Irish Expect a Battle at Michigan State

The Notre Dame football team held their first practice of the week in preparation for the Michigan State game on Saturday. The Irish are trying to avenge a 22-16 defeat at the hands of the Spartans last season. The 2004 Irish say they haven't forgot about the loss last season, and expect Michigan State's best effort to date on this early season.

Defensive coordinator Kent Baer says he disagrees with those that say the Michigan State offense hasn't been that impressive so far this season.

"They do a great job with their scheme," Baer said of the Michigan State coaches. "All you've got to do is turn the tape on from last year and realize how good of an offense they can be. They really moved the ball on people a year ago. That's the one that I focused on the most—what they did a year ago.

"I'm sure they're going to give this quarterback more than what they've given him in the first two weeks. They always play their best game against us. They're going to be a whole lot better Saturday.

"I thought they looked pretty good anyway. When you go on the road and you play the first game, it's always tough. I thought they played a pretty good Central Michigan team on Saturday. We're going to have our hands full."

Michigan State has used three different quarterbacks so far this fall. They haven't seemed to be able to settle on a starter, but red-shirt freshman Stephen Reaves has been named the starter for the game on Saturday. Baer said the Irish would prepare for the scheme as he feels they'll see at least two quarterbacks in this game.

"You've just got to look at the scheme," Baer said when asked how he'll prepare for Michigan State. "I think he's going to play two of them, at least. I expect Stanton, I think it's Reaves—the left-handed kid.

"That's what I read, but you know how coaches are," was Baer's response when told Reaves was named the starter.

Defensive line coach Greg Mattison has seen his unit perform at a very high level so far this fall. The Irish are allowing just 39 yards rushing per game so far this season, but Mattison says he believes the Irish will have their hands full on Saturday.

"We'll get tested really strongly in this game again," Mattison said. "They're a very physical offensive line and they ran the ball really well against us last year. We've got to prove we can do it week in and week out."

While most Irish fans think the Irish should dominate the Spartans, Mattison says their offense has been pretty productive, and a look at the stats sheet confirms that as they've averaged 382 yards per game in their first two games.

"I know in watching them in their cutups and their lead runs and they're pass protections—they do so good things," said Mattison. "I look at this game just like last year's game—it's going to be a real physical game.

"They've got backs that can make you miss and find the little cracks. We've got to do a great job of swarming and playing physical up front to be successful."

Hobbled in Tuesday's practice was a key member of the defense. Defensive tackle Greg Pauly was seen riding the bike early in practice. Mattison says he'll be ready for Saturday.

"Greg, he could've probably gone today," he said. "(We) just want to make sure he's 100 percent. We need him in there and we've got plenty of time to get him ready to go."

Sophomore offensive tackle Ryan Harris says the Irish offense picked up a load of confidence in their victory over Michigan last weekend, and are hoping to take that confidence with them to East Lansing.

"Whenever we play well, we all know we can do great things," said Harris. "It's just a matter of us playing well, executing and getting the job done and good things will happen for the offense."

Harris says he's been impressed with the film that he's seen of the Michigan State front seven and expects a physical game on the field on Saturday.

"They do a great job of closing the pocket and (they have) really good rushers," Harris said. "We're going to have to work hard in definitely passing blocking and run blocking--just be ready for an all out battle."

The Spartans blitzed an inexperienced Irish offensive line and quarterback last year in their 22-16 victory over Notre Dame and Harris said the Irish expect much the same in the game this weekend.

"We definitely think that they're going to blitz more than they've blitzed other teams," said the St. Paul, Minn. native "They did that last year against us. We're going to be ready for different blitzes. We've got to work on our rules and our protections and work on being the most physical team out there."

The Spartans have struggled stopping the run so far this season. They've surrendered and average of 205 yards per game in their two games this season. Harris believes the Irish rushing attack will be the key to an Irish victory.

"If we don't run the ball, we won't win the game," the sophomore said. "We have to run the ball to win the game. In a game like this, we feel we have a big part in it, whether we win or lose, based on if we can make some holes for the running backs."

The Irish victory over Michigan was a huge cause for celebration, but Harris said this Irish team has forgotten the victory, are focused on the Spartans and are fully aware of their record (1-6) against Michigan State in the last few years.

"We have to come out harder, and faster, and play more physical and better than we did last weekend," said Harris. "That's our goal every week, but especially this week. We know this is going to be a tough game and we know they're going to be up for the game. We need to be up higher than they are." Top Stories