Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Spartans look for fifth consecutive win against Irish

September 21, 2001

While flags across the nation remain at half-staff, college football will resume play this weekend.

MSU will play No. 23 Notre Dame under the watchful eye of “Touchdown Jesus” and the rest of the nation at 2:30 p.m. EST, Saturday, in South Bend, Ind.

NBC will start its coverage early Saturday, to broadcast the pregame tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The ceremony won’t be altered much from a normal football Saturday in South Bend. It’s an Irish tradition to sing both “America, the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” before home games.

University president, the Rev. Edward A. Malloy, will also devote a pregame prayer to the memory of the victims, a tribute that will signify the process of healing and moving on, MSU head football coach Bobby Williams said.

“The whole nation was in a state of panic and shock, and our team was as well,” he said. “Now we’re just trying to pick up the pieces, move forward and prepare this team for a tough battle this weekend.

“Certainly it’s going to be a tough challenge for us, being our first road game of the season and going into the hostile environment of South Bend. We’re looking forward to it, and we’re up for the battle.”

But adjusting to the stadium’s 80,000-plus crowd and a national TV audience will be harder for some Spartans than others - many haven’t even had time to settle into Spartan Stadium.

MSU (1-0) is starting two underclassmen on offense and three on defense Saturday.

And helping them prepare to play in Notre Dame Stadium isn’t something that can be taught, senior safety Lorenzo Guess said.

“They’ll know (how it feels) when they got out there,” Guess said. “There’s no way to prepare them in practice, the only thing you can tell them to do is stay focused because it’s going to be jumping - when they get out there, it’s going to be jumping.”

While the underclassmen test the waters in South Bend, the seniors will try to cash in on the opportunity to beat the Irish (0-1) for the fifth consecutive season.

“We have some seniors that have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done around here in a long time,” Williams said.

MSU is halfway to tying its longest winning streak against Notre Dame - an eight-game streak that stretched from 1955 to 1963. The Irish dominate the 104-year-old series, 41-22-1.

But if MSU’s winning streak is motivation for its seniors, it may be more of a factor for the Notre Dame seniors, Irish wide receiver Javin Hunter said.

“I think I have a little more fire going into this year’s game than I did last year,” said Hunter, a Detroit Country Day alumnus. “I’m a senior and haven’t beat MSU, and I want to win.”

The Irish may be especially bitter this year after MSU won in dramatic fashion last season thanks to senior wide receiver Herb Haygood’s fourth quarter heroics. Haygood scored a 68-yard, fourth-down conversion touchdown with fewer than two minutes left in the game.

“It was disappointing,” Notre Dame tailback Julius Jones said. “I thought we played pretty hard - to lose on a last-second play is devastating.”

Justin A. Rice can be reached at ricejust@msu.edu.

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