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Michigan State vs. Notre Dame Keys to the Game and Prediction

Matt SheehanAnalyst ISeptember 15, 2011

Michigan State vs. Notre Dame Keys to the Game and Prediction

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    "Little Giants."

    Those two words are enough to remind every college football fan the fake field goal that won Michigan State last year's contest against Notre Dame. It was the best of times, but it shortly became the worst of times when coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack shortly after the game.

    So much drama, but just one year later all Spartan and Irish fans will tune in Saturday to watch a game that will make or break either team's season.

    The Irish are looking to avoid going 0-3 and keep "For Sale" signs from being planted in Brian Kelly's front lawn. If Michigan State can runaway with a win, it will be their first win over a competitive opponent and will give the Spartans some confidence as they come closer to Big Ten play.

    If these two squads want to give their program a boost in week three of the college football season than they will need to follow these three keys to give themselves a shot at a "W".

Michigan State Key No. 1

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    Contain Michael Floyd

    I listed this as a key for the Notre Dame-Michigan game last week, and I have no problem putting it in for this game as well. Michael Floyd, who has shattered nearly every Notre Dame receiving record, has the most potential out of anyone to change the game for the Irish. It is very hard, if not impossible, to shut him down completely.

    After two games, Floyd has 25 receptions. Not targets, actual receptions, and that clearly shows how much the Irish love throwing to him. If the Spartan defense can stick to him like a wet t-shirt the whole game and contain him, Notre Dame's offensive options will be very limited.

Michigan State Key No. 2

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    Give Kirk Cousins plenty of time

    If you watched the Notre Dame vs. Michigan thriller, odds are you saw the amount of time Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson had to throw the ball. On some plays, I swear he could have made a sandwich, cut off the crust, eaten it and then found an open receiver downfield.

    Kirk Cousins can take more advantage of extra time in the pocket than Robinson can, just because he is more accurate downfield. We saw last Saturday that Notre Dame's secondary can really break down the longer the play goes, and if Cousins gets brilliant pocket protection, look out for the Spartans' passing game to be in full force.

Michigan State Key No. 3

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    Get to Tommy Rees as much as possible

    This is always something the defense wants to do, but in this game it could be the difference.

    Tommy Rees is a good quarterback, no question about that, but he can suddenly turn into a high school-caliber QB when it comes to quick decision-making. This is even more prevalent in the red zone.

    Last week (and I hate bringing up the Michigan game this much), Rees chucked a ball up in the air in the red zone. This was a rushed decision and a terrible one as the intended receiver, Floyd, was probably the third or fourth guy that was going to catch that ball. The people more likely to catch the ball were wearing maize and blue.

    So yes, getting to the quarterback is always the mission of the defensive line, but with Rees turning the ball over in panicked situations, he could lose composure if the Spartans bust through the line.

Notre Dame Key No. 1

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    Engage an explosive running game

    Michigan State has a young and inexperienced linebacker core, and the best way to exploit that is through a running game. This season the Irish have improved drastically on their running game, with an average of just over five yards per carry.

    The running game could gain the Irish a good chunk of rushing yards and help out their passing game drastically. The Michigan State defense will stay off-balance and be more vulnerable to play-action plays because of the inexperience of the linebackers. The biggest player that the Irish need to lock down is Jerel Worthy, the defensive tackle that has the opportunity to stop any run play.

Notre Dame Key No. 2

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    Score in the red zone for crying out loud

    A 45 percent scoring rate in the red zone this season. In 11 trips inside the 20-yard line, they have five touchdowns and zero field goals. Five trips this year have been halted due to turnovers.

    My goodness, do they send out their cross country team when they land inside the red zone?

    Bottom line is that the Irish need to tighten up in the red zone, because they could be 2-0 with two convincing victories if they had eliminated the errors.

Notre Dame Key No. 3

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    Act like last week never happened

    Last week's late-game loss would be detrimental to any team's confidence. They may be paranoid about a play they screwed up on, they could start doubting the quality of the team, and even worse, they could start having chemistry issues.

    Acting like last week's game never happened is not an easy task, but if they can clear their memories for just three hours they will be a well-oiled machine. Forget about the blown red zone opportunities, don't think about the late game choke and keep the offense firing if they get off to another excellent start.

Prediction

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    Michigan State- 31 Notre Dame- 28

    Notre Dame will look very promising after marching deep downfield in their first drive, but it will end after a botched field goal attempt. Michigan State will then get its offense rolling early and score in a seven-play drive, giving them early momentum and Irish fans an aneurysm. The Irish will follow that up by going three and out, and the Spartans will capitalize with a field goal, giving the Spartans a 10-0 lead after the first quarter.

    Notre Dame in the second quarter will drive downfield and use a Michael Floyd 50-yard catch as their pivotal play. They don't blow this red zone drive, and they close the gap to a three-point contest.

    Halftime comes and goes, and now it is time for some serious offense.

    Michigan State will score two touchdowns, and Notre Dame will scrape out one touchdown in the third quarter. No telling how it happens, but it will. Trust me on this one.

    Five minutes left in the game is where the fun begins. The score will be 24-21 with MSU winning, but Notre Dame will score to give them the lead with only two and a half minutes remaining. Michigan State, with only one timeout, will have the drive of the year by converting on one fourth down and one third and long. With thirty seconds left, B.J. Cunningham will use his hands of glue to snag the game-winning catch, and send Michigan State back to East Lansing with a 3-0 record.

    Knute Rockne will then come out of his grave to apply for the head coaching job about three hours after the game ends. How about that for a prediction?

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