Sept. 17, 2009
|By Tim Prister ’82|
Game 3: Michigan State (Sept. 19)
Conference: Big Ten
2008 record: 9-4, including a 23-7 victory over Notre Dame on Sept. 20 in Spartan Stadium and a 24-12 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.
2009 record: 1-1; 44-3 victory over Montana State at home and a 29-27 home loss to Central Michigan.
Location: Notre Dame Stadium
Kickoff: 3:42 p.m. ET
TV Coverage: NBC
Michigan State head coach: Mark Dantonio is in third season in East Lansing where he has compiled a 17-11 record (7-6 in ’07, 9-4 in ’08 and 1-1 in `09). Dantonio served on Nick Saban’s Michigan State staff as defensive backs coach from 1995-2000. He was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State under Jim Tressel from 2001-03 (succeeding Jon Tenuta) before landing his first head coaching position at Cincinnati, where he replaced Rick Minter, Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in 1992-93 under Lou Holtz and 2005-06 under Charlie Weis. Dantonio fashioned a 19-17 record in three seasons with the Bearcats before landing the Michigan State head coaching position.
Series history: Notre Dame’s series with Michigan State dates back to 1897 when the Irish claimed a 34-6 victory, the first of eight straight triumphs. Notre Dame and Michigan State have squared off 72 times with the Irish holding a 44-27-1 lead, including a 26-13-1 record in South Bend.
Much like the rivalry with Southern California, Notre Dame versus Michigan State has been a series of streaks. Spartan head coach Hugh ‘Duffy’ Daugherty, who succeeded his mentor, Clarence ‘Biggie’ Munn, strung together eight straight victories over Notre Dame from 1955-63. Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian ended the streak in 1964 with a 34-7 victory before Daugherty and the Spartans bounced back with a 12-3 victory in 1965.
Still considered one the greatest if not the greatest game of all-time, the No. 1 Irish and No. 2 Spartans played to a 10-10 tie in 1966. Notre Dame took control of the series from there, winning 24 and losing just four from 1967-94, including winning streaks of six (1969-74), seven (1976-82) and eight (1987-94).
Since then, however, the Spartans have won nine out of 12, including five straight from 1997-2001 and six straight in Notre Dame Stadium. The last time the Irish defeated Michigan State in Notre Dame Stadium was 1993 (36-14).
Charlie Weis’ first loss as Notre Dame’s head coach came in 2005 when the Spartans defeated the Irish in overtime, 44-41. Weis is 1-3 versus Michigan State. The lone victory came in 2006 when the Irish overcame a 17-point halftime deficit in a driving rainstorm in Spartan Stadium to claim a 40-37 victory. Terrail Lambert’s 27-yard interception return for a touchdown capped a 19-0 fourth-quarter run.
Physical football: From the days of Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty, the Spartans have been known as one of the most physical football teams in the Big Ten. Jon Tenuta’s defense must shift gears this week against the Spartans after facing Nevada’s Pistol offense and Michigan’s spread option attack.
“This is a totally different offense from what we’ve seen the first two games,” said Irish defensive end John Ryan. “The first two got you in space. This team is going to line up and you’re either going to show up or you’re not. They’re going to run it down your throats or you’re going to stuff it.”
“They have outstanding receivers in Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. Duval Kamara is another guy, and (Kyle) Rudolph is an excellent tight end. (Jimmy) Clausen spreads the ball around. He’s in his third year now, so he’s an experienced quarterback. He knows where to go with the ball and he gets rid of the ball quickly. They’re going to throw it deep.”- MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio
“We’re facing a different offense this week, one you really need to buckle up your chinstraps for,” said Irish strong safety Kyle McCarthy. “We have to get used to guards pulling and fullbacks coming in there trying to tear your head off.”
The Irish won’t have to face graduated running back Javon Ringer, who rushed for 1,447 yards in ’07 and 1,637 yards in ’08, including 201 against the Irish in the Spartans’ 23-7 victory in East Lansing. Ringer had more than 90 percent of Michigan State’s carries last season.
The Spartans’ rushing attack is led by Caulton Ray, who has 122 yards (4.4-yard average) in two games. He is sharing the load with freshman Larry Caper (67 yards, 5.2-yard average).
Duo quarterback attack: Kirk Cousins has started both games for the Spartans at quarterback and ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency with 23 completions in 35 attempts (65.7 percent), four touchdown tosses and zero interceptions. Keith Nichol has played in relief of Cousins in each of the first two games. Nichol has completed 12-of-26 (46.2 percent) for 186 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Their favorite target has been 6-foot-2, 200-pound wide receiver Blair White, who caught nine passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns against Montana State and another seven passes for 105 yards against Central Michigan. White ranks sixth nationally in receiving yards (267) and seventh in receptions per game (8.0). White was Michigan State’s leading receiver in ’08 with 43, two of which came against the Irish.
Stout against the run: Michigan State has put up dramatically improved numbers against the run compared to ’08. Six opponents rushed for 150 yards or more against the Spartans last year, including Wisconsin (281), Ohio State (216), Cal (203), Indiana (189) and Northwestern (176).
The Spartans have yet to face that level of competition in ’09, but they have limited their two opponents to just 128 yards rushing in two games. Led by linebackers Greg Jones (29 tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks) and Eric Gordon (10 tackles, one for loss), the Spartans have eight starters returning on defense. Nose tackle Oren Wilson and end Trevor Anderson (eight sacks in ’08) help comprise a formidable, typically strong defensive front.
Swenson the weapon: One of the leading candidates for the Lou Groza Award, senior kicker Brett Swenson is a weapon from long range with 14-of-17 successful field goal attempts between 40-49 yards in his career (although he is just 1-of-6 from 50 and beyond).
Swenson’s 296 career points rank first among active players in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, and his 56 career field goals ranks second. He is 4-for-4 so far this season with successful conversions from 32, 37, 39 and 45. He’s also made 74 straight extra points.
Dantonio on Irish receivers: “They have outstanding receivers in Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. Duval Kamara is another guy, and (Kyle) Rudolph is an excellent tight end. (Jimmy) Clausen spreads the ball around. He’s in his third year now, so he’s an experienced quarterback. He knows where to go with the ball and he gets rid of the ball quickly. They’re going to throw it deep.
“It presents problems – challenges I would say more than problems – but extreme challenges because any time the ball goes up in the air, you’ve got to play it. You’ve got to get up there, climb the ladder and get it.”
Dantonio on Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta: “He’s known as a pressure coach, so he’s going to pressure (the quarterback). He’s going to play an under front predominantly, and they’re going to mix things up defensively and be very well coached. This team tackles well and plays extremely hard.”
Key match-ups: Michigan State has allowed 450 yards passing, a 64.4 percent completion rate and three touchdowns with one interception. The Spartans faced one of the nation’s best quarterbacks last week in Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour, who completed 33-of-46 (71.7 percent) for 328 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The Spartans have a veteran secondary, led by cornerbacks Chris L. Rucker and Jeremy Ware, who picked off LeFevour. Michigan State has six sacks in two games. Notre Dame’s receivers versus Michigan State’s secondary will be a stern test for both units.
Michael Floyd currently leads the nation in yards-per-catch and touchdown catches.
After rushing for just 16 yards on 22 carries a year ago against Michigan State, Notre Dame’s offensive line will have to prove it can run the football against the Spartans. Linebacker Greg Jones is always around the football. He had 127 tackles, 12 for lost yardage in ’08, and ranks third in the nation with 14.5 tackles per game.
Fighting Irish facts: Notre Dame had 10 tackles for loss against Michigan, the most by a Notre Dame defense since Nov. 19, 2005 versus Syracuse … Only six other Football Bowl Subdivision teams that have played two games this year have not allowed a sack. Only San Diego State has faced more pass attempts (75) than Notre Dame (62) without allowing a sack … Jimmy Clausen ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency at 196.3. Over his last three games, he has completed 62-of-86 (72.1 percent) for 1,052 yards, 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions … Notre Dame’s 1,000 yards total offense is the most by the Irish in consecutive weeks since the 1,083 compiled on Nov. 19 (420 vs. Syracuse) and Nov. 26 (663 vs. Stanford) in 2005. The 1,000 yards is the most in back-to-back games to start a season since the Irish gained 1,051 yards in 1974 against Georgia Tech and Northwestern … Armando Allen is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, including 6.5 on first down … Michael Floyd leads the nation in average yards per catch (29.1) and is tied for first in receiving touchdowns (4) … Michigan State is second among Irish opponents in all-time victories versus Notre Dame with 27. Only Southern California (33) has more … Michigan State ranks fourth nationally in net punting with a 43.9-yard mark. Aaron Bates is averaging 48.9 yards per his seven punts … The visiting team has won seven of the last eight meetings between Notre Dame and Michigan State. Michigan State’s six-game winning streak in Notre Dame Stadium is the longest by any opponent in the 78-year history of the stadium.
Tim Prister – Notre Dame’s starting third baseman in 1981-82 – is an `82 graduate in his 28th year covering Notre Dame football. He is the senior editor of IrishIllustrated.com after serving 20 years as editor of Blue & Gold Illustrated. Entering the 2009 season, he had attended and reported on 279 straight Notre Dame football games – every one since Lou Holtz’s first in 1986.