The Notre Dame football team will try to avenge last year's 22-16 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.
The Irish are coming off a stunning victory against Michigan and Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham believes this game is just as big as the Michigan game, and his Irish team has to be ready to play.
"We've got to have a big game. There can be no exception to that," Willingham said when asked how important a victory was to Notre Dame's season.
"Our thought process has to be that way. We tell our football team, ‘when we hit that bus to make that trip, we've got to be ready to hit because Michigan State will be ready to hit.' If we prepare for that kind of football game, then we'll put ourselves in good position."
The Irish have had a difficult time defeating the Spartans, losing in six of the last seven games. Willingham says he's prepared his team to not think about the past in leading up to the game this weekend.
"I tell our football team that is really has nothing to do with us," said Willingham when asked if the past struggles becomes a concern for his team. "What has something to do with us is this Saturday. This is the only one that counts. What's gone is gone.
"If we had won six out of seven, they only one that counts is the one that we play this Saturday. I think our football team has begun to grasp that idea. I don't think it was something they were comfortable with at the beginning of the week. But after we've preached it, after our leadership has grabbed it, now that we head towards the weekend, that message can begin to really sink in and hopefully we'll be prepared to play a great game."
Irish Eyes has noticed a real focus this week, not only from the coaches, but the players as well. We asked Willingham if he felt that focus has come from his leadership the past two weeks.
"I think, No. 1, we are a closer football team than we've been in a past, and that's what you rely on. You rely on that bond, that chain that you establish with your football team," Willingham said. And when that chain is strong, that means every link is strong and that's what makes us a good football team. I have been pleased with our leadership. I think we've received good leadership, both on offense and defense."
The Irish will play their second road game of the season, and this game also happens to be at night. The Irish offense really sputtered in their first road game, and Willingham thinks it's vital for his team to get off to a fast start on offense on Saturday.
"A quick start is important because hopefully that means you're not chasing a team down," he said. "We don't want to chase a team down. We want to run away from them all day. If we can do that; that puts you in control and puts them in a position where they have to chase you.
"Now that changes their initial thought process and how they practiced all week. You don't practice chasing other teams—that's not the way you design your practice. You design it to be up, get the lead; focus on that. You don't practice a mind-set that we're going to be behind, we've got to chase this team."
We also checked the status of a couple of players for Saturday's game. We asked Willingham if running back Ryan Grant's availability would be a game-time decision: "Yes it will be" Willingham said.
Defensive tackle Greg Pauly has also been banged up. We asked Willingham the same question about Pauly. "Yes it will be" was Willingham's response.
"We'll make that decision at game-time," said Willingham when asked if freshman Darius Walker would start on Saturday if Grant can't play.