From what has been said this week from the Notre Dame coaches, they are truly impressed by what Stanton brings to the table. And why wouldn't they be? Despite playing two below average opponents, the junior quarterback has been near perfect, completing 43-of-55 passes for 598 yards and five touchdowns in the spread offense. Stanton can also is a major threat running the ball and the Irish defense will have to contain his rushing yards. The Spartan offense is averaging 592 yards and 45 points per game and Stanton is a major reason why. Notre Dame has faced two good quarterbacks in a row in Tyler Palko and Chad Henne. In those games, the defense made them look average. Palko threw only one touchdown pass after his record-breaking performance of five scores last year in South Bend. Henne completed just 43% of his passes and looked flustered all game long. It's another challenge for a defense that through two games has made the necessary plays to win.
Who will fill the void of Rhema McKnight?
Despite Jeff Samardzija leading the team in receiving yards and touchdown catches, McKnight is the go-to-guy in crunch time. The senior's knee injury is a blow but not a fatal blow because of the depth at the wide receiver position. Samardzija will see more snaps but already was seeing a lot of action. For all the talk about his great off-season, Maurice Stovall must increase his production. The 6'5" senior has four catches for 44 yards in two games. If Michigan State stuffs the Notre Dame ground attack, Stovall has to be a viable target for Brady Quinn. Matt Shelton, the team's main deep threat in 2004, also is expected to see more passes thrown his way. McKnight has led the team in receptions and yards the past two seasons. He will be missed but who steps up on offense is an interesting subplot for the Michigan State game.
What will Charlie Weis's first home game be like?
It turned out to bring with it a lot more hype and anticipation because of the 2-0 start. Weis talked all off-season about raising the expectations for this team and football program. The fast beginning has further increased the coach's stature among Irish fans. When Weis walks out of the tunnel before the game, expect the loudest cheers the Notre Dame faithful have heard in years. And despite the fact that the season is only two games old, he deserves it. The alum has come home and he'll get a warm welcome Saturday afternoon before the game. A striking statement by the first-year head coach was when he said that at halftime of the Pittsburgh game, the players started to realize how good they were. The atmosphere will be electric and the players amped up. A win over Michigan State would make for a perfect home opener for Weis and the his team.
Notre Dame's defense has made two good quarterbacks look extremely average. Stanton presents his own set of problems for the Irish because of his scrambling ability. Michigan State has balance running and throwing the football. The Spartans average 276 yards rushing and 316 through the air. But this Irish defense is not Kent State or Hawaii's. It has stepped up to all the critics (myself included) and performed at a high level. Brady Quinn has completed 65% of his passes in 2005. That percentage is 15 points higher than his career average coming into the season. Quinn struggled with his accuracy last week against Michigan but more importantly, he did not throw an interception. Darius Walker, with a big boost from the offensive line, continues his string of 100-yard rushing games and the defense limits Stanton from making the big plays. Weis wins his home opener and continues the Notre Dame revival heading into the highly anticipated match-up with Tyrone Willingham and the Washington Huskies. Notre Dame 31 Michigan State 21.