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Final thoughts before kickoff

Sep 21, 2013, 11:41 AM EST

Stephon Tuitt

After two Saturdays away from the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish are back home and playing their third consecutive Big Ten opponent. The Michigan State Spartans have climbed into the bottom of the Top 25 in the Coaches Poll on the strength of their defense, a unit that’s statistically at the top of the heap at the quarter-turn of the season.

They’ll go head to head with an Irish offense that’s hoping to get on a roll after a strong second half against Purdue. Just as important, it looks like the Irish defense might have found its way after a struggle to start the season.

An ugly stat has floated around the past few days. Notre Dame has already given up 71 points this season. That didn’t happen until the Irish played Oklahoma last season, eight games into the season.

But after holding Purdue to just one rushing first down and under 300 yards, the defense gained some momentum in the second half as well. Add in some personnel tweaks during the week, and a Spartans offense that looked lost in its first two games, and some momentum could be building as the Irish enter the toughest stretch of their season.

Let’s run through some final thoughts before kickoff.

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Just how good is this Spartans defense? We’ll find out this afternoon. Many have poked a few holes in the Spartans’ No. 1 ranking, considering they’ve played a schedule that’s a collective 0-7 against FBS competition.

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has referred to his unit’s performance as average, knowing that Saturday’s contest against the Irish will be their first true assessment.

“We’ll find out Saturday. We’re getting into the beef of our schedule,” Narduzzi told MLive.com. “We’ll find out, really, where we are. We’ve been average. We’ll find out, it’s hard to tell.

Underestimate this group at your own risk.

Another Saturday, another chess match for Tommy Rees. Among Narduzzi’s comments were some complimentary things said about Irish senior Tommy Rees. While some Irish fans grumble about the offense’s refusal to “call it and haul it,” Narduzzi talked about the challenges Rees’s ability to check at the line of scrimmage present.

“It’s give and take. They have an athletic quarterback a year ago, and now they have a quarterback who can maybe mentally get them in better plays,” Narduzzi said of Rees. “He does a lot of checking with one second to go, to get them in a perfect play, and that’s to their advantage if they can do that.

“It’s a big chess match. It’s a lot easier to check it on offense than it is on defense, I think. You can have one guy out of place on defense and it’s a big problem.”

Who wins the battle in the trenches? The interior of the Spartans defense is manned by two senior defensive tackles, sixth year player Tyler Hoover and fifth year senior Micajah Reynolds, who averaging 6-foot-6, 298-pounds between them, and eleven years in a college weight room. While the Spartans’ starting DEs aren’t mammoth, the front seven has upperclassmen starting everywhere, less Shilique Calhoun, who has been one of the breakout stars of the defense.

Finding a way to control the line of scrimmage, even if it means some tough sledding for a while, is going to be key if the Irish want to find some offensive balance. Still, it’s hard to see the Irish’s 91st ranked ground game make its breakout against this group.

Will the Irish live and die by the pass? 

When you hear the Irish head coach talk about “manufacturing runs” it leads you to believe that the Irish know it might be tough sledding up front. But controlling the football, and keeping on the positive ledger in the turnover department, is critical.

Not to mention throwing against this secondary. Tommy Rees will be challenged by some excellent personnel and this afternoon is a great test for TJ Jones, Davaris Daniels and company.

***

***

Can Notre Dame win the battle on third down?

Something has to give. The Spartans have been playing elite third down defense, allowing just 16 percent of opponents third downs to be converted so far this season. The past two seasons, the Irish haven’t been much better, with Notre Dame beating the Spartans both times despite converting less that 25 percent of their chances (including a 1-for-14 effort last season).

Tommy Rees has done an excellent job on third down thus far, converting 24 of 44 tries. If he can convert at the same clip this afternoon, Notre Dame will be in very good shape.

Will the Irish defense dominate the Spartan’s offense? It should. Outside of the offensive explosion against Youngstown State, the Spartans offense scored just two touchdowns against Western Michigan and South Florida.

The Spartans hope they’ve found something with Connor Cook, who played very well last weekend against Youngstown State. But the Spartans offense has yet to score more than a touchdown in each of the Irish’s last two wins.

Running back Jeremy Langford has been the primary ball carrier, but Nick Hill has been more dangerous. They’re listed as co-starters with battering ram Riley Bullough.

  1. irishaggie - Sep 21, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    The result of this game will depend on how quickly the Irish can get started offensively. If MSU falls behind they’re going to have a long day given their QB limitations. If ND falls behind watch out. MSU is very good defensively on obvious passing situations and can force many turnovers.

    20 points is the mark. If the Irish offense puts up more than 20 points they win the game.

    Vegas has the Irish at -5. I dont usually bet on ND to swollow the points and I wont today but I think they win 27-14

  2. 25kgold - Sep 21, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    17-10 Irish

    • dillonbigred - Sep 21, 2013 at 10:47 PM

      Pretty close!

  3. ibleedirish - Sep 21, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Sunday Morning Mass: 24
    Sunday Morning Hangover: 17

  4. seadomer - Sep 21, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    And let’s not forget “little giants”, this curse will last at least 10 years so 31 – 17 ND. Sparty will regret ever putting that play on ND

  5. alwayspositive11 - Sep 21, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. The secret to the game is in my name: alwayspositive. The Irish need to be in the positive in several areas.
    First is turnovers. Win the turnover margin, and they win the game.
    Second is penalties. The Irish need to commit fewer penalties than MSU, or at least keep the penalties to a minimum. Penalties kill drives. Whenever the Irish play a clean game, they usually win the game.
    They also need to be always positive on first down. Whenever the Irish have a three and out, it’s because they probably had a 2nd and ten. Get positive yards on every first down.
    And lastly, keep a positive mindset if you get down in the game. I loved how the Irish came back against Purdue. They didn’t lose their cool. That’s important. Let’s go guys! Always positive! Irish win 20-17.

    • North of Denver - Sep 21, 2013 at 1:55 PM

      alwayspositive11:

      are you Keith’s mom?

      • dickasman - Sep 21, 2013 at 2:13 PM

        Eazzzzzzzzzzzy Denver, layoff her, I got first dibs!

    • dickasman - Sep 21, 2013 at 2:12 PM

      Alwayspositive, I’d totally love to bang u out one day. You are working on me, kinda like a hott librarian. So shuttle n gentle, “I just want to make love to you” (joe Namath). I’m already looking past this season and forward to next season when we have a real qb and real defense.

  6. nudeman - Sep 21, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    3rd down conversions are tremendously underrated in terms of importance, IMO
    Convert a high % and you demoralize the defense, tire them out and win the time of possession battle

    My initial reaction to a 54% 3rd down conversion is that it sounds sort of “average” to me, not “excellent”.
    So I checked and ND ranks 19th in the nation. Not bad. Not “excellent” Keith, but pretty good.

    Top 20
    Columns are games played, total 3rd downs, total converted, and %
    Only 2 ND opponents are better; Navy and Stanford

    1 Georgia Tech 2 26 19 .731
    2 Stanford 2 26 18 .692
    3 Washington 2 31 21 .677
    4 Utah St. 3 46 30 .652
    5 Missouri 2 31 20 .645
    6 LSU 3 33 21 .636
    7 Florida St. 2 21 13 .619
    – Louisville 3 42 26 .619
    9 Baylor 2 23 14 .609
    10 Texas A&M 3 33 20 .606
    11 UCLA 2 27 16 .593
    12 Navy 2 24 14 .583
    13 Indiana 3 43 25 .581
    14 Ball St. 3 41 23 .561
    – Wisconsin 3 41 23 .561
    16 Oklahoma St. 3 36 20 .556
    17 Arkansas St. 3 47 26 .553
    18 UCF 3 38 21 .553
    19 Notre Dame 3 44 24 .545
    20 UTEP 2 28 15 .536

    • mtflsmitty - Sep 21, 2013 at 5:40 PM

      Ball State continues to look good putting up 51.

  7. lrbbz2013 - Sep 21, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    Can I watch the game live online from outside the US?

    I’ve heard yes but I think the fine print on nbcsports.com says it’s only available within the US.

    I’ve overseas now and having a bunch of people over to watch the game… not a good situation if we’re staring at a black screen. Thanks for any help!

    Go Irish

    • dickasman - Sep 21, 2013 at 2:18 PM

      Try googling live stream notre dame football in your country. Most likely you’ll have to go through bunch porno ads but sometimes it works. Use Mac if u can.

      If you can’t get it, look at the bright side. Who wants to see tiny white qb handoff to tiny white qb, run through large white man for 3 yards? Nothing to see here.

    • irishbornraised - Sep 21, 2013 at 2:55 PM

      http://firstrowus1.eu/sport/american-football.html

      This should have any and all games

      • dickasman - Sep 21, 2013 at 3:35 PM

        Irish, I don’t think u can use it on iPad though requires flash?

    • Keith Arnold - Sep 21, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      Yep. Streaming live at: http://ndstream.nbcsports.com/

      • dickasman - Sep 21, 2013 at 3:36 PM

        Keith, I think he’s in North Korea, don’t think that link works outside us

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