Once again, the Irish are facing a strong running game heading into Saturday. Michigan State's two-head monster of Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer presents a problem for the Irish. Ringer has the speed to get outside to make some big plays, and Cualcrick is the bruiser used to wear down a defense. All three of Notre Dame's previous opponents have been able to run on the Irish, and were able to eventually wear down the Notre Dame defense. If the Irish want to stay in this game, they'll have to make sure neither Ringer of Caulcrick have big games.
The Michigan State passing game is average at this point, and they haven't faced the most difficult competition, either. They do have two outstanding targets in wide-out Devon Thomas and tight end Kellen Davis. Both players have big-play potential, and both can make for a long day for the Irish if they get going.
The way to stop Thomas and Davis to not let first-year starting quarterback Brian Hoyer get comfortable. Pitt put pressure on Hoyer last week, and he didn't have his best game completing just 50 percent of his passes for 183 yards. He came up short in a number of good opportunities Michigan State had last week against the Panthers.
I watched Michigan State's two previous games against Bowling Green and Pitt, and I wasn't overly impressed with their offense. They do run the ball well, but losing starter Roland Martin will hurt as he is probably their best lineman. I was also not impressed with the Spartan's ability to protect the quarterback. Pitt seemed to be able to put a lot of pressure on Hoyer, and Hoyer didn't respond real well to the pressure, as most first-year quarterbacks don't. The key for the Irish defense will be to stop the inside and outside run early and force Michigan State to throw the football. Thomas and Davis are just as dangerous and Ringer and Caulcrick, so the key will be to attack Hoyer. If Notre Dame can do this, they'll have a great chance to win on Saturday.
Michigan State leads in the country in sacks thus far this season with 17. Normally that would be a big concern, but State has amassed most of their sacks during times when it was obvious the other team had to throw. Michigan State doesn't usually generate great pressure with just their front four and usually has to blitz to get some pressure on the quarterback. But they haven't faced the Irish yet, which is leading the nation in sacks allowed. If the Irish can‘t protect Clausen, it will be another long day for the Irish.
Notre Dame's best chance to win this game is with a running game….something that has been completely inept this entire season for the Irish. The Irish are averaging just under minus five yards per carry for the season, and the Spartans are allowing just under 89 yards rushing per game. I expect the Irish to get into the black on rushing yardage in this game, but can they get into double digits? If they can I think they'll win this game.
Michigan State has owned the Irish in Notre Dame stadium as of late….five wins in a row. This game usually comes at the worst of times for Notre Dame, and once again is at the worst of times. The Spartans are feeling pretty good about themselves with a 3-0 start under new head coach Mark Dantonio. The Irish are about as low as low can be, and many more difficult games are just around the corner. This is a must win for the Irish, but State is going to want this game just as bad.
Mike Frank Prediction: I hate to do it, but I just don't see Notre Dame winning this football game. Irish fan's can't count on the Michigan State meltdown we've seen over the years. Coach Dantonio has this team playing disciplined football. Michigan State has the better running game and far more confidence. The teams match up fairly neutral other than that.
Notre Dame will need some turnovers or some big plays to win on Saturday. It's an absolute MUST that they get off to a good start. If they get behind early, this could be another ugly, lopsided and embarrassing loss for the Irish.
I expect the game to be fairly close most of the way, but the Spartan offensive line wears down the Irish defensive line and pulls away at the end.
Michigan State: 28 Notre Dame: 17