Michigan State has won five of its last six visits to South Bend (losing the most recent in 2009) after not previously taking down the Irish in the House that Rockne Built from 1985 through 1994.
Below is a closer look at the Notre Dame/Michigan State series…by the numbers.
1 – Victory by the contest's underdog in the teams' last seven meetings. Entering the 2005 contest as 4.5-point underdogs, Michigan State defeated Notre Dame in Charlie Weis' first home game as Irish head coach, 44-41 in overtime. According to Wednesday's most recent betting line, Notre Dame is favored in Saturday's contest by 4.5 points.
2 – Field goals allowed by the Michigan State defense through two contests this season. The six points scored by Florida Atlantic in the season-opener are the only yielded through eight quarters by the Spartans. Michigan State ranks among the nation's top six in four defensive categories: Pass Efficiency Defense (6), Total Defense (4), Scoring Defense (3) and Pass Defense/Yards (3). The Spartans did not finish higher than #39 nationally in any of those categories last season.
3 – Seasons over the last 25 years in which Notre Dame lost to both Michigan and Michigan State. 1986, 2003, and 2007 – in both 2003 and 2007, the back half of the defeats delivered by the Spartans in South Bend. Notre Dame finished a combined 13-22 over those three seasons. During seasons in which Notre Dame has defeated both the Wolverines and the Spartans in back-to-back weeks, the Irish finished an aggregate 77-19-2 (1980, '87, '88, '89, '90, '93, '02, and '04).
4 – Touchdowns scored in the MSU/ND series by current Irish senior wide receiver, Michael Floyd. Floyd notched a 26-yard grab as a true freshman in East Lansing in 2008; another for 22 yards as a sophomore in South Bend in 2009; and scored a pair last season in East Lansing from 7 and 24 yards out, respectively. Floyd has totaled 15 receptions vs. Michigan State for 205 yards in just five halves of football, breaking his collarbone late in the first half of the '09 contest.
5 – Consecutive wins by the Spartans over the Irish from 1997 through 2001. Each victory came at the expense of ex-Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie, who never beat MSU in his five-season tenure. State employed two coaches over that span: current Alabama head coach Nick Saban (3-0) and his tight ends/special teams coach with the Crimson Tide, Bobby Williams (2-0). The Spartans won three of the five decisively and four by more than 10 points, piling up 135 points to Notre Dame's 67 over the five-game span.
6 – Contests in the teams' last seven meetings in which the winning team scored at least 31 points. MSU has topped the 30-point mark vs. the Irish in six contests over that span, failing to do so only in 2008 – a 23-7 Spartans victory in East Lansing. Notre Dame has scored more than 30 on five occasions, losing twice in that span, both in overtime: last year's 34-31 decision and the 44-41 contest of 2005. In four of the programs' last seven meetings, the losing team has scored at least 30 points.
7 – Receptions by Spartans senior wide receiver B.J. Cunningham vs. the Irish in both of the last two matchups. Cunningham secured seven balls for 101 yards and a touchdown in last year's Michigan State victory while catching seven for 74 yards in Notre Dame's 2009 win. Current Spartans have accounted for six career touchdowns vs. the Irish: RB Larry Caper (2), WR Keshawn Martin (2), and RB Edwin Baker, RB Le'Veon Bell, and Cunningham one apiece. Martin caught a touchdown last fall and threw a touchdown pass in the 2009 contest on a trick play.
8 – Consecutive wins by the Irish from 1987 through 1994. Then-head coach Lou Holtz defeated the Spartans in eight of nine meetings, losing only his debut road game as Irish head coach, 20-15 in East Lansing in 1986. The Irish outscored the Spartans during the aforementioned eight-game streak, 250-118 and were never ranked lower than #11 at the time of the contest.
9 – Of 11 meetings since the turn of the century have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Spartans have won five of those contests: 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, and last season's 34-31 overtime victory. The series has seen two overtime contests over the last six seasons with MSU winning both on touchdowns when trailing by three points prior to the game's final snap.
10 – Receptions by current Irish junior Theo Riddick in last year's contest vs. the Spartans. Riddick set career bests in receptions and receiving yards (128) while adding a touchdown grab. Riddick's 10 grabs were the most by a Notre Dame receiver vs. Michigan State since Jim Seymour caught 10 for 141 in 1968.
11 – Wins by the Spartans over the Irish since and including 1986. The number ties Michigan State with Michigan and USC for the most over Notre Dame in that span. The Irish have defeated MSU 12 times; Michigan 10 (plus a tie), and USC 13 (with one tie) during that time frame.
12 – Unsuccessful third-down conversions by Notre Dame's opponents in the first half this season. The Irish defense did not yield a first-down on seven third-down snaps vs. USF or on any of the five attempts by the Wolverines. The 0-12 effort buoyed the Irish to the nation's 12th-best third-down percentage through two contests (5 of 23 third-down conversions allowed overall).
Bonus Stat: 2005 – The last time an Irish running back posted three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Then-sophomore Darius Walker turned the trick, twice: first rushing for 100 or more yards in four straight to begin the season (Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, and Washington); then repeating the feet to end the regular season, notching more than 100 yards consecutively vs. Navy, Syracuse and Stanford.
Current Irish junior Cierre Wood began the 2011 season with back-to-back games in excess of 100 yards – the first such outings of his college career.
On the HorizonA look at Irish players who could reasonably accomplish statistical milestones Saturday vs. the Spartans
Michael Floyd: Floyd has set program or personal records in each of his last three contests dating back to last year's Sun Bowl conquest of Miami. The senior star owns the program record for receiving touchdowns (30), yards (2,852), receptions (196), and is tied with former teammate Golden Tate for games with at least 100 receiving yards (15). His 12 receptions in Game One vs. USF set a personal best; one he eclipsed last week with his 13th catch at Michigan.
Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming: With his next (full) sack, Johnson will move into 10th place ahead of the late Wally Kleine (13 sacks from 1983-86) on the program's career sack list. Justin Tuck (2002-04) holds the program record with 24.5 sacks in 36 career games. Johnson enters Saturday's contest vs. Michigan State with 12.5 sacks in 40 career outings.
A shade behind Johnson is classmate Darius Fleming with 12 sacks including a half-sack shared with Kapron Lewis-Moore in the season-opener. The sack was made possible by Johnson's edge rush that forced Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels to stumble into the waiting pair of teammates.
Harrison Smith: With 18 career pass breakups, Smith's next will tie Thomas O'Leary (1965-67) for eighth on the program's all-time list. Ralph Stepaniak (1969-71) and former teammate Darrin Walls (2006-10) are next in Smith's sites with 20 apiece. Program legend Todd Lyght (1987-1990) ranks fifth with 20.5.