It's been awhile since the Irish defense has been stout against the run. The task certainly doesn't get any easier this weekend, when the 5-foot-9, 202-pound Ringer is lined up on the other side of the ball, poised to carry the rock 30-plus times.
A workhorse, last Saturday, Ringer had 43 rushes for 282 yards in the Spartans' 17-0 win over Florida Atlantic. His previous career best was 203 yards rushing.
Through three games, Ringer ranks third nationally with 166 yards rushing per game. He ranks fourth in all-purpose yards at 237.67. Look for head coach Mark Dantonio to call Ringers' number quite a bit on Saturday.
Michigan State has two talented receivers in Dell and Cunningham, who are a danger for an explosive every time the ball is in their hands.
Dell has emerged as quarterback Brian Hoyer's favorite receiving target. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound sophomore is averaging close to 107 yards receiving per game, good for 16th in the nation. He has a season-long of 52 yards.
Cunningham might end up being a bigger playmaker than Dell. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound red-shirt freshman is a factor on reverses as well as in the air attack. He has a season-long reception of 46 yards. Cunningham got dinged up against Florida Atlantic trying to make an acrobatic catch, but he's expected to be ready to go against the Irish.
Tight end Charlie Gantt has just four catches for 31 yards on the season, but he's a guy Michigan State would like to get more involved in the offense.
Achilles Heal(s): Hoyer‘s inconsistent play at quarterback, and the left side of the offensive line.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Hoyer has been up and down at quarterback since taking over as the starter last season. However, he's played better at home than on the road, with the exception of the four touchdown passes he threw at Notre Dame last fall.
Hoyer's numbers aren't great thus far. He's completed just 33-of-75 passes (44 percent) for 557 yards and one touchdown to two interceptions. But last week's game was played in a similar downpour the Irish beat Michigan in, and the Spartans pounded the football to Ringer all afternoon.
Speaking of rain, Hoyer and center Joel Nitchman had four fumbled snap exchanges. If it's raining again this Saturday, that will be a huge concern.
Michigan State feels good about Nitchman, and the right side of the line in returning starters guard Roland Martin and tackle Jesse Miller. The left side has two new starters in tackle Rocco Cironi and guard Joel Foreman. The two have held up well through the first three games, but their inexperience is a slight concern.
Miscellaneous: Michigan State is 16-for-44 (36 percent) on third down this season. With Ringer, they're winning the time-of-possession battle, 32:31 to 27:29. The Spartans have been good in the red zone, scoring on 11-of-15 opportunities, including nine touchdowns. The coaching staff is confident in running Brett Swenson out on field goals of 40 yards or less. He is 2-of-3 on field goals this season with a long of 34 yards.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Wiley has found his way out of Dantonio's doghouse to be one of the leaders of this defense. A starter as a sophomore, Wiley saw himself relegated to a reserve role last fall. Those days seem like long ago, as Wiley picked off two passes including one he took back for a touchdown in the season-opening loss to California. Wiley dropped two interceptions in the win last week, and has six pass breakups on the season. His 15 tackles rank fifth on the team, and Wiley has also added a 78-yard punt return against Eastern Michigan, and a fumble recovery against Florida Atlantic.
Jones is a sideline-to-sideline player with 17 tackles, that ranks second on the team. His 3.5 tackles for loss ranks first for the SAM backer.
Achilles Heal(s):Michigan State‘s pass rush.
The Spartans haven't been able to generate much pressure on opposing quarterbacks in their first three games. Michigan State has just three sacks, which bodes well for Notre Dame, as the Irish have yet to allow a sack.
Junior defensive end Trevor Anderson hasn't been the pass rusher the Spartans staff was hoping for coming out of fall camp.
Miscellaneous: Last week was Michigan State's first shutout since 1999. Through three games, punter Aaron Bates has placed six of his 18 kicks inside the opposition‘s 20-yard line. He is averaging 39.7 yards per punt, and does a great job in the field-position battle. Free safety Kendell Davis-Clark didn‘t play last week, and will likely miss against the Irish with a shoulder injury. Danny Fortener is his replacement, but starting cornerback Ross Weaver could move back there.
Game Notes: This is the 72nd-ever meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan State. The Irish lead the series with a 44-26-1 record. The Vegas line has Michigan State opening as seven-point favorites. Charlie Weis' record against Michigan State is 1-2. Mark Dantonio's record against Notre Dame is 1-0.
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Michigan State 20.
Ringer will get his yards, but sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen will have all day to throw against the Spartans, picking Michigan State apart to the tune of his first 300-yard plus passing game and two scores.
Game Forecast: Michigan State Week
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