Thursday, September 13, 2012

Notre Dame-Michigan St. Preview

Here is my preview of the Notre Dame-Michigan St. game, in my previews I talk about each teams positional group, before looking at how it compares to the opposing team.

Notre Dame QB's: Everett Golson remains the starter at quarterback for the Irish. Golson threw for 289 yards on 21 completions (out of 31 attempts) in the 20-17 win over Purdue. On the season he has completed 33 of 49 passes for 433 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. He also has completed 67.3 percent of his passes. However, he hurt his hand late against Purdue and the 2011 starting quarterback Tommy Rees came in to close the game out and helped bring the Irish down into field goal range so Kyle Brindza could come in and kick the game winning field goal. Golson will be fine and will be the starter against Michigan St.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan St. Pass Defense: The Spartans have allowed 342 passing yards and has intercepted 3 passes as well. They have not allowed a passing touchdown either. Golson improved upon his first start on Navy and was able to get the ball to Tyler Eifert and Davaris Daniels. The pass defense of Michigan St. is ranked 28th in the nation overall in yards allowed along with opposing quarterbacks only completing 45.7 passing yards as well and will be a bigger challenge for the Irish in comparison to previous opponents.

Edge: Even

Michigan St. QB's: Andrew Maxwell is the new starter for the Spartans after losing Kirk Cousins to graduation. Maxwell, a junior has completed 42 of 69 passes for 523 yards and 2 touchdowns, but has thrown for 3 interceptions. Maxwell has also completed 60.9 percent of his passes. His backup, Connor Cook, a freshman, completed 5 of 6 passes for 47 yards and an interception on the season.

Michigan State Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense: The Irish have allowed 390 passing yards on the season and all 3 touchdowns allowed on the season were passing touchdowns. However, Notre Dame has intercepted 3 passes as well. The Irish are 45th in the nation in yards allowed, but opposing quarterbacks have completed 57.9 percent of passes as well. The secondary has been one of the issues going into the season for Notre Dame, but managed to keep a passing team in Purdue under 200 passing yards despite top defensive back Jamoris Slaughter being hurt for most of the game, but Slaughter will be fine for the game against the Spartans. Also to note is that the only touchdowns allowed by Michigan St. to opposing teams all season are interceptions returned for touchdowns in each game.

Edge: Even

Notre Dame RB's: The Irish will welcome back Cierre Wood from a two-game suspension, Wood is a junior and two year starter who rushed for 1,102 yards and 9 touchdowns in the 2011 season (and also the first 1,000 yard running back since Darius Walker in 2006). Wood's return gives Notre Dame a solid rotation at running back with Theo Riddick, George Atkinson III, and Cam McDaniel. Riddick is the leading rusher on the season with 160 yards on 34 carries along with 2 touchdowns. George Atkinson III has 99 yards on 10 carries and has 2 touchdowns as well. Cam McDaniel has 60 yards on 9 carries as well, but all of his yards came against Navy.

Notre Dame Rushing Offense vs. Michigan St. Rushing Defense: The Irish have rushed for 345 yards and 6 touchdowns on the season with the running game averaging 4.2 yards a carry. Michigan St. has a strength in its run defense being ranked 11th nationally. They are allowing 109 yards on 46 carries to give an average 2.37 yards a rush. The Spartans have also not allowed a single rushing touchdown all season as well. To note, however, Michigan State faced a Boise St. team that lost its top rusher from last season who was a 1,000+ yard back and had double digit rushing touchdowns and was also a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Regardless, this will be an interesting matchup as the ground game of Notre Dame's will be one of the best Michigan St. will face all season as well.

Edge: Even

Michigan St. RB's: Similar to Javon Ringer in 2008, Michigan St. primarily leans on Le'Veon Bell. Bell has 62 of the teams 93 carries and leads the way with 280 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. Backing him are Larry Caper who has 77 rushing yards on 12 carries. Nick Hill has also had 14 yards on 6 carries and has the only other rushing touchdown. Considering how Michigan St. is using a new quarterback and is heavily inexperienced at the receiving position, they will likely rely on Bell for most of the game.

Michigan St. Rushing Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense: Notre Dame has allowed 239 rushing yards this season and has not allowed a single rushing touchdown all season either. The Notre Dame defense up front has done a very good job this season in containing the run and held an option team in Navy well below the norm for them and held Purdue under 100 rushing yards. Le'Veon Bell will be the best running back the Irish face so far this season and will provide a key matchup. If the Irish contain Le'Veon Bell, it will easily force Michigan St. to rely on inexperienced passing game.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame WR's and TE's: Davaris Daniels has had a good start to his first season playing for Notre Dame after redshirting in 2011. The redshirt freshman has 6 catches for 119 yards, but was injured late against Purdue. However, Daniels should be okay to play against the Spartans. Tyler Eifert has been the leading receiver on the season for Notre Dame with 8 receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown. TJ Jones also has been a key player with 5 grabs for 44 yards and a touchdown. Depending on how Daniels is, look for the Irish to keep using multiple tight ends, Troy Niklas has made 2 big receptions in each game with a 30 yard and 29 yard grab to give him 59 yards on the season. It would be ideal to involve him more in the passing game, along with the other freshmen in Justin Ferguson, Davonte Neal, and Chris Brown. Robby Toma also is underrated and should be involved more as stated time and time again.

Notre Dame WR's vs. Michigan St. Secondary: Michigan St. has done well in forcing incompletions allowing only 45.7 percent of passes to be complete and three different defensive backs have intercepted passes this season for the Spartans. Regardless of how much Daniels gets used, look for Eifert and Niklas at tight end to be huge size mismatches for the Michigan St. defense as the biggest defensive back is safety Jairus Jones at 6'1'' and 205 lbs. While the Notre Dame receivers are talented, but young, it still makes for an interesting matchup in these two areas.

Edge: Even

Michigan State WR's and TE's: This unit was heavily decimated by losses to graduation that lost three starting Wide Receivers and the starting tight end. Going into the season the returning leaders at wide receiver was Tony Lippett with 4 receptions for 44 yards and tight end Dion Sims with 12 receptions for 99 yards and 3 touchdowns. Bennie Fowler has been the leading receiver with 10 catches for 135 yards and touchdown while tight end Dion Sims has 10 receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown. Tony Lippett has 5 catches for 83 yards and
DeAnthony Arnett has a 48 yard catch on the season. This unit is amongst the weakest units on this team due to the inexperience after significant loses.

Michigan State WR's vs. Notre Dame Secondary: The Irish have managed to exceed expectations with a very young secondary. Bennett Jackson recorded a pair of interceptions in the win over Purdue. Considering the inexperience of both units, it is overall a more even matchup and can determine how a young Notre Dame secondary performs this season. Fowler and Sims are the best players the Spartans have in the passing game, and it is important to contain those two players.

Edge: Even

Notre Dame OL: The offensive line of the Irish struggled against a strong Purdue defensive front that was led by Kawann Short. Mike Golic Jr. was continually harassed all game long as Notre Dame allowed 5 sacks in the game. The line will need to improve on an underwhelming performance that also featured captain Zach Martin getting flagged even.

Notre Dame OL vs. Michigan St. DL: The Spartans strength is in the defensive line that despite the losses of a first team All-American (and 2nd round draft pick) Jerel Worthy and other interior lineman, is still an elite unit. It is headlined by William Gholston, a massive defensive end at 6'7'' and 275 lbs. Gholston and Marcus Rush are the top defensive ends that have done a good job in pressuring quarterbacks but the defense as a whole has only notched a single sack all season.

Edge: Michigan St.

Michigan St. OL: The Spartans have done a good job in opening up holes for Le'Veon Bell to run through, the unit is very experienced and had minimal losses to graduation. The unit had most of its returning starters come back and is one of the most important units for Michigan St.

Michigan St. OL vs. Notre Dame DL: Michigan St. has not allowed any sacks at all this season, but faces one of the best defensive lines in college football in Notre Dame. Stephon Tuitt has been an absolute force with 4 sacks (#2 in the nation) and Louis Nix III plugs up the middle and also has great in batting down passes. The defensive has accounted for 7 sacks this season and is one of the best areas for the Irish as they face a strong offensive line of the Spartans.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame DL: The Notre Dame defensive line has been one of the biggest strengths this season for the Irish. Stephon Tuitt has had a very strong season so far that has featured a 77 yard fumble return for a touchdown, 4 sacks that is second best in college football, 4 tackles for loss, and has done a great job in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Louis Nix III has done a great job in getting into opposing backfields with 3 tackles for loss and has been deflected two passes as well. Kapron Lewis-Moore provides the veteran presence as well, and the defensive has done great with using players in the first season starting, notably with freshman Sheldon Day and redshirt freshman Tony Springmann as well.

Notre Dame DL vs. Michigan St. OL: The Irish defensive line faces an offensive line that protected the quarterback with zero sacks allowed and is a veteran unit as well. Tuitt and Nix in particular will be major challenges for the offensive line of Michigan St. to contain and will be another reason as to why this game will be determined in the trenches.

Edge: Notre Dame

Michigan St. DL: Like the Irish, one of Michigan St.'s biggest strengths is in its defensive line that is deep and led by ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush. Both have done a great job in pressuring quarterbacks, but Gholston has the teams only sack on the season. Regardless, this is one of the most elite units for the Spartans and is strongest on the outside with defensive ends Gholston and Rush.

Michigan St. DL vs. Notre Dame OL: The Notre Dame offensive line had a tough time on the inside with Purdue's strength being in the interior defensive line, and now takes on a Michigan St. team that has it's strength in the defensive ends this time. After giving up 5 sacks to Purdue, look for the Irish to improve against Michigan St., but won't have the edge.

Edge: Michigan St.

Notre Dame LB's: Manti Te'o is the heart of the Notre Dame defense and leads the linebacker unit and the defense overall with 18 tackles and an interception. Te'o is one of the best players in all of college football. The unit had a boost with the return of Calabrese back from suspension. The unit is able to rotate players often and is a deep one at that which returned almost everyone from 2011. Danny Spond has also been cleared to play against Michigan St. after being out with injury.

Notre Dame LB's vs. Michigan St.: Look for the linebackers to be in run support while accounting for tight end Dion Sims as well, the linebackers will be counted on to help contain Le'Veon Bell of Michigan St. If the linebackers are able to get business done in stopping the run game, it will force the Spartans to be one-dimensional.

Edge: Notre Dame

Michigan St. LB's: This unit is one of the best for Michigan St. as it returned intact and featured the 3 of the top 4 tacklers from 2011 coming back. Max Bullough leads the team with 11 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. The other returning starters are Chris Norman and Denicos Allen (11 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2011) and all three are upper clansmen on top of this and Bullough and Norman were highly rated coming out of high school as well. This unit helps give Michigan St. a strong front seven.

Michigan St. LB's vs. Notre Dame: The Spartans will face one of the best run game units they face all season that welcomes back previously suspended Cierre Wood, who missed the games against Navy and Purdue. It will come down to how the front seven of Michigan St. performs, but the front seven is the best part overall for Michigan St.

Edge: Michigan St.

Notre Dame DB's: This is seen as one of the youngest and most inexperienced units for the Irish coming into the season, but they have managed to exceed expectations despite losses in recruiting, graduation, injuries, etc. Bennett Jackson leads the team with 2 interceptions (both vs. Purdue). KeiVarae Russell has done a solid job after being moved over from running back. The best defensive back, Jamoris Slaughter, was injured against Purdue but has been cleared to play against the Spartans and will be good to go. Zeke Motta leads all defensive backs with 14 tackles and also has a tackle for loss as well. In light of Slaughter's injury and facing a passing team in Purdue, the Irish were able to get younger players in and have valuable playing time, which will be beneficial down the road.

Notre Dame DB's vs. Michigan St. WR's: Notre Dame has the benefit of playing against a team that is possibly less experienced in the receiving area than Notre Dame is at in the secondary. The Spartans will try to lean on Le'Veon Bell, but look out for Dion Sims and Bennie Fowler in the passing game, both lead the Spartans in the catching game. The secondary has been able to hold both opponents this season below 200 passing yards and should be able to do so against a young receiving unit that Michigan St. has.

Edge: Even

Michigan St. DB's: Michigan St. lost only one player in this unit from graduation (#3 tackler overall and a sixth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft), and has so far done a great job in not allowing any passing touchdowns so far. Johnny Adams is the best player of the group has had made the All Big-10 lists in past seasons and has 1 of Michigan St.'s 3 interceptions on the season as well.

Michigan St. DB's vs. Notre Dame WR's: The biggest task for Michigan St.'s secondary is stopping Tyler Eifert. He can line up in many different spots on offense and is a major threat along with Troy Niklas, who has caught a couple of long passes thrown his way. The Spartans have done a good job in the pass defense, but have to account for the best tight end in college football and a young, but talented receiving unit as well.

Edge: Even

Notre Dame Kicking Game: After missing his first field goal, Kyle Brindza responded with consecutive field goals of 30 and 27 yards, with the 27 yard field goal being a game winner over Purdue with 7 seconds remaining in the game. Nick Tausch had an injury after making his lone field goal attempt against Navy, but has missed a couple of extra points in that same game as well. It is likely that Brindza will remain the number one kicker after rebounding from an early miss to make two very important field goals. Ben Turk has been doing a good job at punting with a 40.6 yard average on 7 punts, and has hit long punts, pinned opponents deep, and the coverage has helped make 3 punts be fair caught as well. Brindza has also done well in kickoffs with 5 touchbacks on 14 kickoffs as well.

Michigan St. Kicking Game: Dan Conroy has made 3 of 5 field goals with the missed field goals being 43 yards (vs. Boise St.) and 39 yards (vs. Central Michigan). He has made a long field goal of 50 yards. Mike Sadler has done a great job on punting with a 44 yard average on 4 punts with 3 of the 4 punts being inside the 20. Field position will be crucial in this game as well. Kevin Muma has 5 touchbacks on his 11 kickoffs as well.

Stronger Unit: Even

Notre Dame Return Game: The Irish have only 4 kickoffs returned all season with George Atkinson having 2 for 45 yards, while Cam McDaniel has a 25 yard return, and outside linebacker Jarrett Grace taking one for 12 yards on a short kick. Atkinson had two kickoffs go for touchdowns back in 2011, but touchbacks have been frequent this season. The punt return game is still a work in progress with 5 returns for 12 yards by true freshman Davonte Neal.

Michigan St. Return Game: The Spartans had a big loss in the punt return game with the graduation of Keshawn Martin (25 returns for 274 yards and a touchdown in 2011). Nick Hill has taken on kickoff and punt return duties this season with the absence of Martin to graduation. Hill has returned 5 kickoffs for 117 yards and 3 punts for 46 yards on the season.

Stronger Unit: Even

Everything Else: The Spartans are the first of many ranked opponents that the Irish must face this season and feature one of the strongest defenses as well. The game is going to come down to field position and down in the trenches. The Notre Dame offensive line will need to step up after an unimpressive outing against Purdue. The running game will be boosted with Cierre Wood's return and will be relied on to help move the chains and to help lighten the load for redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson. The defense needs to contain Le'Veon Bell and force Michigan St. to be one dimensional and use a shaky passing game that has led to interceptions being returned for touchdowns in consecutive games by the opponents of Michigan St. Overall, this is a game between two evenly matched teams and the team with the best performance out of the offensive and defensive lineman will be the one to come out on top in this game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 14, Michigan St. 10

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