It’s Spartans Week!
Winning doesn’t fix everything, but it sure helps to quiet down the angry mobs. And, with Notre Dame taking care of business against Nevada, as they were expected to, it turned out to be a fairly quiet week for the Fighting Irish, with hardly any calls for VanGorder’s job. A temporary détente, if you will, though I can’t imagine that lasting much longer. Nonetheless, here we are, as the Fighting Irish get set to face Michigan State after a two-year absence from each others schedules, in a true rivalry with a school from Michigan that dates back to 1897. Notre Dame’s had the upper hand in the rivalry as of late, especially at home, with the Spartan’s last win in South Bend coming in 2007. But, with Notre Dame already having suffered a loss this season, the pressure is on the Irish to win out. There’s more at stake in this game than just bragging rights and the Megaphone Trophy, as the Spartans would love nothing more than to knock the Irish out of the playoff picture just three weeks into the 2016 season.
Despite cruising to victory against the Wolf Pack, the Irish didn’t move up in the rankings, and come into this game ranked 18th in the country. The Spartans had an early Week 2 bye, and come into the game ranked 12th with just a win over Furman under their belts so far this season.
It’s the 50th Anniversary of what is considered by many to be the greatest one of the greatest, and most controversial, games not just in this rivalry, but in all of college football. These two teams met in a 1966 showdown between the No. 1 (Notre Dame) and No. 2 (Michigan State) teams that year, late in the season. With Michigan State leading by three points through three-quarters, Notre Dame tied the game at 10-10 with a 27 yard field goal on the first play of the 4th Quarter. The Irish would get the ball back with just over a minute left to play, and a chance to take the lead, but Coach Parseghian chose to play it safe, and the game ended in a 10-10 tie, preserving Notre Dame’s No. 1 ranking, and the Fighting Irish would go on to win the National Championship that season. Notre Dame leads the series against Michigan St. 48–28–1, and has won 4 of the last 5 games between the two schools.
Players to Watch
Following a spectacular game against Texas, Kizer didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet against Nevada, but, Kizer’s play was nothing less than solid against the Wolfpack. With the game well in hand, Kizer left the game mid 3rd Quarter, but not before finding the end zone on a 2 yard TD run. Kizer finished the game 15-18 for 156 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT, and ran for another 35 yards and 1 TD.
Josh Adams/Tarean Folston
Notre Dame’s two-headed running back committee seems to be working well, with both Adams and Folston showing a hot hand in each of the first two games, Folston against Texas, and Adams against Nevada. Adams and Folston have combined for 264 yards and 1 TD (Folston v. Nevada) on the ground. Michigan St. is the toughest defensive front seven they’ve faced so far this season, so it won’t be easy going, but the Irish offensive line is more than capable of imposing their will at the line of scrimmage, and should give both Adams and Folston plenty of room to run, and make big plays on the ground.
With the loss of Shaun Crawford in the game against Nevada, Luke’s field presence and leadership has become an even more important factor for this young secondary. Luke came up with a big interception in the 2nd Quarter against Nevada, but his effort was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty on the Irish. Michigan St. is without question a run first team, but they may be looking to test the young secondary of the Irish, so Luke will need to lock down his side of the field and help take the Spartans’ passing game out of the equation.
Players to Watch
Tyler O’Connor (QB)
The Senior played in just four games last year, and got his first start against Furman two weeks ago, where he was 13 of 18 for 190 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT. This will be the first big game start for O’Connor, and with a group of young receivers to boot, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of the big game, especially if the Irish front seven are able to get consistent pressure on him.
LJ Scott (RB)
Last year’s Spartans were a running back by committee team, with three different running backs getting over 100 carries each. After rushing for 105 yards and 1 TD against Furman, Scott has been named the lead back for the Spartans going forward. Scott’s rushed for a total of 804 yards and 12 TDs in his year plus one game for the Spartans.
Riley Bullough (LB)
Bullough’s a 3rd generation Spartan, Bullough’s as tough as they come at the linebacker position. He led the Spartans in tackles in 2015, with 106, and also had 3.5 sacks and 2 INTs, including one he returned 44 yards for a TD. He’s started off the 2016 season with another strong performance against Furman and started off the 2016 season with an 8 tackle performance (4 solo, 4 assisted).
Fighting Irish Keys To Victory
Get Off To Quick Start
Unlike the game against Texas, where the Irish scored a touchdown on their first possession, in just over two and a half minutes, it took the Irish over eighteen minutes to score against Nevada, and there they had to settle for a field goal. The Spartans might not be an offensive juggernaut, but what they do well is eat up the clock with their run game. The Irish are young at the wide receiver position, but Kizer has the ability to make big plays happen in a hurry, as do both Adams and Folston, who both have runs of over forty yards already this season. A quick score, or two, will take an immense amount of pressure off the Irish offense, and their defense, as well.
Make Tyler O’Connor Beat Them
I know what you’re thinking, the Irish always seem to make inexperienced quarterbacks look like Heisman hopefuls, so this might not be something to wish for, but the Spartans aren’t built to be an every down passing team. Whether it’s LJ Scott getting the bulk of the carries, or the Spartans leaning on their three-headed running back committee, this team is built to run the ball and bleed time off the clock. This is without a doubt the biggest game of O’Connor’s career, and while he seems capable of managing a game, he’s not yet been tested to see if he can put the team on his shoulders, and pass his way to a victory.
This may be the most physical game the Irish play all year. The Irish have had Sparty’s number in recent years, but three of the last five games have been decided by 4 points or less. I don’t really think the Irish offense is a concern here, as Kizer has shown an ability to make the big plays, and his red zone efficiency has vastly improved over last season’s. The big question mark for this game is whether or not this Irish defense can take another step forward, and play the physical game needed to slow down Michigan State’s run game. In the end, it will be Kizer’s big play ability downfield that will be the deciding factor, and the Irish will win a hard-fought battle to make it four in a row against the Spartans.
Final Score: Notre Dame 27 – Michigan St. 21