The Spartans are coming into the game with a 2-0 record, home field advantage and a one-game winning streak against Notre Dame (a 36-28 win in 2016). Despite all of this, the Spartans are currently 4.5-point underdogs to the Fighting Irish, who enter the contest with a 2-1 record after dominating Boston College 49-20.
If Michigan State plans to beat Notre Dame for the second consecutive year, they are going to need to come out sharp and execute at every facet of the game. Here are five keys to victory for the Spartans.
1. Contain Brandon Wimbush
While Wimbush does not pose a huge threat with his arm, he is extremely dangerous with his legs. Wimbush displayed his running ability last week against Boston College, carving up the Eagles’ defense with 207 yards and four touchdowns, while averaging nearly 10 yards per tote. Wimbush also ran for more than 100 yards against Temple, but was shut down against Georgia. Michigan State needs to study the Georgia tape to see how to defend Wimbush and the option, and must always be aware of when he escapes the pocket, to keep the Notre Dame offense stagnant.
2. Stop Josh Adams and the rest of the Notre Dame rushing game
Wimbush wasn’t the only member of the Irish to gain rushing yards with ease against Boston College. Adams, a junior, dashed his way through the field for 229 yards off of just 18 attempts (12.7 average). Dexter Williams, also a junior, rushed for 50 yards on a mere six attempts and found the end zone twice. The MSU defense has allowed just 91.5 rushing yards per game, 3.1 yards per carry and zero touchdowns so far. The trenches are going to be a key battleground to determine the winner of this affair.
3. Brian Lewerke needs to step up under the lights
Lewerke has impressed so far this season, but everybody is quick to point out his competition level thus far. A lot of the Spartans’ success on Saturday will be a result of their signal caller’s play. The Notre Dame defense is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 56 percent of passes, and is holding opponents to 200 passing yards per game. The Irish also have six sacks through three games. Lewerke must make good decisions, throw accurate balls and remain poised. His feet are a weapon and he should continue to look for opportunities there, too.
4. Be physical and intense
Again, the team that owns the trenches and brings more physicality is going to control this game. Luke Campbell has looked strong as a redshirt freshmen, and the Spartans have only given up two sacks so far this season. Notre Dame’s defensive line struggled in the first half against Boston College, giving up 117 rushing yards, and 185 rushing yards for the game. MSU’s three-headed monster in the backfield is yet to take off, but each back will be important to wear down the Irish’s defense. Michigan State’s defensive line has gotten a good push in the interior and will need to continue that to stuff Notre’s Dame rushing attack.
5. Freshmen must be ready for a prime time matchup
When nearly half of your team is made up of true and redshirt freshmen, you have to be able to count on the youngins to contribute. So far, 19 total freshmen have played in a game — with 10 players being true freshmen. With even more freshmen players expected to get on the field this week (perhaps Dominique Long), it is imperative that they are prepared to play offense, defense or special teams, and do not get caught up in all of the lights and cameras. I don’t expect that to be an issue with this seemingly mature group, but Notre Dame will be this young’s team biggest challenge so far.
Those are my keys to victory for the Spartans. What are your keys? Vote in the poll and add your thoughts in the comments section below!
What is the biggest key to victory against Notre Dame?
This poll is closed
Shutting down the Notre Dame running backs
Controlling the trenches on both sides of the ball
Brian Lewerke’s play
Freshmen stepping up
Other (let us know in comments)