Spartans next big challenge for young Irish team

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Brian Kelly was happy with his team’s progress from Week One to Week Two. He’ll be even happier if his team makes the same leap in their third game.

That’ll likely mean Notre Dame retains the Megaphone Trophy. It’ll also mean the Irish found a way to take the next step in the evolution of a young team that’s showed the same type of resiliency that powered last year’s team to ten wins.

But to do that, the Irish will need to keep improving. And they’ll need to beat one of the most consistent programs of the last decade. Kelly acknowledged that on Tuesday, his weekly press conference as much about a look inward as Michigan State.

“I think the next step for this team is to play in all phases of the game at a higher level,” Kelly said. “We’re going to get that this week against a very good Michigan State football team.”

The phase that most wonder about are getting coached up this week by Brian VanGorder. Hopeful to build on a nice performance against Nevada, the Irish will face significantly upgraded personnel, but a team still finding its footing—the Spartans running out a veteran, but reshuffled, offensive line, an inexperienced receiving corps, and a new starting quarterback.

Of course, Notre Dame’s not without its challenges. A secondary that’s being rebuilt on the fly, linebackers facing another physical challenge, and a defensive front that desperately needs to get to the quarterback. But there was plenty of progress last weekend. And now that progress will need to take hold against a program that’s lost its share of frontline talent but certainly has shown an ability to rebuild.

Offensively, Michigan State’s defense will always be a challenge. Especially with a star like Malik McDowell. But the Spartans secondary isn’t the group that touted its No Fly Zone the last time the Irish took on Michigan State. And while the young Irish receivers will certainly be facing their stiffest challenge this season, Kelly had some simple advice for them.

“Run! Just keep running,” Kelly said, before comparing this young group favorably to the one that last played against the Spartans. “I think we’re in a better position. If they want to press us, we just need to run, run our routes, do what we do, and we’ll make enough plays.”

Putting all the pieces together is the next step. In front of a home crowd that’ll be far more excited than last weekend, Notre Dame has a chance to go toe-to-toe against a team that’s viewed as a Top 10 program. Exit with a win and they’ll go a long way towards rebuilding the momentum that escaped in double overtime against Texas.