Sep 15, 2012, 2:14 PM EDT
As always, we’ll be hosting the live blog here later tonight, but let’s roll through a few pressing questions as the Irish prepare to face the Spartans tonight in East Lansing.
A win would give the Irish their first 3-0 start in a decade, and likely propel the Irish into the top 15 as they head into their grudge match with Michigan. A loss — well, it makes the match-up against the Wolverines all the more pressing.
A few final thoughts before it’s time to get down to business.
Can Everett Golson manage this football game?
The Irish offensive line might be taking the heat, but there’s a high likelihood that they’re taking some criticism that could be leveled on the Irish’s young quarterback. Purdue confused the Irish by loading the box and putting the heat on Golson to make the right checks at the line of scrimmage. It didn’t happen in the second half, and after Golson led the Irish on a ten play touchdown drive, the offense sputtered, failing to put together a drive over 17 yards until Rees came in to close the game.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi certainly isn’t known for his vanilla game plans. So if the Irish are going to walk out of Spartan Stadium alive, they’ll need their young quarterback to learn from last Saturday.
Will the Irish get production out of their wide receivers?
If two games are any indication, Davaris Daniels will end up being the team’s No. 1 weapon at the position, an impressive jump for a redshirt freshman who is also learning on the fly. After spotlighting the Spartan cornerbacks yesterday, it’s going to be important for the Irish to get some big plays with their wide receivers — taking some shots down the field vertically with players not named Tyler Eifert.
Outside of Daniels’ 41-yard catch and run last weekend, the long reception for Notre Dame’s receivers was a 17-yard gain by Robby Toma. The Irish are going to need their wide receivers to be more than possession players.
Can the Irish front seven force Andrew Maxwell into some bad decisions?
Maxwell has shown the ability to turn the ball over, getting intercepted three times in the first half against Boise State. The Irish’s front seven is the best he’s faced, and the Irish are going to need to help Stephon Tuitt get to the quarterback, with guys like Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams being counted on to supply the heat.
Bennett Jackson made his first big play as a cornerback, intercepting Caleb TerBush and setting the Irish up for a field goal. The Spartans plan on trying to confuse Everett Golson. There’s no reason why Bob Diaco can’t do the same to Maxwell.
What team is going to run the ball more effectively?
You know Mark Dantonio will figure out how to get Le’Veon Bell his touches. But will Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin figure out how to get the Irish’s talented stable of runners the football?
Kelly said Cierre Wood looked a little rusty this week as he worked his way back into the rotation. But I expect Wood to reassert himself into the mix immediately, reminding everybody why he was an 1,100 yard rusher last season and an elite player.
Kelly and Martin need to get the ball in the hands of Wood, George Atkinson and Theo Riddick at least 30 times combined, up from the 20 touches the running backs accounted for last week.
Can the Irish put it together on the big stage?
It’s been a long time since a Notre Dame team has come out on the big stage firing on all cylinders. Can this be the team that does it?
While the standard, “It was against Navy” caveat certainly applies, the Irish handled their business and looked crisp during the season opener, putting together an impressive performance. Against Purdue that was hardly the case, with penalties and play-clock issues plaguing the team all game.
If the Irish are going to win tonight, they’ll need to play clean football across the board. You get the sense that Kelly feels quietly confident his team can do this, yet we’ll find out tonight if Notre Dame can put together a complete performance.