This is yet another game that should be simple to pick. But, as the Irish showed last week, one shouldn't bet against heart. Usually the team that has the most heart wins the game. What we didn't realize is that the Irish would have more heart than the Wolverines last weekend. Which team will have more heart on Saturday?
Let's take a look at this game.
The Spartans have used three different quarterbacks this season. To me, that would suggest some instability among the most important position on any football team.
The Spartans surrendered 236 yards rushing to Central Michigan (0-2) last week--that was after surrendering 174 yards rushing against Rutgers (1-1). The Spartans are big up front, but haven't been able to stop the run for some reason.
The Michigan State defense has also allowed an average of 372 yards per game against two teams that many would consider below average. Central Michigan got crushed by Indiana, 41-10, in their first game, and Michigan State's loss this year came at the hands of Rutgers, who just got beat by New Hampshire, 35-24.
The Spartans also have recorded just two sacks as a team in two games. While many consider their defense to have some playmakers, it doesn't appear they've been very productive so far.
Quarterback Stephen Reaves has been named the starter for Saturday's game and he had a solid outing against Central Michigan, finishing 9-for-19 for 183 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over which is what any coach wants out of a young quarterback.
The Spartans do have a few playmakers on offense with wide receiver Kyle Brown leading the way. Eric Knott is a big tight end they throw the ball a lot to. They also have wide receiver Agim Shabaj, who made a big splash last year, but hasn't got on track this year with just three catches on the season. They also have a duo of running backs that compliment each other in Jehu Caulcrick and Jason Teague
When you look at this game, the Irish appear to have the more explosive offense, the better defense, and more experience among their starters. The Irish also appear to have played better competition at this point as well.
So why am I nervous about this game?
I'm nervous because I don't think the Irish take Michigan State seriously—neither does Irish fans. The Irish have had as much talent as Michigan State in the past seven games. The Irish have been coached as well as Michigan State in the last seven games, but the Spartans have won six out of the last seven against Notre Dame.
Someone called this rivalry "the friendliest rivalry in college football." I'd have to agree. There is no hatred amongst Notre Dame fans for the Spartans. I've never once uttered a bad word (that I can remember) about Michigan State. I can't say that about any of the other rival teams on Notre Dame's schedule.
For whatever reason, the Irish and Notre Dame fans just don't hate Michigan State. They've lost six out of their last seven to the Spartans, but nobody seems to mind.
This game usually falls right after the Michigan game, or another big game for the Irish, and maybe the Irish just can't get up for two big games in a row. No matter what the reason for their struggles, Notre Dame better be up for this Michigan State team because they're always ready to play the Irish and they always play very physical in this game.
I expect the Spartan defense to take a chapter out of the BYU game plan and come after quarterback Brady Quinn. Michigan didn't blitz that often, we expect Michigan State to blitz much more often to see if the Irish have solved their protection issues.
We expect the Spartan offense to attack the Irish secondary. If the Spartan offensive line can protect their young quarterback, it could be a long day for the Irish secondary. Michigan State has enough playmakers on offense to make an impact.
We expect the Irish to try to stop the Spartan rushing attack, and then come after an inexperienced quarterback—no matter which player is under center.
Look for the Irish to try to kick-start their offense if they have some success running the football early with some play-action passing looking for some big plays down field.
This is a hard game to pick because we're not sure which Irish team will show up. The one we saw beat No. 7 Michigan, or the team that rushed for 11 yards against BYU.
I also feel Michigan State is better than they've shown thus far.
I think we are looking at another classic battle, and the Irish will take this game seriously. I also believe the Irish will have a difficult time defeating the Spartans on Saturday night, but will pull away in the end.
Notre Dame: 28 Michigan State: 17