Let's take a closer look at the Spartans three opponents. First, Idaho is 1-2, mustering only a 27-24 win over powerhouse Idaho State. Idaho's rushing, scoring and total defense all rank 111th or worse in Division 1A. Just a little better is their pass defense at 106th. They did, however, hold Michigan State to 27 points on the road.
Next up is Eastern Michigan, where the Spartans finally got their offense moving by scoring 52 points in the contest. Eastern Michigan's record is 0-3 on the year and they've been outscored 104-46. Their rush, scoring and total defense all rank 105th or worse in the nation.
The last Spartan victim was Pittsburgh, which Michigan State won 38-23 on the road after trailing 10-0 out of the gate. The Panthers are 2-1 and a middle of the road team right now in Division 1A. Pittsburgh ranks 68th in total defense and 50th in total offense. Not horrible but nothing too impressive under head coach Dave Wannstedt.
What does this all say? Last week's win was a solid one but it's been cupcake city so far for the Spartans. They haven't been challenged on offense or defense. Unfortunately, Michigan State played Hawaii and Kent State last season before coming into Notre Dame Stadium and springing the upset. There are a lot of question marks for both teams. How can Notre Dame respond to a blowout defeat? Is Michigan State for real? As Chris Berman says, that's why they play the game.
Here are some of head coach Charlie Weis's best comments from the week:
*On the confidence of the team after the Michigan game: "Well, I think after our meetings on Sunday, I mean, after you lose like that, your confidence is always in question. Not mine personally. But you're dealing with 105 players. You're dealing with 15 more coaches and support staff. There's a number of people you're dealing with. I think it's important that you deal with the psyche of your whole organization to make sure that everyone is resilient and ready to go.
"The best thing that happens after a game like that is practicing. Today (Tuesday) is the first day they'll practice because Monday is their day off. I think what we need to do is get through our meetings today, get out there and start letting a little anxiety out on the field. I think once we get past that stage, I think we'll be moved in the right direction."
*On the offensive line's play through three games: "Well, I think as an offensive line, that's really the heart of your offense. Between the offensive line and your quarterback is really where everything starts. I think we're all disappointed. I'm disappointed. Brady (Quinn) is disappointed. The offensive line is disappointed about how this has gone so far.
"We need to collectively try to make some improvements, and it's improvements in every aspect. We want to block the run better. We want to protect the quarterback better. There's a number of things we want to work on. I don't want to talk about individuals because we try to talk about it as a group."
*On possibly changing the lineup: "No. I'm not into sacrificial lambs. I'm not into making scapegoats out of players, okay? If people end up getting pulled, they're going to get pulled by something that happens in practice. They're not going to get pulled because we lost a game. I'm going to sit there and say, ‘You didn't block very well, so I'm pulling you out.' Then the whole free world says, ‘Weis pulled so and so out, must be his fault.' I know where I'll blame first. I'm not going to fire myself, so I'm certainly not going to fire them."
*On the absence of Maurice Stovall in the offense, who is in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: "To sit here and say that we don't miss Mo (Stovall) would be a lie. Mo played great for us last year and that's why he's in Tampa Bay right now. He's a very productive player and a tall guy and has pluckability as I used to say. Would you want to have him? Of course, absolutely, but that's called graduation. You move on and fortunately we have a guy like Rhema (McKnight) coming back for a fifth year. Next year, we will lose Jeff (Samardzija) and Rhema and it will be a whole different set of circumstances."
*On the offense's struggles vs. Michigan: "We're coming off a bad game. I'm not big on stats; I'm just big on production. I've said it to all of you a zillion times, it is turnovers. The biggest margins you could ever talk about is turnovers. Through the first two games we hadn't turned it over once. Then offensively we turned it over five times last week. And if we turn it over five times this week; we'll lose again."
*On going on the road after a loss, where Notre Dame, under Weis, has not lost: "When the team comes off a loss like that and is a little bit fragile, the fact that they have the confidence of going on the road and playing helps you out some as a coach. Because now you don't have to appeal to – hey, we can do it, we can do it. You can appeal to - you've done it and this isn't something new for you. We've gone to a lot of places the last two years and you've been successful. So it helps with the coaching aspect of working with the psyche of the team."
*On the Irish linebackers vs. the Spartan spread offense: "They like to spread you out like they did last year. They spread us out all over the place and now the linebackers have to be ready to play in space. Now they can go either way because they don't play just in space; that's one of the concerns for the linebackers that you're going to be playing the majority of this game in big spaces and then you've got to win one-on-one battles and make tackles."
***Prediction: Michigan State 31 Notre Dame 27: I thought the Michigan contest was the last true test of the year for the Irish before heading out west to face USC. I'm not sold on Michigan State and their 3-0 record. But the fashion in which Notre Dame lost weekend (five turnovers, 11 penalties, dropped balls, three long touchdown passes given up, etc.) was a shock. I thought the game would be close. Never did I think the Wolverines would come in and be the true superior team. With so much riding on the season, how much did that loss take out of the Irish mentally? I believe Notre Dame has better talent across the board than the Spartans. I'll take Weis over John L. Smith. But that was the case in both instances last weekend and the Irish suffered a 26-point loss. If Notre Dame wins this one, all the credit in the world to Weis and the players for the bounce back. But I'll take Drew Stanton, his dual threat ability and the possible rain in the forecast that'll help the Spartan rush attack to squeak by the Irish.