Game Of The Week: #20 Notre Dame at #10 Michigan State
The Irish Passing Game: Sophomore QB Everett Golson will be the starter. He was replaced by Tommy Rees late in the game against Purdue last week after suffering a thumb injury. Through two games, Golson has thrown two TDs and one INT, with a completion percentage of 67.3%. However, the Spartans have a far superior defense to Notre Dame’s two previous opponents. TE Tyler Eifert has been Golson’s favorite target thus far; he is expected to play after sustaining a mild concussion against Purdue. Sophomore WR DaVaris Daniels has also been heavily involved in the passing game and should be again this week, possibly even moreso as the Michigan State defense will likely key in heavily on Eifert.
The Irish Running Game: Senior Theo Riddick and sophomore George Atkinson III have both been productive thus far. Michigan State has held their first two opponents to under 100 yards rushing, but neither of those schools was of the Irish’ caliber. The Spartans’ defensive backfield is talented- with a fairly inexperienced QB, it will help the Irish tremendously if they can lean on the running game and maybe use some play-action once a run threat is established. The return of RB Cierre Wood, suspended for the team’s first two games, will be helpful in that department. QB Golson is a rushing threat as well.
The Irish Defense: The front seven are experienced and solid, allowing just 239 rushing yards through two games. My colleague (and noted Golden Homer) Ben Kerr is worried about the defensive backfield, the cornerbacks in particular. Allowing nearly 200 passing yards each to Purdue and Navy would seem to lend credence to his concerns. Even if the Irish can stop the ground game, will they be able to prevent the Spartans from scoring through the air?
The Spartan Passing Game: Against Boise State in Week 1, QB Andrew Maxwell passed for 248 yards. 6’5″, 285-lb. TE Dion Sims should be a mismatch against most defensive backs; he’s tied with WR Bennie Logan for the team lead in receptions with 10. Maxwell is a first-year starter, taking over for Kirk Cousins, so the Notre Dame front maybe be able to harass and hurry him into bad throws.
The Spartan Running Game: Le’Veon Bell is clearly the Spartans’ bell cow (no pun intended). At 6’2″, 238 lbs., he’s a bruiser and tough to bring down. Last year, splitting time with Edwin Baker (now in the NFL), Bell rushed for 948 yards and 13 TDs. He’s spelled by 5’11″, 221-lb. Larry Capers. Capers may give Bell a breather, but he certainly doesn’t do the same for defenses.
The Spartan Defense: With eight returning starters from what was an excellent defense a year ago, Michigan State continues to have one of the best defenses out there. LB Denicos Allen led the team with 11 sacks last year, LB Max Bullough led in tackles with 89, and S Isaiah Lewis had four INTs. All three return, along with 6’7″, 275-lb. DE William Gholston. Everett Golson is going to have to get rid of the ball accurately and quickly or it will be a long day for him.
Prediction: As it so often does in Big Ten and Notre Dame games, defense will be the deciding factor. Notre Dame is improved on both sides of the ball, but I can’t see their defense containing Le’Veon Bell all day. With such an inexperienced secondary, I don’t think the Irish will be able to handle the Spartans’ passing game either. Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 20.