Like I said last week, the Irish will need to show up focused, emotional and ready to play from the opening kickoff to have any chance of winning this game. The Spartans always show up ready to play this game. I cannot say that for the Irish.
Which team shows up? That I can't answer. The bad news is we have to even have this conversation. Hopefully those days of not knowing have past and this won't be a question moving forward.
This is where the game will be won in my opinion. The Spartans are going to score points. Javon Ringer is too good of a back to shut down completely, so they're going to score points, and the might score a lot. The real key for Notre Dame is to control the football, and they can do that by running the football. The Spartans surrendered 203 yards rushing to Cal in their first game of the season, and the Irish should have some success running the football on this team.
However, the Spartan defense has also surrendered some big plays in the passing game, so I expect the Irish to try to hit some home runs early in the game. I fully expect Michigan State to try to stop the run, so we'll likely see eight or nine men in the box again this week, but that will open up the passing game for the Irish. If ND can hit some big plays early, they'll back off the run, and that would play into Notre Dame's favor.
The two most important things for Notre Dame in this game are to score quickly, and score touchdowns in the red zone instead of field goals. I expect a wild and crazy stadium on Saturday, and the best way to control a crowd is to score early and often.
Once again, I expect Michigan State to move the football and score points. The No. 1 goal for the Irish defense should be to hold them to three points when they do get in the red zone, and the Irish defense under Corwin Brown has been able to do that fairly well for the most part.
Michigan State is 11-of-15 in the red zone this year, with 9 opportunities going for touchdowns, so they're pretty efficient once they do get inside the 20.
However, the Spartans are just 16-of-44 (36 percent) on third down this year, so they struggle a bit on third down. Notre Dame needs to make some negative plays on first and second down to force the Spartans into third-and-long situations. If they can do that they should have a good chance to win on Saturday.
The question is: How much do you blitz Hoyer? My guess is we'll see the Irish blitz him a lot. Cal did and had some success. While they only had one sack, Hoyer struggled in the opener completing just 20-of-48 passes. He did throw for 321 yards that game, but they were also playing from behind most of the game.
I expect a healthy diet of blitzing on Saturday, but the Irish struggled to get to Hoyer in last season's game. They'll need to do a better job of pressuring him on Saturday. I do expect MSU to come out throwing the football to try to loosen things up a bit for Ringer in the run game. Mark Dell is a very fast receiver the Irish will have to contain or it could be a long day in East Lansing.
This game always comes down to which team wants it more. Unfortunately, it's been Michigan State more times than not in recent past. The Irish are coming off an emotional win last weekend. Will this be a "let down" game, or did that game give this team a lot more confidence heading into East Lansing? If the right team shows up, ND should have a good chance to win on Saturday.
Mike Frank Prediction: I don't know what it is, but there seems to be something special about this Irish team. They're not a great team. They have holes, but they play hard. Anytime the Irish come out and play hard, they have a great chance to win. I think they'll do that on Saturday.
Notre Dame: 31 Michigan State: 27