#4 -- MSU will be the season's lowest-scoring gameFor the purpose of the prediction, "lowest-scoring" is defined by the lowest point total for the winning team. In other words, a 13-6 final is "lower scoring" than 19-0.
After a string of seasons in which five of seven matchups between the teams played to between 55 and 85 total points, Michigan State has done its part to keep both of the last two meetings low-scoring, its offense managing just three field goals and one touchdown in the last eight quarters, the sparse totals due largely to a ridiculous 1.6 yards per carry on 48 futile rushing attempts.
Notre Dame produced 51 combined points over those same outings with five offensive touchdowns, a kick return score (2011 by George Atkinson) and a trio of field goals. But intermixed were just six third-down conversions by the Irish…in 31 attempts! including a 1 for 14 performance on the normally tell-tale down in last year's victory in East Lansing.
The Irish defensive line easily handled the Spartans front wall and running back Le'Veon Bell while Michigan State's defensive front seven played well enough to win as well, limiting Notre Dame to 3.5 yards per rush -- 236 combined yards on 66 carries -- in two defeats.
The two programs enter 2013 with rush defense as a definitive strength. Notre Dame boasts a nationally powerful pass rush without the necessary aid of a blitz, and Michigan State's secondary placed two defenders, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis on Phil Steele's pre-seasons first-team All-Big 10 squad.
The Irish bested the Spartans stingy air defense last season, yielding only eight passing touchdowns to Michigan State's 10.
In other words, the two teams are going to slug it out, with plus-field turnovers likely the only way to produce consistent scoring drives.
Add to that the contest is scheduled after a pair of challenging Big 10 prime time road matchups for Notre Dame and the physical test always promised by the Spartans is exacerbated.
Michigan State doesn't have the offensive personnel to consistently dent the Irish defense, and I'm not convinced the Rees-led Irish will do much to keep the Spartans defense off balance, either. (Both of Notre Dame's touchdowns vs. MSU last fall came courtesy the mobility of the since-expelled Everett Golson.)
Look for Game Four, September 21 to be the lowest scoring of the Notre Dame season.