clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Notre Dame Football: Michigan State Spartans Preview

Your 1-1 Irish have a pivotal match-up Saturday afternoon against the Michigan State Spartans — here’s everything that will happen, folks!

Football - NCAA - Notre Dame Blue vs. Gold Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Ladies and gentlemen, not sure if you’ve heard, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has some BIG games coming up.

In what appears to be a Saturday doubleheader, your favorite 1-1 football team will be time traveling and playing some potentially tough opponents. First, the Irish will look to bounce back from a rough 38-34 loss at Michigan last week by winning a home tilt against the Michigan State Spartans at 2 PM ET. Then, the crew will hop in the DeLorean, pick up a new head coach, and zoom off to a Labor Day Weekend, blue blood match up against the Texas Longhorns on Saturday evening.

Even during shelter-at-home time here in Chicago, I DO still have to work my day job, meaning I simply don’t have time to preview BOTH games. So, I’ve chosen to pull together what I think will happen in the first contest against MSU, considering that was will be just my second home game as a Notre Dame student. Freshman year is super fun so far!!!

Really cool they let a blind student pick the color of “The Shirt” this year!

Anyway, the Irish got off to a hot start with their season, shellacking the Nevada Wolfpack 35-0 in Week 1 on the mighty back of sophomore standout WR Michael Floyd, who managed to only catch 4 passes, but did a deeeecent amount of damage in catching those 4 passes by averaging 47 yards per catch and scoring 3 touchdowns, including an 88-yarder and a 70-yarder.

Of course, Nevada isn’t very good this season, and I don’t think any of their players are anything to get worked up about. For instance, Wolfpack quarterback Colin Kaepernick was hyped up a lot heading into that game, but was held in check as he went 12-of-23 for 149 yards, 0 TDs, and 2 INTs while only managing to run for 39 yards. That guy has no future in this sport, and I don’t think we will ever hear much about him again.

The pie-in-the-sky optimism that sprang from that season opener came crashing back to earth last weekend, however, as the Irish allowed a previously unknown QB by the name of Tate Forcier to throw a game-winning touchdown pass with 11 seconds remaining and the Irish previously up 34-31. The final score was 38-34, in favor of the Wolverines.

It was a tough loss to swallow, but Forcier is obviously a budding star and there’s no shame in him beating you with the performance he had: 23-for-33 passing with 240 yards, 2 touchdown passes, 1 interception that was his receiver’s fault, and 70 rushing yards plus another TD on the ground. I would not be surprised if he makes a run at the Heisman Trophy before his collegiate career is complete, and I also think we’ll hear his name on Sundays, for sure. Guy is a star.

Now, your 1-1 Irish come back home to host the 1-1 Spartans, who are also coming off a heartbreaking loss to a Michigan-based opponent, dropping their game last week to the Central Michigan Chippewas 29 to 27.

I gotta quickly say, losing to that team is fairly embarrassing for MSU — not sure anyone noteworthy has or ever will be associated with that CMU program. Like, for random example, imagine having a coach who used to coach at Central Michigan?

Wow, that would be bad news for your team if they’re stooping that low to hire someone with that weak of a resume. And losing to CMU is equally as embarrassing as that random example, in my humble opinion — not sure Mark Dantonio will ever find success in East Lansing. But I guess they figure they’ll let him keep slogging along aimlessly, eh? Not like they could possibly compete for any big-time postseason berths.

With all that said and with both teams looking to get back on the right side of .500, what should we know about the match-ups? Let’s dive into the details and see what we’re working with, folks.

Michigan State Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

Michigan State’s offense is nothing crazy-scary, you guys.

They have a QB who honestly has no shot at ever making it past the collegiate level — some guy named Kurt Cousins?*

*Editor’s Note: It apparently is actually “Kirk” Cousins, but I am making this note instead of just correcting the typo to emphasize how bad I think that guy is.

Anyway, I just don’t see any way that he has a somewhat decent game on Saturday — no shot he completes, I don’t know, like 65.7% of his passes or eclipses the 300-yard mark. And his chances of both throwing for a touchdown and also being intercepted — potentially in a crucial moment of the game? Doubt that, very strongly.

Outback Bowl - Michigan State v Georgia Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

The Spartans running game is really what you need to watch out for in this game, as RB Edwin Baker is poised to put up big numbers on the day. I imagine he will get most of the carries, while Larry Caper probably won’t manage to run for 50+ yards or score twice — he just won’t be involved enough to do that, because of Baker.

MSU has a number of receivers that some are saying will do some cool things in this game, but considering Cousins is going to perform as I outlined above, let me be the first to call out that someone like BJ Cunningham won’t be catching 7 passes for nearly 75 yards, and that Mark Dell certainly can’t produce at the level of a receiver who passes 100 yards receiving in a game and reels in more than 5 receptions. The Irish secondary simply won’t allow it.

Also, Blair White may seem sneaky-good, but it’s because he ain’t played nobody! That guy just isn’t an elite-enough athlete to reel in 6 balls for 75 yards and a couple scores, and he sure as shit won’t have a cup of coffee in the NFL while being thrown to by one of the best QBs of all-time. You’d be crazy to think that.

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

A couple receivers that could do some damage are WR Keshawn Martin and TE Dion Sims. I could see both those guys going off on Saturday, while lesser receivers like TEs Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum have no shot of chipping in 5 catches and 65 yards combined. NOT HAPPENING.

On the Irish defense, key guys to watch include true freshman LB Manti Te’o and S Jamoris Slaughter, as they’re a couple young, elite athletes that will stuff the stat sheet with tackles and just dominate the Spartans.

I’ve heard people saying guys like S Kyle McCarthy and LB Brian Smith and WKWPHI (Who Knows What Position He Is) Harrison Smith will turn in big games, but I just think the Spartans will find a way to neutralize them, specifically. McCarthy just isn’t a playmaker or a closer, and Harrison Smith clearly is an overrated athlete who will go pro in something other than football.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Other guys I like and think have very bright futures, either at ND or in the NFL very soon: Darius Fleming, Gary Gray, Ethan Johnson, Kerry Neal, John Ryan. Look for them to carry the guys who I think are simply busts, like Sergio Brown, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ian Williams, Robert Blanton, and Darrin Walls.

Like, Lewis-Moore isn’t gonna be forcing any fumbles in this game, you guys — and obviously role player Toryan Smith sure as hell won’t be recovering said fumbles. What a weird thought to have!

Kentucky v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Anyway, overall, I expect the Spartans offense to probably run for a couple hundred yards while Curt Kousins struggles to move the ball through the air. That running game may just be enough for MSU to win this one, though.

The Irish defense will not be ready to stop it — that much I can promise you. Although with Jon Tenuta as Defensive Coordinator now, perhaps this is the year they finally have the schematic advantage we’ve been waiting for...that guy just KNOWS what he’s doing.

Boston College v North Carolina State Photo by Peyton Williams/NCSU/Getty Images

Offensive Spartan to Watch

RB Edwin Baker

I can’t stress enough how much action this guy is going to get, and how destructive he will likely be to a defensive line and linebacking group for Notre Dame that simply doesn’t have any talent or good players. Baker may run for 150+ if the Irish don’t have a smart game plan.

Michigan State v Penn State

Defensive Irish to Watch

LB Manti Te’o

He may just be a freshman, but this guy is going to have a MONSTER game, doing the heavy lifting in tracking down all those Spartan ball carriers and probably forcing a turnover or two. He hasn’t intercepted any passes yet in his young Irish career, but I imagine he will definitely do so soon, and not wait until his last season in a gold helmet or anything.

Seattle Seahawks v San Diego Chargers Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Halftime Funtime

Best Names in the Game

  1. Notre Dame WR Golden Tate
  2. MSU DE Denzel Drone
  3. Notre Dame DB Jamoris Slaughter
  4. MSU OT Rocco Cironi
  5. Notre Dame TE Bobby Burger
  6. MSU DT Kevin Pickelman
  7. MSU DT Dan France
  8. MSU LB Tyquan Hammock
  9. MSU OG Hugh Stangeland
  10. MSU OG Jared McGaha
  11. Notre Dame OL Braxston Cave
  12. Notre Dame DB Gary Gray (first name can be rearranged to be the last name, that is amazing)
  13. MSU RB Larry Caper
  14. MSU LB Jeremy Gainer (would have been ranked higher if he were a RB)
  15. MSU OG Micajah Reynolds
  16. MSU OT J’Michael Deane
  17. Notre Dame WR Duval Kamara
  18. Notre Dame DB Zeke Motta
  19. Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o
  20. Notre Dame DL Kapron Lewis-Moore
  21. Notre Dame DL Paddy Mullen
  22. MSU DE Johnathan Strayhorn
  23. Notre Dame LB Carlo Calebrese
  24. Notre Dame RB Armando Allen Jr.
  25. Notre Dame RB Theo Riddick
  26. MSU FB Andrew Pendy
  27. MSU S Denicos Allen
  28. Notre Dame DB Sergio Brown
  29. Notre Dame DB Raeshon McNeil
  30. Notre Dame DL Emeka Nwankwo

Best Basketball Team I Could Make from the Players on the Rosters

1. MSU NT Michael Jordan

Pretty self-explanatory — the GOAT.

51st NAACP Image Awards - Arrivals Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

2. MSU LB Eric Gordon

An Indiana high school basketball legend and a really good shooter in the NBA for many years now — perfect complementary piece to Jordan’s ability to get to the hoop and act brilliantly in award-winning dramas and action movies.

Western Conference Semifinals - Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Notre Dame OT Sam Young

Very good player at Pitt and then a lovable, offensively-challenged role player for a number of years in the pros.

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game Five Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

MSU RB A.J. Jimmerson

He’s Jimmer’s son, so you KNOW A.J. is shooting his shot at all times — need that fearlessness on any hoops squad.

Top 2011 NBA Draft Prospects Host Clinic For Special Olympics New York Athletes

Notre Dame WR John Goodman

I honestly couldn’t find a 5th name that worked, so I chose John Goodman because he played Sully in Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University, and he seemed to be a pretty big, physical, athletic, and scary dude. Definitely could use a monster like him patrolling the paint.

Premiere Props And Super Auctions Present Hollywood Roadshow Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images


In my research of the 2009 MSU football roster, I stumbled upon the 2009 Michigan State football media guide (I think?). I was searching through the list of MSU’s coaches for a 5th basketball-related name, and to my chagrin, I did not find that.

However, as I scrolled deeper and deeper into the MSU football administration, I discovered something MUCH more entertaining — perhaps the greatest collection of names I have ever seen in one workplace.

It started slow, with a Director of Football Operations named after Tim the Tool Man immediately followed by a Director of Personnel/Player Development & Relations with a rhyming, old-timey crooner kind of name.

From there, though, chaos ensued. I got into the graduate assistants and speed coaches and video interns and secretaries and the general athletic administration, and before you know it, I had the below list of WONDERFUL names I had never heard of before in my life, but will now never forget.

  1. Dino Folino, Director of Personnel/Player Development & Relations
  2. Bob Knickerbocker, Athletic Equipment Coordinator
  3. Earlston Bean, Event Coordinator
  4. David Diffenderffer, Video Producer
  5. Chuck Sleeper, Senior Associate Athletics Director/Director of Development
  6. Kort Shankweiler, Offensive Graduate Assistant
  7. Ferris Eways, Defensive Graduate Assistant
  8. Tim Allen, Director of Football Operations
  9. Shelley Appelbaum, Senior Associate Athletics Director/Senior Women’s Administrator
  10. Scot Schlesinger, Director of Sales & Marketing

Honorable Mention: Rick Church, Sports Broadcasting Director; Martin Jarmond, Assistant Athletics Director/Development

I want to thank the Michigan State Athletics Department for making this all possible — those first 6 names, especially, will forever be a source of joy and optimism for me going forward, as they are a concrete reminder that there IS still good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.

Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan State Defense

On the other side of the ball, I think we see this Pat Narduzzi defense put some major clamps on this Irish offense.

Jimmy Clausen has been able to toss it all over the field in the first two games this year, but I am POSITIVE he won’t be able to throw for 300 yards again, complete 70+% of his passing attempts, or manage multiple passing touchdowns without turning the ball over. That’s about as likely as backup QB Dayne Crist getting two pass attempts, throwing for negative yardage on one, and managing to toss a pick on the other. That just doesn’t happen.

South Dakota State at Kansas football Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The guy to watch for the Irish, in my opinion, is RB Robert Hughes. The junior is more of a bruiser than his classmate, starting RB Armando Allen Jr., and so I think we will see him get the lion’s share of the carries and also catch at least one pass out of the backfield for some wildly positive results.

Allen, on the other hand, I do not expect much from here. The MSU defense is big and physical and his small stature won’t allow him to average 5 yards per carry, run for a buck-fifteen, or scamper for a rushing touchdown. That’s pretty much as inconceivable as him throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass, or wearing a Leprechaun hat on the field, LOL.

Michigan State v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Spartan DBs will clearly focus on shutting down Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, and Kyle Rudolph as well. With Floyd, I imagine they will give him tons of receptions all day, but will keep him out of the end zone. Meanwhile, they will limit touches for Tate and Rudolph, locking them down and not allowing them to combine for 13 catches, 222 yards, and a touchdown.

Tate especially will have no opportunities to do something super awesome and memorable, like swan dive into the Michigan State marching band on the go-ahead touchdown, or something. That’s just out of the question against a team like MSU.

Waste Management Phoenix Open - Preview Day 3 Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

Robby Parris will be a non-factor in terms of contributing any points for the Irish, but definitely look out for Duval Kamara — the junior has been a bit of a bust so far in his career, but I imagine he will have his biggest moments in an Irish uniform on Saturday afternoon, and definitely not, say, in an emotional upset over Utah in 2010 (I just picked a random game from next year’s schedule — obviously there’s almost no chance ND is the underdog at home vs. the Utes next year...HA!).

Michigan State’s defense under Pat Narduzzi is, as I mentioned, elite. Narduzzi is going to be a HIGHLY successful head coach someday, by the way — there’s no way he struggles in his first HC gig, especially if it’s at, like, an ACC school or something. Dude is ELITE.

Virginia Tech v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Anyway, when looking at the Spartans defense, the media will certainly tell you about linebacker Greg Jones, safeties Eric Gordon, Marcus Hyde, and Trenton Robinson, and CB Jeremy Ware. But honestly, I don’t see any of those guys making the big plays. Robinson really doesn’t strike me as a ball-hawking safety who could pick off even Dayne Crist if he were to hypothetically throw two passes in this game, and I doubt Gordon and Ware could manage 2 pass deflections and even half of a sack between the two of them.

No, instead, I think the big names to look out for here are DT Oren Wilson, S Danny Fortener, DT Jerel Worthy, DE Trevor Anderson, DE Colin Neely, and QB Burke Cousins. I see those guys as a group that EATS UP tackles for their team, not a crew that manages to just make 10 tackles combined (1.7 tackles per player). Curtis Cousins will make sure they do better than that, as I expect him to finish 29th on the team in tackles this year — just a hunch, folks.

Overall, I think this physical MSU defense will significantly slow down, and expose, this Notre Dame offense, as they just don’t have enough NFL-caliber skill position players to compete.

Hughes will carry the load for a while, but he is only one man, and God knows Jonas Gray won’t be able to chip in even 24 yards on 6 yards per carry. That guy stinks and will never see any success, even briefly, at the professional level.

Defensive Spartan to Watch

DC Pat Narduzzi

It’s only a matter of time until a blue blood program anoints him as the chosen one for their open head coaching position, and he takes his flawless defensive philosophy from East Lansing and starts winning championships wherever he ends up. Talent will flock to him, and he will prosper and definitely not have some mediocre record as a head coach, like 36-29 or something lame like that.

Pittsburgh v Georgia Tech Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Offensive Irish to Watch

WR Shaq Evans

He’s only a freshman and I know I didn’t mention him at all above, but the highly-touted wideout prospect is DUE for a breakout game in this one, and I expect it will be the first of many contests over the next 3+ years in which we see Evans cement himself as an Irish great akin to legendary wideouts like Tim Brown, Rocket Ismail, Derrick Mayes, and Joey Getherall.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers v Saskatchewan Roughriders Photo by Brent Just/Getty Images

Special Teams???

I don’t have too much to mention here, besides the fact that I think the Irish should bench Theo Riddick with regards to his kick return duties. He doesn’t have the vision or shiftiness to return a kick for 38 yards in this game, and honestly I don’t ever think he will contribute much on the offensive side of the ball either.

He won’t ever be able to cement himself as the #1 RB over his classmate Cierre Wood, even if Wood is suspended for a game and in the doghouse for being caught smoking weed for the 1,000th time. And he definitely doesn’t have the hands to handle a position switch to receiver his junior year — would YOU trust that guy to make a clutch 3rd down grab in the rain against Stanford during a College Gameday game? Yeah, me neither.

Arizona Cardinals v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Otherwise, I just have a couple kicking-related predictions here...pretty basic stuff:

  • I cannot possibly envision both teams’ kickers having the same number of field goal attempts or extra point attempts. That won’t happen.
  • Even more of a cold take: it’s virtually a certainty that we won’t have a situation where both guys miss an extra point on the day. How wild would that be?
  • I think ND kicker Nick Tausch will miss half of his field goals, while MSU kicker Brett Swenson will be perfect on the day

Alright, Let’s Predict the Result of This One

Notre Dame 30, Michigan State 33

I think the Irish will keep it close, but I don’t see any way, based on what I outlined above, that the Spartans don’t come out of South Bend with a win. I’ve got a feeling this will launch them into a big win over Wisconsin next weekend, but then they will stumble a bit during a stretch against Michigan, Illinois, and Northwestern, dropping all three of those games.

Meanwhile, the Irish’s loss will likely be a shot to their confidence, and I expect they will drop next week’s game to Washington as well — probably in a blowout that never had a shot of going to overtime. However, I think ND rebounds nicely with a big win over a top-10 USC squad despite a boring speech from Rocket Ismail the night prior. But the happiness is short-lived, as I expect them to then completely blow it with back-to-back losses to Boston College and Washington State (look for the Cougars to connect on a Hail Mary for a TD — just a feeling I have).

Anyway, really excited for this game, hoping I am wrong about at least some of this — Go Irish!

Connecticut v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images