Smith, Spartans Looking for Challenge

Michigan State has started out with a schedule as soft as a pillow. A 49-14 opening weekend victory over Kent State was followed up by last week's 42-14 drubbing of Hawaii. The Spartans piled up a lot of points and yards in the two victories. Now that the warm-ups are over, head coach John L. Smith will get a chance this Saturday to see just how good his team is versus the tenth-ranked Irish.

"We really get to find out if we're worth a hoot or not," Smith said.

Smith is impressed with what he has seen from Notre Dame. The 2-0 Irish have turned a lot of heads around the country, especially with their win last weekend at Michigan. Even with new head coach Charlie Weis leading the charge, Smith believes the 2004 team is a lot like the 2005 team.

"They are playing with some confidence," Smith said. "I don't see a big change. They have eight, nine, or ten starters returning on offense. It's the same group we played last year. I don't see a revival there. I see a good football team. We thought they were last year. There are some different schemes but still the same kids. They beat us thoroughly and soundly (last year)."

Despite not seeing a big difference among the players, Smith does see a change in the way they're playing. Weis has brought that "nasty" attitude with him to South Bend and he has tried to implement this style of play among the team.

"I think their guys are buying into it and playing hard," Smith said. "They play hard. I know they are as talented, maybe more talented, than most of the teams in this league. They really believe in what they are doing. They're playing with confidence. They're playing hard. They're having fun with what they are doing because they're winning."

Notre Dame's defense, a sore point among many Irish fans in the off-season, has proved a lot of the doubters wrong with their performance the first two weeks of the season. The group is giving up only 15.5 PPG and 60 yards less through the air than in 2004. Weis and defensive coordinator Rick Minter have made it a motto of "11 guys flying to the ball" on that side of the ball. Smith sees this exact saying in play when watching Notre Dame.

"They play exceptionally hard (ND's defense)," Smith said. "That's the biggest thing you see on film is that they run hard and are always running to the football and playing with great effort. They're good. They make you work for everything. There are no gifts."

The man leading the Spartans on the field is mobile quarterback Drew Stanton. The 6'3" junior has been on fire this season, completing 43 of 55 throws for 598 yards and five touchdowns. Stanton made an appearance in last season's 31-24 Irish win in East Lansing and had a four-yard touchdown run. His play has opened up even Weis's eyes.

"They were 10th in the whole country (last year in total offense), as a matter of fact and I could see why after taking a look at this quarterback," Weis said. "I mean, I think this quarterback is something special, Stanton. Not only is he one of their captains, but can he do it all. Look at last week. 21 for 26, 300 yards, three touchdowns. He's a very special player.

"I'll tell you what, every time Stanton hands off and starts to roll out, that concerns me because he does a pretty good job of ball faking after he hands the ball off. We prepare for it. To be honest with you, that kid, the way he throws the ball, I'd do all I could not to get him hurt. That's one of our concerns because he's so athletic, you always have to be concerned with him pulling the ball down, coming down the line of scrimmage and doing that. There's a lot of things I'm worried about with that offense. That's just one of many."

Smith agrees that the development of Stanton from running quarterback to passing quarterback can take Michigan State's spread offense to the next level.

"I really think he's gotten off to a great start throwing it," Smith said. "The things we did with him in the spring, coaching staff keeping him back there and forcing him to throw the ball instead of run, has helped him a lot and knowing where to throw the ball and let no one else catch it but us. I like the way he's grasping the offense and throwing the ball."

The real test for the offense and the Spartan team begins at 2:40 p.m. Notre Dame is not Kent State or Hawaii. The numbers Michigan State has put up have been impressive. Smith and his team will try to take what they've learned in the two blowout wins and get ready for a talented Notre Dame squad.

"That was a good game," Smith said of the Hawaii win last weekend. "It was a good outing for our kids. There were some really good things we can build on. And we're going to have to build on it quick because the football team we're playing this weekend is pretty good." Top Stories