Previewing MSU at Notre Dame

Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
TV: NBC
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
Online Streaming: NBCSports.com

Game Week Q&A: Here and here
Forecast: 65 degrees, mostly sunny - A Beautiful Day For Football!
Predictions:
Here
Line: ND -4.5

With a quarterback set and a good performance finally behind them, MSU heads to Notre Dame for its first road game and the latest chapter in this HISTORICAL rivalry. Since Little Giants, MSU has lost two straight to the Irish. Notre Dame hasn't defeated MSU three years in a row since eight straight from 1987-1994. MSU won six straight in South Bend from 1997-2007, but they haven't won there since.

Brian Kelly replaced Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati and took the Bearcats to a BCS bowl before heading to South Bend. Dantonio is 1-2 against Kelly in their current jobs.

The Irish are coming off a 12-0 regular season and national championship game appearance. A year ago, they suffocated MSU 20-3, ending the Spartans' 15-game home winning streak. MSU looks to return the favor and move to 4-0 this Saturday.

Notre Dame's season to date (2-1): W 28-6 vs. Temple, L 41-30 at Michigan, W 31-24 at Purdue

By the numbers

4.12 - yards per carry for Notre Dame, which is No. 71 nationally.

4.88  - yards per carry for MSU.

8.7 - yards per pass attempt for Notre Dame.

5.2 - yards per attempts for MSU, which is No. 111 nationally.

2.9 - yards per play allowed by MSU, No. 1 nationally

5.31 - yards per play allowed by Notre Dame

45 percent - red zone touchdown scoring for Notre Dame (5/11 TDs, plus two FGs)

54.55 percent - Notre Dame's third down conversions, which is No. 19 nationally

0 - interceptions thrown by MSU, one of eight teams that have played three games

Three keys for MSU

Protect the quarterback: A year ago, MSU allowed four sacks and five quarterback hurries. Andrew Maxwell had no chance. Connor Cook can move around, but if his eyes always have to be on his protection rather than downfield, it's going to be a long day.

Turnovers: MSU hasn't thrown an interception, while the first-team offense has only lost one fumble. For a road upset, they can't afford giving away any possessions. MSU's defense has eight takeaways, and another few of those could be the key. Turnover Tommy hasn't quite appeared yet.

Pressure gets to Tommy Rees: Michigan and Purdue sat back in coverage, let Notre Dame move down the field, waiting for a mistake, which often came (see red zone numbers). MSU isn't going to do that. They'll blitz, like always, and that pressure has to get there, or else Rees could pick apart the single coverage.

Three keys for Notre Dame

Hit big passing plays: The biggest weakness for MSU's defense is the tendency to give up big plays, a result of leaving cornerbacks on islands. That will probably be the case again, and the Irish have some talented receivers and a quarterback who can make the throws.

Stop the run: A year ago, MSU averaged just 2.0 yards per carry, and the gameplan moved away from running because MSU fell behind. Mark Dantonio has since admitted that was a mistake, though the rushing game clearly wasn't working. MSU will try to establish the run in this one.

Run the ball: Notre Dame's rushing numbers are above. It has been a bit surprising to see the Irish can't move the ball against the ground against their opponents. MSU's rush defense is allowing just 1.84 yards per carry, but a respectable running game will open all sorts of things for Notre Dame's offense.

Prediction: Notre Dame 21-10

MSU's offense took a step forward last week, but a road test against a talented defense will bring things back down to earth. Given the injuries to MSU's offensive line — Travis Jackson and Fou Fonoti still nicked up — I don't think MSU will be able to control the line of scrimmage. Cook will be under pressure, but his running ability could result in some big plays. I'm not sure how well MSU will be able to run the ball with Jeremy Langford, Nick Hill and Riley Bullough.

On the other side, I see Tommy Rees checking into some deep passing plays that result in a few scores. MSU's pressure has to get there.

We figured this one was already going to be a loss before the season started. When Everett Golson was suspended, it made things look a little better, but the first two weeks of MSU's offense ended that. MSU isn't going to be playing for a national championship, so a loss isn't a killer here. What's key will be to see if MSU's offense can move the ball against a talented defense. After this week, it's a bye, so expect MSU to throw everything it' has. This could be a very exciting low-scoring game.

And to remember just how far things have come:

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