You can find my answers to his questions HERE at The Only Colors, and follow Chris @ChrisVannini on Twitter. Let's see what he has to say about this Saturday's matchup, and hopefully he doesn't go crazy and plant a flag anywhere on the site:
1. Following his performance last week against Youngstown State, the quarterback position appears to belong to Connor Cook. What does he bring to the table that Andrew Maxwell and the other MSU QBs don't have?
The word Mark Dantonio used throughout the whole quarterback battle was "create." Cook has the mobility that Maxwell doesn't. Given how Notre Dame has destroyed MSU's offensive line in the past two years, that mobility may be extremely important. Cook has a big arm, but his accuracy is spotty, and his decision-making is questionable at times. In all, we haven't seen him play a full game yet, so it's hard to have a full gauge on what he can do. But MSU got what it needed against Youngstown State: a quarterback to step up and take control.
Andrew Maxwell's biggest flaw was that the pieces around him didn't work, leaving him limited. When the line can't block and receivers can't open nor catch, there's nothing you can do. We've yet to see those pieces do that against a quality team this season, so we'll see how much support Cook gets.
2. The Michigan State defense ranks at or near the top of almost every statistical category, both advanced and traditional. What style of defense should we expect on Saturday, and what do you think the weakness is?
This is a heavy blitzing defense that doesn't want to give up an inch and wants to force mistakes. To me, this is the most interesting schematic storyline. In the past two weeks, I've seen Michigan and Purdue typically rush four and sit back in coverage, waiting for Notre Dame's offense to make a mistake, be it a turnover or a red zone flameout. MSU isn't going to do that. It's not Pat Narduzzi's style.
As a result, the defense can be prone to big plays, be it a deep pass or a draw or reverse that uses MSU's aggressiveness against itself. Michigan and Purdue wanted to avoid big plays and adjusted for that. MSU is just going to ask its blitzing to force bad throws and hope its corners will succeed on islands. MSU's defensive numbers over the last three years speak for themselves. Notre Dame hasn't moved the ball up and down the field against MSU in recent years, but they've gotten big plays and turned those opportunities into points.
3. Who is the one player on each side of the ball that most Notre Dame fans haven't heard of that will make a big impact on Saturday?
On offense, I'll go with Macgarrett Kings, a sophomore wide receiver who has emerged as the No. 1 guy. I mentioned problems with receiver drops last season. Kings shot up the depth chart in recent weeks because of his hands, and he made some tough catches in the last game against Youngstown State. But he's far from a proven commodity.
On defense, it should be Shilique Calhoun. The sophomore defensive end replaces Will Gholston and brings a better pass-rush ability. He has recovered three fumbles, returning two for touchdowns, and has an interception for a touchdown this season. He's a speedy guy who usually tries to get the edge. Getting pressure on the quarterback will be key for MSU, and Calhoun will be a big part of that.
4. Most Notre Dame fans feel that our defense is built to stop precisely the type of power-running offense that has been prevalent in most of the B1G (i.e. we're bigger than fast in the front 7). Does MSU have the athletes to make ND pay for their personnel, or will they still have success lining up and running it?
Well, a year ago when these teams met, MSU got away from its running game with Le'Veon Bell and resorted to passing the ball a lot, something Mark Dantonio has admitted was a mistake. This team doesn't have a Bell, but it uses a few backs who have done well this season in speedy Jeremy Langford, small Nick Hill and powerful Riley Bullough. Through three games this season, MSU has been passing the ball quite a bit, but I think had to do with finding a quarterback, partly. Reflecting on last year, I do think MSU will try to establish the run more. Will it work? It hasn't in the past two years.
If MSU is going to win, they need to be competitive up front. MSU typically suffers some bad injuries during or right before the Notre Dame game. Everyone is available this year, but a few guys are nicked up. I don't think MSU will be able to win this game if it's all on Cook's arm. MSU will need to be able to run the ball on that big Irish front. Will they be able to? They haven't shown an ability to in a few years against ND.
5. What is your final score prediction and how do they get there?
I'm going to go with a 21-10 Notre Dame win because they'll dominate at the line of scrimmage. A couple big passing plays from Rees to Jones will result in some touchdown drives, while MSU's offense won't get off the ground because its offensive line gets destroyed.