There are so many questions heading into this weekend's game against Michigan State and the vast majority of those questions concern the Irish offense. Three games into the 2007 season and the Irish offense has failed to get the ball into the endzone. The drought will eventually end, but the reality is mindboggling. Make no mistake, this is a huge game for Notre Dame. The importance may not be valued as a win, but simple improvement from last week to this week. Still, I will take the extra step and say this is an absolute ‘must' win for the Irish.
While the Irish have toiled, the Spartans have built confidence with wins against UAB, Bowling Green and Pitt. The last five times Michigan State has walked into Notre Dame Stadium they have left after 60 minutes with a victory. Strange to think that the last time the Irish beat Michigan State on their home turf was when Kevin McDougal lead the to a 36-14 victory all the back in 1993. While the Irish hold a 44-25-1 series advantage, Michigan State has won seven of the last ten meetings between the teams.
In the offseason Michigan State went looking for a new head coach and they found themselves a very good one in Mark Dantonio. Dantonio was groomed by several highly respected coaches, which include Jim Tressell, Earl Bruce, and Nick Saban. He is a defensive coach by trade (Ohio State defensive coordinator), but it doesn't show through his offensive scheme.
Dantoino's offensive coordinator is Don Treadwell. Treadwell actually coached running backs under former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham ('95-'96). The Spartan defensive coordinator is Pat Narduzzi. Narduzzi spent his entire coaching career in the MAC conference prior to landing in East Lansing with Dantonio. He was the defensive coordinator at Miami (Ohio) in 2003 under Terry Hoeppner, when the RedHawks finished 10th in the nation.
Michigan State On Offense:
Anticipated Depth Chart.
Brian Hoyer (6-2, 212, Jr.) has developed into a very solid quarterback. He does get tend to get a little streaky at times, but when he is on he'll frustrated a defense and make play after play. He does have good mobility, but needs to improve his pocket awareness at times. He's in his first season as a starter, so that will likely develop. Very solid play.
Nick Foles (6-5, 235 pounds) and Connor Dixon (6-4, 199, R-Fr.) back Hoyer up. Both young and without much experience.
Michigan State has a terrific group of running backs and each of them do different things. Caulcrick scares me, because once he gets into a groove, he tends to have big days. Ringer can get the edge and hit the big play on a defense, similar to what Tashard Choice did against the Irish in week 1. MSU will use the backs in the passing game and that could frustrate Notre Dame up front.
Michigan State will use tthe fullback in the passing game, but otherwise they won't get the ball. Both fullbacks are solid, but not dominating.
The wide receiver group isn't full of household names, but they can play. Devin Thomas has really emerged as the playmaker for the Spartans. Terry Love played with Notre Dame safety Sergio Bronw at Proviso East High School (Ill.). Love is consistant, and you have to converge on him once he gets that ball in his hands. The other receivers are fairly untested, but they are athletic.
Kellan Davis was lost in John L. Smith's offense, but now he's flourishing. He's becoming the player everyone expected when he came out of high school. He's very athletic, basketball player frame. He has improved his blocking tremendously, although he doesn't like to be overly physical. MSU has used Davis at defensive end, although I'd be suprised to see him get many defensive reps against the Irish.
Andino has flipped from defense to offense much of his career. When he is in the game, he's used primarly as a blocker. Eric was a teammate of Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski at Buffalo Grove High School (Ill.)
This isn't a group that has played a lot of snaps. They don't appear to be an overly physical front. Miller and Martin look to be the tops guys. Martin will be real good as a senior. He's big and he is athletic.
Nitchman is filling in for an injured starter. He's learning on the fly and actually he's done a solid job considering the circumstances.
Clifford has the size and he looks the part, but he tends to reach for his blocks. He's a 5-year player that is just now earning starters minutes.
Anticipated Depth Chart.
Like the offensive line, the MSU defensive front isn't overly physical. Saint-Dic missed one game this season. He's the best up front and he could give the Irish line trouble. He has multiple moves to the quarterback, and he's a high energy player.
Neither interior lineman is physically imposing. Kershow started eight games at defensive end, but now he's moved down inside. He's a solid player, but a little undersized. Nwagbuo started six games last season.
Baldwin won't make many plays behind the line of scrimmage, but it's difficult to move him of the edge. He's a hard-nosed player. He's in his second season as a starter and he tied for the team lead in sacks last year with four.
The player makers are here. Adams seems to have big games against Notre Dame. He's actually a converted defensive back. He's a little under-sized, but he's always around the ball.
Thornhill seems like he's playing his tenth season at MSU. He's battle some injkuries, but when healthy he's very difficuult to block. He does struggle a little in coverage, but like Adams, he is always around the ball.
Gordon is starting for the first time. He's solid, but not spectacular.
Both corners are fairly green. They haven't been tested much early in the season. This could be a big advantage for the Irish.
Both safeties return for the Spartans and both are good. Warrick is probably the best athlete. Wiley, like Adams and Thornhill always finds the ball.
It would be very easy to pick against the Irish this week after watching the first three games, but this is one the Irish should be pull out. Hoyer is very solid and if he gets going he could torch the Notre Dame defense. That Spartans have a very talented group of running backs, but the problem MSU has is up front.
Notre Dame 26 - Michigan State 21
Notre Dame - Michigan State Preview
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