Coming off a strong showing against a poor opponent, the Irish look like they’ve regained their confidence and their swagger going into a rivalry game. ND benefits from having home field advantage and from having a top-5 quarterback in the country.
- Attack with short-to-intermediate plays. In an interview, Michigan State defensive coordinator Mike Tressel spoke about the Irish’s ability to make big plays down the field in their last matchup in 2013. He said, “if some of the underneath stuff happens, those aren’t 20-yard plays or automatic first downs on the pass interference.” Michigan State’s defense is solid, but it’s a far cry from how good it was in 2013. DeShone Kizer is far more effective at attacking the Spartans downfield than Tommy friggin’ Rees was. I think that Michigan State cannot afford to give up the long ball, and I’m anticipating a very conservative defensive approach, which plays into the Irish’s favor. Torii Hunter Jr., who will be returning, and Equanimeous St. Brown are both excellent at yards after the catch, and Josh Adams and Tarean Folston are both averaging over 4 yards a carry. I have no problem with longer drives and passes of 5 to 15 yards.
- Do not turn the ball over. That’s not even saying that the Irish have to get a lot of takeaways themselves, though it would be welcomed with open arms. Through two games, Kizer has completed only 71% of his passes with only one interception. I’m not convinced the Spartans have the offense to keep up with the Irish. Give them two or three more possessions, and it become an interesting game. It seems like #14’s accuracy has improved greatly in only one offseason, so I do not pencil him in for a giveaway per game like I did last season.
- The defense needs to build off of last week’s momentum. Shaun Crawford is toast for the season after tearing his Achilles which really sucks, since he was their best cornerback through a game and a half. However, Cole Luke, who can be extremely streaky, looked good last week. Nick Coleman has gotten abused through two weeks, so his confidence seems to be at an all-time low. However, collectively, the Irish defense gave up only 10 points and 300 total yards. They grabbed an interception and allowed a third down conversion only three times. I know it’s Nevada, but Michigan State isn’t too great on the offensive side of the ball, so build off that momentum.
- Make Tyler O’Connor beat you. Though a senior, this is the first time O’Connor will start a whole season. While he had an efficient enough showing in their only contest against Furman, he didn’t exactly light it up. He was 13-18 for 190 yards and 3 touchdowns. He led an offense that only put up 28 points total. He helped to beat Ohio State last year, though he was not a focal point of the offense in that game either. O’Connor has not proved anything yet. Take away the run and make him beat you aerially. Even if he can get some rhythm, do you really expect him to be able to keep up with Kizer?
Ultimately true rivalry games are always going to be close. This will be a tough, physical matchup. I think both teams know that they need their statement wins in order to be in the playoff conversation at the end of the season (though I don’t expect either to be in the four-team field). Either way, the history is there, the motivation is there, and the implications are there. Give me the Irish by 4.
Cover photo from theoaklandpress.com.