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Opponent preview: Michigan State

Aug 26, 2012, 7:53 AM EDT

Robert Blanton

This is the third of twelve opponent updates as we sprint towards next Saturday’s opening game in Dublin. For more, check out the preview of Navy and Purdue.

The Overview:

It might not give Irish fans much solace, but Notre Dame finally got to be the spoiler in its annual matchup with Michigan State. The Irish rolled to a relatively easy 31-13 victory in South Bend, one of only two regular season losses for Sparty. With back-to-back eleven-win seasons, Mark Dantonio’s troops have their eye on a Big Ten championship, but will need to find some offense after saying goodbye to some key offensive weapons, none bigger than three-time captain Kirk Cousins.

Last time against the Irish:

With the 2011 season spinning out of control, Notre Dame dug itself out of an 0-2 hole, toppling No. 15 Michigan State fairly easily in South Bend. Overcoming three turnovers, Robert Blanton led the Irish, making a key interception of Cousins to seal the game, while also filling the stat sheet with six tackles, three TFLs, and a sack.

“You talk about guys leading by example,” Brian Kelly said when asked about about his senior cornerback. “When you need a big play, he seems to be around the ball quite a bit.”

The Irish run defense held up against a Spartan rushing attack that gauged the Irish in 2010. Freshman George Atkinson returned a kickoff for a touchdown while Cierre Wood chipped in two on the ground.

Degree of Difficulty:

Of the 12 games the Irish play this season, I rank Michigan State as the third toughest game on the schedule.

12.
11.
10. Navy
9.
8. Purdue
7.
6.
5.
4.
3. Michigan State

The Match-up:

With a primetime start in Spartan Stadium, we’ll likely get our first look at what this Notre Dame team is made of. Facing what is likely to be the best defense in the Big Ten, Everett Golson (if he’s still starting) will face the first difficult setting of his college career. Eight starters return for Pat Narduzzi’s defense, and none more impressive than defensive end William Gholston, who leads a loaded defensive front even without the departed Jerel Worthy. Three linebackers and three defensive backs also return to the starting lineup, with Denicos Allen a linebacker to watch and All-Big Ten cornerback Johnny Adams also returning.

If the Spartans defense is a proven commodity, the offense is the exact opposite. Junior Andrew Maxwell will try and fill Cousins shoes, and he’s seen mostly mop-up work in his first two seasons. Who Maxwell with throw to is also in question, with the Spartan’s three leading receivers gone, and only eight combined receptions among key returnees. After building an offensive line on the fly last year, the Spartans return a solid group up front and Le’Veon Bell is primed for a big season after splitting carries last season with Edwin Baker.

How the Irish will win:

If the Irish offense can make enough plays and avoid making mistakes, they’ll likely escape East Lansing with a win. With the Spartans offense still coming into form, the Irish’s run defense can shut down Bell, and force Maxwell to try and beat the Irish through the air. Notre Dame’s inexperienced secondary will need to win out against their equally green counterparts, and if they’re playing with a lead, it’ll give Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams a chance to get after the quarterback. Expect Notre Dame’s ground game to try and make a statement against the Spartans, with Harry Hiestand challenging his unit to lead the offense.

How the Irish will lose:

This will be a mighty big stage for Everett Golson, and his first visit to enemy territory could get ugly if the Irish are forced to get one dimensional. With an unproven receiving corps and a vanilla offensive system designed to limit mistakes, Notre Dame could get bottled up and struggle to move the ball. Maxwell might not have thrown a meaningful pass in his career yet, but the junior has seen the bright lights. Against a depleted Irish secondary that’s learning on the fly, talented transfer DeAnthony Arnett could wreak some havoc against the green Irish secondary.

Gut Feeling:

If there’s a September loss, this one leads the probability watch. A tough location against a team that’s always played the Irish tough, the Spartans have to feel like this one carries a grudge (something you often see when Dantonio takes on Kelly. That said, I think the lack of an offensive identity for the Spartans, and Notre Dame’s ability to win the battle up front, helps them get a key road win.

  1. barneysbullet - Aug 26, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    first

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Aug 28, 2012 at 2:20 AM

      …and hopefully only

  2. cam2ham - Aug 26, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    To me this game is going to have to be huge for our defense to secure a win, especially the front 7 last year after we shut down the run , and the d line started playing smear the queer with Cousins all day long. Getting to the QB is going to be a must to help the secondary, MSU will already have had a huge home game in Boise St, and be a lot more prepared for this going in. The defense will have to put the team on their back and get it done.

    With that said, if we do leave there with a W, I think that gives a huge confidence boost to everyone and not only do we get revenge on Michigan for the last 3 years but beat the living piss out of them like we were for 3 quarters last year. This is the defining game for the season in my opinion a W here and it’s very possible we shock the world and remain undefeated heading into Norman.

    • jimbasil - Aug 26, 2012 at 10:12 AM

      Uh, “No you diin’t.”

      • jimbasil - Aug 26, 2012 at 2:36 PM

        For those who didn’t read his post, “cannedham” put posted a tone-deaf gender epithet. His post should be taken down.

    • bw1980 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:35 AM

      Smmer the Queer? Way to represent us Notre Dame fans, cam. Please refrain from using “we” anymore.

  3. ndgoldandblue - Aug 26, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Okay, so I’ll be the first to address the apparent elephant in the room. Is it true that Cierre Wood tested positive for a recreational drug (marijuana)? And, if so, how long is he going to be out? I know that this is still in the rumor stage, so nothing has been confirmed, but ND bloggers seem to be pretty keen to correctly confirming rumors before they have been officially been announced as truths. If this is true, is he going to be suspended for just a few games or for an entire season (a la Tyrann Mathieu). Either way, this is a blow. I know that we’ve got all kinds of depth and talent at the running back position, but Cierre has been our most dependable and reliable contributor. The rest is rather unproven talent. Lets hope Atkinson brings the electricity he displayed in the BG game to the regular season (and Carlisle returns from injury with the same explosiveness that he had previously).

    • bernhtp - Aug 26, 2012 at 9:33 AM

      The rumor appears to be that he faces a team suspension for the first two games. I have no information about this other than what I see on boards. Mathieu’s expulsion apparently came after a series of positive tests, and not from a first offense.

      Thankfully, we have some depth at the position. I also hope that Carlisle recovers quickly and fully as he is an explosive playmaker. This will likely mean that Theo spends more time in the RB role rather than slot.

      • andy44teg - Aug 26, 2012 at 9:43 AM

        If those rumors are true..it comes as no surprise to this guy. Go check out his facebook page and you’ll see why. I’m more surprised that this didn’t happen sooner.

    • andy44teg - Aug 26, 2012 at 9:46 AM

      I haven’t looked at it in a while, but not so long ago there may or may not have been a pic on there of Cierre alongside one Snoop D O Double G. Off the hizzle fo shizzle!

    • lightskin350 - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:33 AM

      Wood will be back for this game BUT I just don’t see Notre Dame going into Spartan stadium and leaving with a win. It absolutely pains me to say this but a lot of players were dinged up against Purdue who man handled our offensive line. Purdue was in the backfield before our backs would get to the LOI on most running plays and now our rookie QB on the road @ the best defense in the big 10.

  4. chadwalters425 - Aug 26, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    I’m a little surprised Michigan didn’t come in at #3. I give them a slight edge over MSU, simply because ND has not figured out a way to stop Denard Robinson and ND has beaten MSU at least one time in the last three years. Now MSU is breaking in a very green receiving corps and a new quarterback after losing their long-time captain.

    The MSU defense scares me, but I think a lot of questions about ND’s offense will be answered against Navy and Purdue. MSU’s only known offensive weapon is Bell and I am confident that ND’s front seven will neutralize him and derail his Heisman campaign.

    • bernhtp - Aug 26, 2012 at 10:58 AM

      Despite Michigan being ranked higher, I suspect that Keith sees them at roughly the same level. The difference in his difficulty rank is likely due to MSU being away and Michigan at home.

  5. nudeman - Aug 26, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    And in other news …
    Aaron Lynch got married to his pregnant 18 year old girlfriend yesterday
    I suppose I should say all the right things:
    I wish him the best; He’ll be playing on Sundays soon; He’s a good guy deep down

    But here’s what I’m really thinking:
    He and his girlfriend are selfish and stupid
    2 kids with no income will be bringing an innocent child into this world
    They have no jobs
    They don’t have an education

    The innocent child can still thrive in life; but he starts out with 1 strike against him
    And he’s one cut block away from an 0-2 count

    Selfish, stupid
    I hope the child somehow overcomes; I have nothing but contempt for Lynch and his new wife

    • ct111 - Aug 26, 2012 at 11:30 AM

      Nude, you need to be a sports writer. Thanks for the updates. What do you think about the rumors on Cierre Wood failing a drug test? Is it true or false?

      • gtizzo - Aug 26, 2012 at 12:43 PM

        If Wood failed a drug test it would have been on ESPN by now. Keith would already have an article on it. I would think it is just a rumor.

    • bernhtp - Aug 26, 2012 at 12:05 PM

      Even with someone as emotionally immature and volatile as Lynch, I could never get my head around his transfer being due to weather, geography, even a girlfriend. My thoughts always came back to this suspicion.

      I’ve had several near-posts that stemmed from this suspicion including a rather catty one that was aborted as I was about to hit reply to your post of his coming wedding – something like “and the guy holding the shotgun isn’t from Celebrity Security.”

      With that said, I wish Aaron, his wife and their upcoming child well. While the past decisions have been selfish and immature, I hope that they grow up some and give the child the best upbringing they can.

    • danirish - Aug 26, 2012 at 12:59 PM

      She is pregnant? Wow, that explains a lot.

      I agree with you nude (shocking!) but to play devel’s advocate we can say he is a stand up guy for not ditching her. May be he is taking responsibility for his error?

      Well enough of the devil advocate stuff – he should have stayed at ND, his chances of providing would probably double.

      • nudeman - Aug 26, 2012 at 2:04 PM

        If ever there was a guy who needed a male mentor figure in his life, it’s Lynch. But we never hear about his dad.

        How many AWFUL decisions can a kid make in a 4-5 month span?
        And yes, I’m calling leaving ND an AWFUL decision.

        What are the chances he and wifey are together in 3 years?

      • bernhtp - Aug 26, 2012 at 5:35 PM

        Nude: I will say that getting married shows far more responsibility than most in his situation. Of course, I also believe they he and his wife would have gotten more support in South Bend than in South Florida.

        This also appears to be a repeating pattern as his mom is reportedly quite young. Sad. Again, I wish them well.

    • ER Jedi - Aug 26, 2012 at 10:55 PM

      Maybe he was duped. Maybe the girlfriend wants to keep her sugar flowing, knows her man is going to make NFL money someday and she wanted to lock that cash down. “Yeah Aaron, I’ve been taking my birth control, don’t worry about it, you don’t have to wear a condom” Just saying, maybe its not ALL his fault. Wouldn’t be the first time a digger pulled something like this. At least he’s trying to do his part, regardless of the cause or motivations.

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Aug 28, 2012 at 2:24 AM

        That’s not what happened….all of those girls are chasing Terrell Owens

  6. gtizzo - Aug 26, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    Well Keith,

    I don’t disagree with your outlook and like the result. I do think how the Irish lose is a little different then the things you stated. Keep in mind Gholston had 5 sacks in Michigan States bowl win last season. Georgia simply had no answer for kid…where I think the Irish do. Having Niklas at tight end allows Kelly to move him around and that could help keep Gholston out of the back field. Stuffing Bell is also key Dantonio is part of the Nick Saban coaching tree. Which means he likes to have a big offensive line ripping huge holes for strong backs to run through. I like the Irish chances of stuffing the run with Nix and T’eo up the middle. Also something for the board to debate why isn’t Michigan State considered a “signature victory” for BK?

    • danirish - Aug 26, 2012 at 1:01 PM

      I agree about MSU v UGA, and I grad, from UGA. Georgia ia a great paper team, on the field…..?

    • bw1980 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:43 AM

      Folks, we need to acquaint ourselves with Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback: Everett GOLSON. No “h” or “t” in the name….my friends have been pronouncing it “Goal stun” too. It’s “goal sin”.

      • gtizzo - Aug 27, 2012 at 12:15 PM

        William Gholston plays for Michigan State, Everett Golson Plays for ND. The only person who is confused is you.

      • bw1980 - Aug 27, 2012 at 3:31 PM

        Ugh….mea culpa. I apologize.

  7. kiopta1 - Aug 26, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    If the rumor about C. Wood is true I am pissed….I mean how stupid can you be?

    • bw1980 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:45 AM

      Lets not shit ourselves, here, if I had an opportunity to smoke weed with Snoop, I would too. However, I question more why a member of the ND football team would be hanging out with noted USC fan and pothead Snoop Dog.

  8. 10of14 - Aug 26, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    10of14
    071961

    • nudeman - Aug 26, 2012 at 2:05 PM

      WTF is this?
      Are you talking in code?
      Calling in artillery?

      • gtizzo - Aug 27, 2012 at 12:17 PM

        Could be a birthday July 19th 1961? Odds are it is just someones typing error.

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