It’s Spartans Week!

The Irish have to be riding high coming off their dominating win against Boston College, but it’s time to shift focus to their primetime showdown with Michigan St. in East Lansing in a matchup featuring two teams whose fans know the bitter disappointment of a losing season last year. Regardless of records, the match-up with Michigan St. tends to be a close, hard fought, game, with eleven of the last fifteen meetings being decided by a touchdown, or less. There have been some big wins for the Fighting Irish, but also some colossal meltdowns; be honest, you just flashed back to 2010, right? Last year, at around this time (Notre Dame faced Michigan St. in Week 3) the hype around the Irish season was already starting to crumble, with the worry being that one more loss would effectively knock the Irish out of the playoff picture; little did we know then how quickly the losses would pile up. This year it’s not about staying alive in the playoff picture, but a win against Michigan St. is nonetheless important, especially for a young team looking to build an identity, and looking to notch that first signature win.

The Match-Up

With their 49-20 win over Boston College, the Irish moved to 2-1 on the season, but remain unranked. The Spartans are off to a 2-0 start on the season, with wins over Bowling Green and Western Michigan, but were idle last weekend.

The History

This will be the 79th meeting between the two schools, with the Fighting Irish holding a 48-29 (with 1 tie) series advantage. Prior to the Spartans’ 36-28 win over the Irish last season, Notre Dame had won three straight, and four out of the last five meetings.

 

Players To Watch

Fighting Irish

Brandon Wimbush

He’s had an up and down start to his first season as the Irish QB, especially with respect to his passing, but Wimbush’s performance on the ground against Boston College  was one for the record books, as his 207 rushing yards shattered the previous school record of 146 yards, set by Bill Etter in 1969. Through three games, Wimbush is 47-93 for 491 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs through the air, with 314 yards and 6 TDs on the ground.

Equanimeous St Brown

After a solid start to the season with a 4 reception 80 yard 1 TD effort against Temple, St. Brown has largely been silent in the last two games, with just three receptions for 19 yards. It should go without saying that the Irish are going to have to find a better balance in their offense, and find a way to get St. Brown the ball going forward, but I just said it anyway.

Te’von Coney

The Irish defense is still a work in progress under first year Defensive Coordinator Mike Elko, but one of the beneficiaries of his simplified defensive scheme is Coney, who through three games is tied for the team lead with 25 tackles (12 solo, 13 assisted). Add in 1.5 TFL, 1 QBH, and 1 Sack for a loss of ten yards, and the junior linebacker is off to a solid start to the 2017 season.

 

Players To Watch

Spartans

Brian Lewerke (QB)

The red shirt sophomore is off to a decent start this season, leading the Spartans to wins in their first two games of the season with two quality starts. He’s a dual threat QB with the ability to scramble for chunks of yardage at a time, to go along with a strong arm. Through two games, he’s 35-54 for 411 yards, 4 TDs and 1 INT through the air, with another 150 yards and 2 TDs on 17 carries on the ground.

Matt Coghlin (PK)

The Spartans are relying on a true freshman kicker this season, and while he’s 9 for 9 on PATs, he’s yet to attempt an in-game field goal for the Spartans…

Joe Bachie (LB)

This spot could actually be used to highlight the trio of linebackers that the Spartans deploy (Bachie, Frey, and Dowell), because as a line-backing corps, they’re pretty solid defenders, especially against the run game, and they’re all at the top of the team leader board for tackles, with Bachie occupying the top spot with 21 total tackles (6 solo, 15 assisted). His two counterparts Frey and Dowell are second and third on the list (Dowell’s tied for 3rd) with another 23 tackles between them. Together, they have an impressive 44 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and 2.5 sacks through just the first two games of the season.

 

Fighting Irish Keys To Victory

Find a Passing Game

Not to belabor a point, but the Irish passing game has been abysmal the last two games against Georgia and Boston College, and against Michigan St.’s solid run defense, they simply can’t hope to rely solely on their run game and expect to leave East Lansing with a win. St. Brown’s the big play-maker among the receivers, but Wimbush has to find a way to get the other receivers involved in the passing game, as well, or the Spartans won’t hesitate to double up on St. Brown.

Make The Big Plays

In what I expect to be a close game, one or two big plays, on offense or defense, could be the deciding factor in this game. There was no shortage of big plays for the Irish against Boston College, with Wimbush and Adams each ripping off 60+ yard runs on offense, and Shaun Crawford coming up with two interceptions and a fumble recovery on defense. The question is, will the Irish be able to repeat that performance against a tougher opponent.

 

Final Analysis: Get ready for some stress eating, or drinking, if that’s your thing, because this looks to be a tight game that could come down to the final possession to determine the outcome. Coming off a disappointing season of their own, the Spartans are looking to turn their program around, but after just two games, especially against the teams they’ve played, it’s hard to get an accurate read on how improved they are over last season. But, with some young play-makers of their own, they‘re certainly not an easy match-up for the Irish. That being said, I’m still giving the Irish a slight edge, providing they’re able to find some semblance of a passing game. If not, well, there’s a reason I’m not a gambling man.

Final Score: Notre Dame 31 – Michigan State 27

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