MSU ready for 'statement game' against Notre Dame
Fresh off the bye week, the Spartans are 2-0 and will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Saturday night with the Megaphone Trophy up for grabs.
While MSU had its off week, the Irish defeated Boston College last Saturday 49-20 to improve to 2-1 on the season.
After doing the expected and defeating two MAC teams to open the season, the Spartans have their first true test this weekend.
“I definitely think it's a statement game,” junior linebacker Byron Bullough said. “It's a rivalry game. It's at 8 p.m., under the lights. We have two wins — two wins against MAC teams, but I think this is a game that will put Michigan State back in the spotlight if we come out with a win.”
Through two games this season, the Spartans’ defense has not allowed their opponents to score an offensive touchdown. As a result of a stingy defense, MSU ranks first in the Big Ten in total defense (203.5 ypg), third-down percentage (.107), passing defense (112 ypg), pass efficiency defense (63.48 rating) and first-down defense (20).
If MSU wants to leave Saturday’s game with a perfect 3-0 record, the Spartans’ defense is going to have to stop the Irish’s run game, as the Irish rank fifth in the FBS in rushing offense with 330.7 yards through three games in 2017.
Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has the ability to run out of the pocket and make plays with his legs, and running back Josh Adams is fifth in the FBS in rushing yards with 443 yards.
“I think it's something we look forward to every single week. We pride ourselves constantly on stopping the run,” senior linebacker Chris Frey said. “Obviously … they are one of the best run offenses in the nation, so it's going to be a big head-to-head battle, and we're excited to take it on. They're a great run team, a great team overall, so we're just excited to show what we can do against a team like that; an offensive line like that, and a good running back.”
To stop the rushing attack, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio believes the Spartans should just simply continue what they have been doing on defense.
“We've got to continue to do what we've done against the other teams,” he said. “We've got to play square and win up front and not get turned sideways, and then we've got to tackle well. I think a lot of the plays that you've seen are a result of missed tackles.
“You know, somebody is going to have an opportunity to tackle a guy, but if you run through tackles and you become your own blocker in some regards, good things happen or negative things happen for the defense. We have to tackle well in the perimeter and leverage it and play square up front and win at the point of attack.”
While MSU is 7 of 8 in the red zone, the Irish are perfect, scoring on all 15 possessions inside the 20.
“We have had two weeks with a lot of turnovers, mistakes and stuff like that, but we have always responded,” senior center Brian Allen said of the Spartans’ offense. “It's good to see guys pick each other up, and we support each other when things go wrong. I think it is good to see that every time something has gone wrong, we have turned it into something positive and hopefully we clean those things up.”
To Allen, Saturday’s game is a new test for MSU, one he hopes the Spartans will pass.
“I would say we are a little tentative on some stuff, but (two weeks ago) against Western, I think we played pretty physical and got after guys, and we knew were going to win that game from the start to the end,” Allen said. “We were pushing away and it was physical football and it's good to see young guys doing that, too. As far as going into Notre Dame, we are going to have to match that and take it another step. I'm excited to see how we do against them. It's a new test and hopefully our best is enough.”