Saturday's Keys

The old cliché, Rome wasn't built in a day, applies here. It's hard to imagine Notre Dame can turn its season around in a week. From going back to training camp last Sunday in practice, to getting that first win is tough to expect. However, Saturday's game against Michigan State is a chance for progress. An opportunity to look better on offense. A chance to prove they can stop the run.

Michigan State (3-0) has a five-game winning streak inside Notre Dame Stadium. Another victory, and that will be the most times in a row any program has ever won in South Bend. If the Spartans do set the mark, it will be the first time in program history the Irish start a season 0-4.

Notre Dame linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. said that he and his teammates don't focus on past history like that, because it's indeed in the past. But if Crum and company don't want to become part of that history, they'll have to stick to these three things.

Saturday's Keys

***Get off to a good start: Head coach Charlie Weis said that he listed this as number two on the top-10 things his team has to do this week to beat the Spartans. With Notre Dame's offense ranking at the bottom or near the bottom in every offensive category, any confidence they can establish early the better. Even if that is just a few first downs before punting the football. You have to imagine the team's psyche is fragile. A quick turnover or a few three-and-outs, and the Irish players could be saying here we go again.

Michigan State's defense has yet to surrender any first quarter points. As everyone knows, the Irish offense is without a touchdown this season. If the Irish can change that in the first fifteen minutes on Saturday, they may just be alright.

***Protect freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen: Another obvious key, but with the way the Irish are playing, they need to do the obvious before focusing on the little things that decide football games.

Under defensive mastermind and first-year head coach Mark Dantonio, the Spartans have registered 17 sacks in three games to lead the nation. That is one more sack than the team had in all of 2006. Notre Dame on the other hand, has surrendered 23 sacks, after only allowing 31 in 2006. The deck is stacked against the Irish, but if they can protect Clausen and give him time to throw, he'll be able to make some throws down field in softening the defense against the run.

***Slow down the duo of Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick: The Spartans average 194.67 yards per game on the ground, ranking 34th nationally. The Irish defense has struggled mightily against the run, yielding 237.33 yards per game, ranking 111th nationally.

Ringer and Caulrcrick key the offense. Seeing that the Irish haven't played well against the run, expect Ringer and Caulcrick to carry the rock all afternoon. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Ringer leads the team in rushing with 255 yards and a respectable 4.6 yards per carry average. Caulcrick has run for 217 yards and six touchdowns. He ranks ninth in the nation in points per game.

***Prediction: Michigan State 24, Notre Dame 14: Will this be the week the Irish offense shows some sign of life? Yes, but it won't be enough. The Spartans are riding high into South Bend, and will leave town with lofty expectations for the rest of their season.

The good news is, Notre Dame will play better. The offense will finally get into the end zone. They will run the ball for positive yardage, and string together a few drives. The defense will make some plays against the run, and force a turnover or two. As far as that first win, maybe in West Lafayette against Purdue the following Saturday. Top Stories