Sep 13, 2012, 3:00 AM EDT
With all the commotion surrounding Notre Dame’s future move to the ACC, some people forgot the Irish are playing in one of the week’s premiere games, when No. 20 Notre Dame heads to No. 10 Michigan State. It’s the first time the teams are playing each other ranked in the top 20 and undefeated since 1979.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio took to the microphone and discussed some of the challenges that go into playing Notre Dame.
“When you look at Notre Dame, I think first of all you look at who they are as people, their personnel, excellent personnel,” Dantonio said. “Defensive side of the ball, big, physical up front, very active linebackers. Obviously No.5 Te’o is an outstanding player, makes it all work for them. Their secondary, a little bit retooled because they lost one guy, but they’re playing with a true freshman. Good players, tackle very well, good ball skills. I think they’re structurally very sound. They play with great technique.
“You look at them offensively, a lot of things are geared around their tight end, Eifert, some of their other skill players. They’ll get Cierre Wood back. Theo Riddick is a guy that has been around for a long time, played very well. Physical offensive line. Quarterback freshman, exciting player.
“As always, Notre Dame is going to be a good football team. They’re going to be a tremendous challenge for us. We’ll continue to focus on what has allowed us to win.”
One thing Dantonio did against Central Michigan was put some pressure on his quarterback Andrew Maxwell. After riding running back Le’Veon Bell with 50 touches and putting the offense almost exclusively in his hands, the Spartans took their game against overmatched Central Michigan as a way to get Maxwell more confident.
“I felt like the premise needed to be on Maxwell this past weekend,” Dantonio said. “I wanted him to throw for 300 yards. I wanted to get our wide receivers involved. I thought that was important. We can’t make it just on one guy running the football over and over and over. We have to be two‑dimensional.
“I thought it was important to get in the flow of that a little bit. I thought we tried to do that. When we had to pound it in there, that’s what we did. But we tried to do that some, especially early in the game.”
It’s worth mentioning that Maxwell completed 20 of 31 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Certainly an improvement after his 22 of 38 performance with no touchdowns and three interceptions, but still not up to the 300-yard bar Dantonio set for a game against the Chippewas.
Dantonio was asked about the rather mediocre week the Big Ten had last weekend, with the conference going 6-6 with some high profile losses (Nebraska, Wisconsin) and a near escape by Michigan. As you’d expect, the plight of the conference doesn’t seem to worry the head coach, who though last year’s embarrassing loss to the Irish actually helped straighten his team out.
“I guess I would say last year we lost to Notre Dame at Notre Dame and people sort of wrote us off,” Dantonio said. “We responded and ended up winning 11 games and beat a great Georgia team in the bowl game. A lot of things can happen. It’s very early in the season right now. I’m sure all these football teams are going to rebound and get themselves squared away in and out of conference. It’s just the nature of it.”
Lastly, the Spartans know they need to contain All-American Tyler Eifert, who has been cleared to practice and should be 100 percent this weekend. Dantonio talked about the challenges Eifert posses.
“They put him out as wide receiver as often as they do at tight end. He’s flexed out as a wide receiver,” Dantonio explained. “They’re going to force our defensive backs to play him. So he’ll be all over the place. He’s sort of like, Where is Waldo? Ever see that cartoon? He’s all over. And he’s a very good player for them and they get the ball to him.”
Eifert had one of his worst games of the season last year against the Spartans, catching only two balls for 25 yards during the Irish’s 31-13 victory.
It is one of the overlooked factors of the Irish’s lopsided victory, but Notre Dame was out gained 358-275, and Tommy Rees only threw for 161 yards in the victory.