MSU defense will be tasked with stopping a dynamic Notre Dame rush attack
All eyes will be on the defense come kickoff against Notre Dame.
It comes as no surprise, the unit has yet to allow a touchdown, despite the offense and special teams giving up their share. Cornerback Josiah Scott has been garnering some hype after PFF has rated him one of the best freshmen in the nation.
And following a 2-0 start, there’s been some quiet optimism surrounding head coach Mark Dantonio’s football program.
But for the second straight game, that defense will be tasked with stopping a treacherous rushing attack. The Spartans stood strong against Western Michigan’s three-headed monster, allowing just 116 yards on the ground against the Broncos.
The Irish, though, feature the combo of quarterback Brandon Wimbush and tailback Josh Adams. The pair ran for over 200 yards each against Boston College. Notre Dame finished with a whopping 515 yards rushing.
“(Wimbush’s) a dynamic athlete,” Dantonio said. “He obviously has a good style of leadership. You could see that they follow him. Even though I think he's a redshirt-sophomore, he's a relatively young player in that regard.”
But something’s got to give. Will it be the Irish top-ranked rushing attack or the imposing Spartan defense? That’s still up in the air.
The respect Wimbush commands isn’t lost on the defense, however. Senior linebacker Chris Frey described the quarterback as a “capture” guy, one his unit must contain within the pocket or else he’ll be dangerous in the open field.
“We've got to keep him in the pocket and get pressure on him, force him to our help rather than taking a shot and trying to wrap him up ourselves,” Frey said. “He's a guy that can make plays and he is someone we really have to focus on stopping.”
If there’s an area to Wimbush’s game that’s labeled as a weakness, it’s his arm. His line of 11 of 24 for 96 yards throwing and a pick was unimpressive, to say the least.
It’s an area of the Irish offense that has changed compared to last year after DeShone Kizer’s graduation.
But the passing game is still in play, of course. Frey called Wimbush’s arm a “cannon,” despite the accuracy arguably not there yet.
“I think they take shots down the field,” Dantonio said. “You are going to see them go up top. That's not going to stop. They are going to want to pass the ball, as well. They want to stay balanced like everybody and they want to see their players grow in that aspect.”
While MSU has had no trouble converting in the end zone, the Irish haven’t either. They’re perfect so far, scoring a touchdown every time they move the ball inside the 20.
The conversions have been a mix of Wimbush’s playmaking ability coupled with Adams as his back, according to Dantonio.
The Spartan defense is ready for it, though.
“We pride ourselves constantly on stopping the run,” Frey said. “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.”