September 15, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans center Travis Jackson (63) prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Andrew Maxwell (not pictured) during 1st quarter at Spartan Stadium against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Week 4 Preview: No. 22 Notre Dame vs Michigan State

No. 22 Notre Dame heads back to the friendly confines of South Bend to host Michigan State. The Irish (2-1) are coming of a close win against Purdue. The Spartans (3-0) are leaving home for the the first time this season.

This will be the third Big Ten opponent in a row for the Irish (begging the question, why doesn’t Notre Dame join the Big Ten?). So far, the season has been a struggle. Notre Dame defeated Temple with relative ease, but were embarrassed defensively in a loss to Michigan and need some fourth quarter heroics on offense to overcome Purdue.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Irish as Michigan State boasts one of the best defenses in the country. Notre Dame is still struggling to find a scheme on defense that is effective and is in need of consistency on offense.

Here’s what to watch for:

  • State Defense. Michigan State has one of the best defenses in the country. They currently rank first in yards allowed and are 12th in scoring (giving up just 12 points per game. But is this a product of a truly great defense or is it the opponents? MSU has faced Western Michigan, South Florida, and Youngstown State. Not exactly awe inspiring opponents. This is the first quality opponent for the Spartans. How they attack the Irish’s run game and wideout DaVaris Daniels will dictate the tone of the game. But after struggling against Purdue, Notre Dame will likely have issues against MSU.
  • DaVaris Daniels. Daniels went off on Purdue it the fourth quarter for two touchdowns. He has the potential to be one of the best receivers in the country, but Tommy Rees has to get the ball to him consistently. He is especially a problem in the red zone with a 6-2 200-pound frame, and that happens to be where the Spartans are weakest. Granted their opponents have only reached the red zone five times, but they have scored on every attempt. Rees needs to exploit this matchup as MSU’s starting corners give up either size, Trae Waynes at 185-pounds, or height, Darqueze Dennard at 5-11.
  • Attack the Strength? Michigan State has one of the best rush defenses in the country, limiting opponents to just 50 yards per game. The Irish haven’t exactly had a stellar rushing attack this season, but seem committed to the run. Amir Carlisle is a scat back with a lot of speed but between the tackles he is likely to get crushed by MSU. Brian Kelly would be wise to give Cam McDaniel the start and utilize his abilities as a power runner to smash through the front seven. Getting a running game established will opening the passing lanes for Rees and allow for play action shots down the field. If the running game is hampered too much, it will force Rees to attempt more passes which is something that Kelly doesn’t want to do.
  • Show some Defense. The past two weeks have been awful for the Notre Dame defense. The Irish allowed Purdue’s bottom tier offense to move the ball at will and were ripped apart by Michigan’s Devin Gardner. Kelly and his staff have to right the ship this week and prove that the defense is still solid. That means shutting down the the Spartans run game, something they have done very well in their previous two meetings. They also need something resembling decent middle linebacker play. Kelly has stated that he’s unhappy with Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox’s play at the position, specifically pointing out that their pass coverage is awful and that they give up everything underneath to opposing QBs.

While Michigan State does appear to have a very good defense, I am inclined to believe that their stellar numbers are more a product of opponent than true talent. That’s not to diminish the Spartans, but facing Notre Dame will be a real test of their abilities.

I have a feeling that this one will be close, but being at home will give the Irish the advantage.

Notre Dame wins, 24-21.

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Tags: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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