#21 Notre Dame v. Michigan State
Notre Dame Stadium – South Bend, IN – 3:30 EST on NBC
First Things – I'm starting this post at 12am Friday morning in an old farmhouse about 30 miles from South Bend. I hope Notre Dame's drainage systems are up to the task of the past 24 hours. It was raining when I landed in Chicago last night at 6pm EST and didn't stop for a second until about 3pm today. The lighting during this stretch has been nothing short of insane and this morning a bolt hit our family's barn and fried our satellite. No Clemson v. NC State or Kansas City v. Philly on Thursday night for this guy. Presently I'm banging away on my parents laptop for this preview while Office Space sets the blogging mood on my laptop across the table. Damn it feels good to be a gangsta. Also, it's always fun to jump on the rents computer and inform them that four search toolbars clogging up their webpages might be a little excessive. So here comes a light preview of gameday and what I'll be watching for from the stands on Saturday afternoon.
I have a hard time believing you'll find better information this week on ANY podcast about this game than what was revealed by SpartanNation.com's Hondo Carpenter. From his inside view of the Brian Kelly-Mark Dantonio rivalry to possible Spartan game plans to fresh info on Manti Te'o at Chargers Camp from a former MSU player – this is as good a primer you'll find on what to expect from the green and white Saturday. John Walters, known for frankness and honesty, found the silver linings from the Notre Dame-Purdue game that left fans so frustrated. Chatter with the ND alum and former Sports Illustrated College Football writer also seeped into some thoughts about the the upcoming finale of Breaking Bad and our final praises for Newsroom.
Five Things To Watch
5. Michigan State's Wheel Of Quarterbacks – I HAD to bring it back up to Hondo Carpenter this week – last September on our call he claimed that MSU program insiders believed that if Kirk Cousins, aka NFL sub extraordinaire, would have missed just one game to injury, he'd have "lost his job permanently to the more talented Andrew Maxwell". Maxwell got his shot in 2012, struggled, and is no longer the top dog in a three man rotation. Connor Cook will start against the Irish and he is a better running threat which has been the Irish's Achilles Heel out the gate. Cook has 5 career TD passes with 4 of them coming last week … against I-AA Youngstown State.
4. Davaris Daniels On A Record Setting Pace – Tommy Rees keeps racking up 300 yard passing performances and Daniels is snatching everything coming his way. Three games in and he's on pace for 68 Receptions, 1196 Yards & 16 TDs at a ridiculous 17.6 Yards/Catch. To put it in perspective, Michael Floyd's career highs in yardage and TDs were 1,147 (2011) & 12 (2010) – both behind Daniels current trajectory. Saturday will be a great test as Spartan All-American Darqueze Dennard could very likely be following Daniels all over the field in an effort to slow him down. If that's the case, his numbers may suffer but Rees might find getting TJ Jones and Troy Niklas the ball a little easier.
3. Irish Defensive Backs Look To Recover – Bennett Jackson looked me in the eye when I got into town last night. Kinda – his face was plastered on the issue of Irish Insider my parents had left on my guest bed. Looked pretty focused and leadershippy. Following a bit of an undressing by Devin Gardner, Jackson made "the" play against Purdue when a perfect read and react by the captain resulted in a interception and touchdown. Even so – Purdue's Rob Henry had ZERO touchdown passes heading into that game and completed three against ND. My observations have been that a combination of the inside linebackers and DBs inability to "feel" players in their area when sitting in a zone defense has allowed too many completions we just didn't see last year. Safeties Mathias Farley & Austin Collinsworth must lead the way in getting the entire unit off the field on 3rd and long and that needs to start sooner than later.
2. Irish RB Stable Getting More Or Less Clarity – It can't be hidden: George Atkinson III has looked like anything but a running back through three games. He misses holes, he runs into teammates, and he has cost the Irish with dropped passes. If he fumbles anytime soon you can stick a fork in him. Atkinson's instincts appear to have departed him on plays that set him up perfectly for long gash runs – he's taken a step back from a year ago. You almost wonder if there is a vision problem but medically speaking. His cuts have been THAT bad. If you're watching the Irish you can't deny that Amir Carlisle continues to show as that "complete" back for this offense with Cam McDaniel a better sidekick for the smashing change of pace runner. I won't be surprised if Atkinson's role is extremely limited Saturday to the same level as Greg Bryant's.
1. Notre Dame's Defensive Line & Their Depth Issues Tested – Chase Hounshell, Tony Springmann & Eddie Vanderdoes are names that could be used on the two-deep right now. All indications are that starting end Sheldon Day will play following an ankle sprain versus Purdue but he was being counted on for a high percentage of defensive snaps and his production should be down on all levels. I'd love to believe the Ishaq Williams 2013 Swiss Army Knife role has him getting more reps for Day as the staff hasn't shown a ton of trust yet in Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochelle. Is this not a chance to slide OLB Romeo Okwara into a part-time end role? This blogger would like to think so.
Michigan State (3-0): John Walters on the podcast when questioned about the Spartans, "They show up 3-0 having played nobody and we know nothing – which is what we get every year." Hondo Carpenter serves as possibly the biggest voice of the team not working for a national media source. He had a hard time convincing himself, much less me, that there is exists confidence in the 2013 team's ability to score. Tommy Rees played well in a 2011 win against MSU and Carpenter felt that he's in position to make more plays than any of the Spartan's offensive players. Much like Purdue last week for Notre Dame – this is a rival who will be the most jacked up Saturday that they've been all season. It's not hard to imagine the Spartans riding an early adrenaline advantage to a lead like the Boilermakers did. This paragraph is a jumble of unrelated thoughts and opinions and it reflects how I feel about this game. I'm not sure where the fire is coming from inside the ND locker room even though I firmly believe they will be the most talented program in play at Notre Dame Stadium. It's a home game so it's back to find out who is …
Mayock's Man of the Match: ILB Max Bullough
Remember when Kramer got the insider horse racing tip on the subway? "He's a mudder. His father was a mudder! His MOTHER was a mudder!" Sorry I'm not sorry if you didn't watch Seinfeld but the scene reminds me of Bullough who is the best middle linebacker ND faces in 2013. Bullough's father was a Spartan. His GRANDFATHER was a Spartan. TWO uncles were Spartans! HIS YOUNGER BROTHER IS A SPARTAN!!! Great name, premium position – NBC Analyst Mike Mayock will be all over his story and Bullough's lineage on Saturday. Over/Under on mentions of a Bullough family member is probably 7.5 and I'd take the over. Honorable Mention to the previously discussed Darqueze Dennard who will be prominently featured in an array of packages when he's covering DaVaris Daniels. Mayock is gonna pound that down your goddam throat Irish fans. Especially if Daniels is sitting in the 3rd quarter with 1 catch for 2 yards on a quick screen Dennard beat a block on for a short gain.
Predicting The Game & What We'll See
If this article was a movie I'd have foreshadowed my predictions – Notre Dame is again the flatter team at kickoff and falls behind early as the Spartans torch ND on 3rd down in the first quarter. A long, clock-sapping opening drive ends with a short rushing TD. When the Irish go three and out, MSU goes back down the field for a field goal to take a 10-0 lead. Tommy Rees finds a rhythm as the game heads into the second quarter – helped by multiple successful screen plays for Amir Carlisle. A blown coverage that shows MSU too focused on DaVaris Daniels ends with Chris Brown all alone in the end zone for an easy score. Kyle Brindza hits a late field goal and the teams head into the half tied at 10-10.
The Irish offensive line shows some fight on the second half's opening drive and momentum swings when Cam McDaniel punches in a score. A Connor Cook interception gives the Irish great field position that results in a surprising touchdown catch by Ben Koyack. It's 24-10 Notre Dame heading into the 4th quarter. ND has the ball looking to milk some clock but Rees and Daniels aren't on the same page off an audible that results in an interception. MSU takes the ball and hits a long TD pass to bring the game within seven. Rees and the offense go on a long drive that doesn't end with points but only leaves MSU a little time and no time outs. Austin Collinsworth grabs a game-sealing interception with less than a minute to go and Rees takes a knee to seal a 24-17 win. Game Vitals:
Notre Dame (-4.5)
Herring Bone Says: Take Notre Dame & The Under
#21 Notre Dame 24, Michigan State 17 – Final
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