things I talked about, they should be in it late in the ballgame—and we all know anything can happen then.
Unfortunately, I feel this week will be a bit of a hiccup for Notre Dame, as Javon Ringer will prove to be just too much to handle.
Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 28