The Spartans improved to 3-0 that day in South Bend , and the Drew Stanton Heisman candidacy began. When the 12th-ranked Irish travel to East Lansing this Saturday, it will be more a question of whether Stanton 's Heisman push will move forward, or can the defense take back the glory Stanton gained from his performance a year ago.
"The young man is a nice quarterback," Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter said after practice Wednesday. "He's all-purpose, he has talent, lower body and upper body, and I'm sure mentally, because he handles a lot of things in what they ask him to do…He's a complete player, a runner, thrower, tough guy probably good team leader."
Stanton is among the nation's leaders, ranking 10th in the country in total offense (290 yards per game) and passing efficiency (156.91), helping the Spartans get out of the gate, 3-0. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn ranks 22nd (254.67 yards per game) and 62nd (123.14) respectively in the same categories.
On the season, Stanton has completed 56-of-82 passes for 677 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also the team's second leading rusher, gaining 193 yards and scoring three more touchdowns. Basically, Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball is a poor man's Drew Stanton. And Stanton leads a very aggressive spread attack.
"When you watch him on film you really appreciate how competitive he is," safety Chinedum Ndukwe said. "He definitely never takes the easy way out, he's always going to try and run through tackles and he's definitely not afraid to make the difficult throw, and most of the times he completes them."
The Irish defense had to play with their heads on swivels while playing against Ball and the Yellow Jackets in week one. It's a much tougher challenge this week. Stanton, a big offensive line and some talented skill players have this offense ranking third in the country in total offense (506.33 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (39 points per game). The Tech offense is about as stagnant as one can get.
"That's always a plus seeing something similar before, but Stanton 's his own guy and he makes his own plays his own way within their offense," linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. said.
Stanton isn't the only one that hurt the Irish last season, and he isn't the only one they have to watch out for this weekend. Matt Trannon, who caught five passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns against ND last year, caught 14 passes in the season opener and has 19 total receptions for 190 yards and two scores. Javon Ringer has gained 356 yards (118.67 yards per game, 12th in the nation) with a touchdown. Then there is senior receivers Kerry Reed (16 catches, 208 yards, two touchdowns) and Jerramy Scott (10 catches 147 yards).
"I think they compliment each other," Crum said. "Stanton sometimes keeping plays alive, moving around, and those guys not giving up on plays making catches and going the distance."
"You gotta pick your moments, you only practice so many hours," Minter stated. "You have to stay within concepts and trust your techniques and keys and your fundamentals to carry you to the ball, carry you to wherever it might lead you being in coverage or run, those kinds of things. It's a well devised plan and they've done a nice job with it to this point."
One of the tricky things Michigan State does is run option out of the shotgun with multiple receivers. The defense is already spread out by the multiple-receiver formation and is really pressured to tackle well in the open field. The Spartans have a lot of speed in making this scheme effective.
"That's another thing to worry about," Ndukwe said. "You are playing in space and that is something we've focused on this week. Just being able to get out and make sure we are making the right read and stuff, it's definitely going to be a difficult task."
Something a more athletic Irish defense could be better at stopping. The Travis Thomas move could end up paying dividends in this game. Yet there are still a lot of veterans that saw this offense last year and can mooch off of memory from the game a season ago.
"We've learned a lot from last year and we're going to take a lot from that and turn it into a positive," cornerback Mike Richardson said. The Irish did hold the high-powered MSU offense to zero points in the fourth quarter en route to a 21-point comeback that came up short. Part of that was adjustments made, and part of that was the Spartans trying to run the clock out.
"I think a big plus for us this year is all the guys coming back," Crum said. "Last year at times we were probably confused and everybody probably wasn't on the exact same page. That was a result of a lot of things that happened to us last year, but this year with all the veteran guys we have, I think we will be more comfortable."
Having upperclassmen is also the reason the defense thinks it can easily bounce back from the tough 47-21 loss to Michigan last Saturday.
"I definitely think we have a bunch of older guys on this team that have been through a lot and know how to bounce back from adversity, and we are definitely doing that this week," stated defensive end Victor Abiamiri.