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ND vs. MSU: Final questions for Joe Rexrode

Sep 17, 2011, 8:30 AM EDT

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There’s no day like today for the Irish. Win, and they’re one small step closer to digging themselves out of a serious hole. With a loss, well — Notre Dame is 0-3 and looking for some serious answers.

Even though the Irish are a five point favorite, the Spartans have won 10 of the last 14 and six of the last seven in Notre Dame Stadium. With the 1966 championship team in town trying to wake up some echoes, let’s get one more look at the Spartans from someone that follows them on a day-to-day basis.

Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal was kind enough to answer some find questions before today’s 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on NBC.

Inside the Irish: As someone who actually watched the wins over Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic, what do you make of the Spartans? They’ve made their way to No. 15 in the polls, but is that a product of last year’s record or was the on-field performances that impressive?

Joe Rexrode: The Spartans were quite unimpressive in the first week and then much better in the second week, especially on defense. It came against a bad Florida Atlantic offense, yes, but one first down and 48 yards allowed indicate a focused performance against anyone. MSU started the season at No. 17, I think based on last season’s performance and the return of some top players such as Kirk Cousins, Edwin Baker, Jerel Worthy and B.J. Cunningham.

ITI: Everybody saw the Notre Dame’s collapse in the Big House last weekend. What do the Spartans make of the Irish defense, a group that has played 7 quarters of good football and one really bad one?

JR: Cousins said he considers it the defense he saw in the first three quarters at Michigan. MSU offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, asked about those coverage busts, pointed out that this week the Irish won’t have to account for the running of Denard Robinson, which should help them. I think Michigan State respects the Notre Dame defense. The last half of last season was not a fluke.

ITI: We know the Spartans have some talent at running back, but the numbers haven’t been all that impressive yet. Can they get enough out of their rebuilt offensive line against an Irish defensive front that’s much better than the two the Spartans have seen?

JR: Great question and one of the keys to this game, in my opinion. Michigan State is overflowing with talented backs, starting with Edwin Baker and continuing to Le’Veon Bell (who ran for 114 yards on 17 carries vs. the Irish a year ago). The question is the line. The Spartans are more talented and athletic up there than a year ago, but far less experienced. This matchup will go a long way in determining Saturday’s outcome.

ITI: Did you hear that Notre Dame has 1,000 yards of offense but 10 turnovers? The Spartans had a historic defensive effort last Saturday against cupcake Florida Atlantic, but faces an Irish offense that’s better than the one that put up almost 400 yards in the air last year. MSU lost some important players. What’s the key to slowing ND down?

JR: Yeah, Notre Dame obviously can move the ball but has to clean up the mistakes. MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said this will be the best passing attack his defense sees all season, and that was true last year as well. One area in which the Spartans are stronger this season is pass rush, watch for sophomore end Will Gholston. But the Irish do a great job of protecting. The key for Michigan State is to get stops in the red zone, Notre Dame will definitely throw for big yards and move the ball between the 20s.

ITI: Mark Dantonio acknowledged the saltiness of this rivalry. Notre Dame clearly isn’t Michigan, but was is it about this match-up that gets the Spartans so fired up?

JR: I’ve always kind of considered this a “friendly” rivalry, and that goes back to the early 20th century when Notre Dame really helped Michigan State build its program and get into the Big Ten. Both teams hate Michigan, so they have that in common. But personally, I just think there’s an iciness between Dantonio and Brian Kelly. Kelly made some disparaging remarks about the program he inherited at Cincinnati (he inherited it from Dantonio) when he got there, and I don’t think that sat well with Dantonio. As far as MSU’s motivation for this game — hey, doesn’t everyone get up to play Notre Dame?

ITI: Everybody’s noticed that Notre Dame is a pretty significant favorite. Is Vegas off? In a rivalry that’s tilted the Spartans way lately, what does Michigan State have to do to win?

JR: I don’t think it’s wacky to make Notre Dame the favorite in this game. Despite the fact that MSU has won six of the past seven in South Bend, this is a home game, it’s clearly a talented Notre Dame team, and it’s a must-win situation. I would have expected Notre Dame by a point or two. To win, Michigan State must run the ball — the Spartans don’t need 203 yards like they got last year in this game, but they need 150 or so — win decisively in the kicking game and get some stops in the red zone against that potent offense.

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You can read more from Joe at the Lansing State Journal, both in his columns and on his blogs. Follow him on Twitter at @LSJGreenWhite

  1. bernhtp - Sep 17, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    Re: “hey, doesn’t everyone get up to play Notre Dame?”

    This is one of our big problems historically, especially at home.

    • txbeej - Sep 17, 2011 at 12:19 PM

      Well, I can’t answer as to the historical part, but to the extent that everybody is up to play Notre Dame these days, it’s because they know the Irish are a very beatable, mediocre football program. Who doesn’t get excited about winning?

  2. 1historian - Sep 17, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    “Doesn’t everyone get up to play Notre Dame?”

    Not long ago this would have been a rhetorical question, but after home losses to Syracuse, Navy, Air Force, Connecticut, Tulsa, South Florida, six of the last seven AT HOME to Michigan State, etc – I would say that the answer to that question is – not really.

  3. andy44teg - Sep 17, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    I would have to agree with bern up to a point. Everyone does get up to play Notre Dame, they always have, but it seems like over the last 15 years we’ve had the attitude that “Hey..WE ARE ND..We’re suppose to win” and just thought that teams would roll over and be intimidated by the “House That Rockne Built” and the fact that they’re playing Notre Dame. ( I’ve been watching Notre Dame since ’94 (( I was 12)) and I’ve never seen it more fired up or intimidating than the way that the Big House looked last Saturday night.) We’ve got to lose the entitlement attitude and start beating the teams we’re suppose to beat and get MORE fired than the teams that we’re more evenly matched with. Then we might see something.

    • tedlinko - Sep 18, 2011 at 2:59 AM

      Well back in the late 80s it was every bit as wild as the Big House last week. The craziest I was ever at was ND-Miami 1988 (the Catholics vs. Convicts game.). http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1067906/index.htm

      The home opener vs. Michigan under the lights that same year was great as well as walk-on kicker Reggie Ho booted 4 field goals and Michigan missed a potential game winning kick at the gun .

  4. misterhorsey - Sep 17, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    How well will the Irish fans and alumni travel to the BBVA Compass Bowl?

  5. txbeej - Sep 17, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    Through one quarter of play, Eastern Michigan has outgained Michigan 140 yards to 32. Denard Robinson is 0 for 3 with an interception.

    • txbeej - Sep 17, 2011 at 1:25 PM

      Second quarter a different story as the Wolverines finally untie Robinson’s legs and let him gallop a bit. Still can’t complete a pass though.

  6. smurphdoggy29 - Sep 17, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    Well it has come to this.
    Put up OR shut up time for this Team
    They can win, yet they have cornered themselves into “must win”
    Sparty provides the perfect opponent for a Spring Board game
    Win here Notre Dame and you right the ship and get the added
    BOOST of big MO, momentum helping you along to the off week.

    Lose and the slide down the mountain is precarious.

    They can do it, but…..

    Why not put Dayne in, didn’t he have a “productive” day last year ?

    Like that crazy nut Al Davis says, Just win baby, just win

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