Over fourty great Spartan alums will be in attendance when the team renew their rivalry Saturday night and don't be surprised if you hear cries of "Kill, Bubba, Kill" - the chant that Spartans fans yelled when opponents lined up in passing downs against the Spartans feared pass rush.
It's only fitting that Spartan great defensive end Bubba Smith will have his number #95 jersey retired during halftime ceremonies sure to whip the faithful into a frenzy. Surrouding all of this, a very important football game will take place, #12 Notre Dame (2-1) visiting the Michigan State Spartans (3-0).
The Fighting Irish with their vaunted "Point a Minute" offense were supposed to be en-route to a National Championship game, mowing down the competition. Istead the Irish are smarting from a 41-17 beat down at the hands of longtime rival Michigan.
Now Notre Dame is in a familiar position, having to try to restore some substance to all the hype they received heading into the 2006 football season.
Spartans head coach John L. Smith said don't be fooled by the Irish's lack of point production early on.
"They have great talent," said Smith. "You want to talk about talent? The quarterback (Brady Quinn), of course is exceptional, they have a great running back (Darius Walker), the front is good, the receiver (Jeff Samardzija) can do it all. He's a big traget that catches everyintg aroudn him a lot of things he shouldn't."
The Irish start four seniors across the offensive line, but that didn't stop the Wolverines from pressuring them all over the field. However Michigan State's personnel is different, Ervin Baldwin leads State with two sacks, while defensive tackle Cliff Ryan has one.
The Spartans are unlikely to pressure Quinn the way Michigan did, but they will have to match Notre Dame's intensity. The Irish are fighting for their reputation in the National polls and Weis wants to keep the pundits away from South Bend.
In the offseason, he reportedly told alumni that Notre Dame would never lose to a program like Michigan State, although he denies making that statement now.
For Michigan State, the stakes should be just as high. The Spartans are undefeated and a win over Notre Dame would propel them into the top-25 and give them a shot at starting the season at 5-0.
Job one for State is stopping the run.
The old adage if you can't run and can't stop the run you're not going to win. Notre Dame hasn't been able to stop anyone from running to date. The Irish are giving up on average 132 rushing yards per game. The result has been an eeked out win against Georgia Tech (14-10), a blowout of Penn St (41-17) and a blowout loss to Michigan (47-21).
The Spartans will likely concentrate on trying to stop Darius Walker from getting untracked. Walker (52 carries for 196 yards) has been held in check so far by opponents. An injury to lead fullback Asaph Schwapp seems to have hurt Walker's ability to get into holes and will be a point of emphasis to keep it that way.
While Brady Quinn (123.14 passer rating) is a legitimate threat to score through the air, a one-dimensional team is much easier to defense than a team that can run and throw.
So expect the Spartans to take their chances with the Fighting Irish air attack. Look for MSU's defensive coordinator Chris Smeland to show a "cover two" look to keep everything in front of them and rely on sure tackling and big hits to keep the Irish from sustaining long drives.
Especially important for the Spartans will be their coverage on Notre Dame's two outstanding wide receiver Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight.
Corners Demond Williams and Greg Cooper will be on the first line of defense so don't be surprised if they play off the two Irish stars to keep things in front of them, but tighten the screws once the Irish approach the Red Zone.
Safeties Otis Wiley and Nehemiah Warrick will be counted on to come up big in both the run and the pass game. Wiley has shown he has the ability to come up big (26 tackles in three games, leads Michigan State), Warrick has made a lot of tackles (23, second leading tackler), but has yet to make the kind of big plays that the Spartans expected when they named him their starter at strong safety.
If Smeland's scheme is successful, Notre Dame will throw the ball a lot, gain a lot of yards, but not score a ton of points. Michigan State's offense has yet to be stopped by anyone, which means the Spartans ought to be in good stead when this game ends Saturday evening.
One thing's for sure: It won't end in a 10-10 tie.