After AP #10 Michigan State’s sloppy season-opening 17-13 home win over then-23rd ranked Boise State, I’m sure there were a few worried Spartan fans. It was the season and home opener. At night. Against a ranked opponent. On national television. Still, some of the sloppy play on the field was hard to watch and cause for some concern.
Luckily, MSU would follow that game up with a road matchup against the MAC’s Central Michigan Chippewas. Sparty won easily, 41-7, as the game wasn’t really close from the start. As usual, MSU’s defense was stout, allowing the Chippewas only 245 yards of total offense. Starting CMU QB Ryan Radcliffe wasn’t sacked, but threw two interceptions. He finished 17-for-38 with 173 yards passing to go with those two picks. Star Chippewa RB Zurlon Tipton was essentially a non-factor even though he racked up 62 yards on only 11 carries, largely because the Chippewas trailed at the half, 24-0, and 34-0 after three quarters of play. The Spartans would have notched the shutout if not for a pick-six with less than two minutes left in regulation.
MSU QB Andrew Maxwell was much better in his second collegiate start. The signal-caller looked much more comfortable in the pocket than he did in the opener, and many of his throws looked crisp. Of course, no one should have expected CMU to give Sparty the problems Boise State did, but it was still nice to see Maxwell settle in a bit. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 275 yards, two TDs and no picks. Somewhat-surprising early Heilman candidate RB Le’Veon rushed 18 times for 70 yards while WR Bennie Fowler hauled in eight passes for 99 yards and a score of his own.
#10 Michigan State (2-0, 1-0 Home) vs. #20 Notre Dame (2-0, 0-0 Away), 7 PM CT
Tonight, Sparty takes on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Spartan Stadium. Notre Dame is coming off consecutive wins over mediocre opponents, Navy and Purdue. ND steamrolled Navy in both teams’ opener, 50-10, in Dublin, Ireland. Back in South Bend, they struggled with in-state rival, Purdue, before escaping with a 20-17 win, thanks to the go-ahead field goal with seven seconds left to play.
Young Notre Dame QB Everett Golson has played fairly well thus far…although he’s seen the defenses of Navy and Purdue. He will get help in the form of senior RB, Cierre Wood. Wood, who ran for over 1,100 yards and reached the end zone nine times in 2011, was suspended by head coach Brian Kelly for the Irish’s first two games of the 2012 season. Also making things easier for Golson are All-American tight end, Tyler Eiffert, who has eight catches for 120 yards and a TD so far in ’12.
While Kelly has come out and proclaimed Golson the starter, don’t be surprised if he calls on backup, Tommy Rees, especially if DE William Gholston, LB Max Bullough and the rest of the Spartan defense cause Golson fits early. Bell should have his hands full not only with All-American ND linebacker Manti Te’o, but a rather talented Irish front four as well. Te’o will play despite the recent deaths of both his girlfriend and her maternal grandmother.
Sparty is averaging 193 yards per game on the ground, but would be wise to throw the ball a bit more tonight. Notre Dame’s secondary is inexperienced and hasn’t yet been challenged. Those two things, combined with this being their first true road game, and Maxwell could have a very good showing. Gholston had seven tackles and a sack against CMU, and the secondary was excellent. The secondary won’t necessarily need to make a bunch of plays, but it can’t allow Golson or Rees to throw the ball downfield easily. On the offensive side, backup RB Larry Caper ran the ball well as it looks like MSU has a solid two-headed monster at RB. TE Dion Sims continues to make key catches down the field when called on.
Notre Dame won this matchup in 2011, 31-13. The game was played in South Bend, IN. Rivalry games are always fun to watch, albeit extremely tricky to predict. I see Golson being rattled early and often, and by the time Kelly tabs Rees, it will be too late for the Irish. Bell won’t carry the ball 44 times or rush for 210 yards, but he will drag defenders up and down the field, which should tire out the ND defense. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio pulls something out of his bag of tricks. Sparty wins, 24-14.