Official Pre-Game Prediction: MSU Spartans vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
By Tony Briscoe
Match-up: Michigan State (2-0) vs. Notre Dame (0-2)
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Line: Notre Dame by 5
All-time series record: Notre Dame 45-28-1
Despite poor play by Notre Dame against South Florida and Michigan, the Fighting Irish, looking to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2007, will undoubtedly be the most dangerous team No. 15 Michigan State has seen thus year.
Although the Spartans have outscored their previous two opponents, Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic, 72-6, nine of the last 11 match-ups between Notre Dame and MSU have been decided by merely seven points.
Last year’s thriller in East Lansing came down to a last second fake-field goal call by MSU head coach Mark Dantonio. As kicker Dan Conroy lined up for a 46-yard kick, the play called “Little Giants caught the Notre Dame special teams sleeping and resulted in a game-winning touchdown to tight end Charlie Gantt instead.
Dantonio has gotten the better of the Irish during his tenure as head coach, going 3-1. However, the Spartans loss a huge contributor to their play-calling in former offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who is now head coach for Miami (Ohio).
This is crucial game for Irish head football coach Brian Kelley. If Notre Dame loses this game to MSU, then Kelly’s winning percentage thus far will be .500, putting the second-year coach on the hot seat.
Fifth-year senior Kirk Cousins has looked a spectacular this year. He has racked up 405 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions this year. Cousin has also been surgically precise, completing 79.1 percent of his passes.
Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees has amassed 611 yards and five touchdowns this season, but the sophomore has thrown four picks already this season. Rees is definitely a forced to be reckoned with. Turning the ball over will be difference between a close game and Spartan blowout.
MSU has two veteran receivers in B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, who have combined for 303 yards and one touchdown. Cunningham became Michigan State’s all-time leader in reception with 153, surpassing standout wide receiver Matt Trannon’s record of 149.
Notre Dame’s receiving core is headed by Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick. Floyd has 313 yards with two touchdowns this season, averaging 12.5 yards per reception. Riddick has contributed 94 yards and two touchdowns of his own as the number two wide out. Tight end Tyler Eifert has also been a key component to the Irish’s strong receiving, generating 144 yards on 10 receptions.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Michigan State has four quality running backs, but the team has relied mainly on the three-headed monster of Edwin Baker, Le’Veon Bell and Larry Caper.
This season, the rushing attack has been all too ordinary. MSU’s rushing attack ranks 41st overall among all NCAA teams, averaging 173.5 yards a game.
The Notre Dame rushing attack consists of running tandem of Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray. Wood and Gray have combined for 315 yards and two touchdowns on 62 carries.
If MSU can get more productivity out of its tail backs, this could be the biggest disparity in the game.
The Spartans have only allowed six points in their previous two games. MSU limited FAU to a staggering 45 yards of total offense en route to its shutout victory. However, the Spartans haven’t had the kind that Notre Dame has seen of late.
But there is also no excuse for the lackluster performance of the Irish’s defense against Michigan last week. Notre Dame’s defense is ranked 51st against the run and 74th against the pass, and it looked like it as Michigan’s quarterback Denard Robinson drove 80 yards to steal the game with only 30 second left in regulation.
Michigan State had its fair share of gaffes in the first game against Youngstown State. Keshawn Johnson muffed a punt, which turned a three-and-out into a scoring drive for the Penguins.
Spartan kicker Dan Conroy, the Big Ten’s most accurate kicker last year, has missed two of his four field goal attempts this year.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame will be the first test for Michigan State team, who have played a cupcake schedule up to this point. That being said, there are still a lot of questions yet to be answered by a team of Notre Dame’s caliber.
The Fighting Irish have a remarkable offense, but with the way that Notre Dame has been turning the ball over lately (five times each in its last two games) the team has literally been giving games away.
MSU has won six of the last seven meetings against Notre Dame. Make it seven of eight.