Lesar: Keys to the game for Notre Dame-Michigan State

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune


Night games at Notre Dame Stadium are special. There’s a different sort of electricity surrounding the game, and it has nothing to do with fans being able to tailgate longer. This is the 50th anniversary of one of college football’s most historic games, the 10-10 tie that matched legendary coaches Ara Parseghian and Duffy Daugherty. Whether this game can match that classic might be a stretch, but it should be interesting.


In two games this season, Notre Dame has yet to register a sack. With questions in the secondary, fueled by young and unproven players, the best way to help them out is for the front seven to turn up the heat on Spartan quarterback Tyler O’Connor. Isaac Rochell, Jerry Tillery, Daniel Cage and James Onwualu will have the best opportunities to find their way through a stout Michigan State offensive line.


Spartan junior nose tackle Malik McDowell – at 6-foot-6 and 276 pounds – is a handful. The interior of Notre Dame’s offensive line – center Sam Mustipher and guards Quenton Nelson and Colin McGovern – will be charged with neutralizing McDowell’s push. Not only does he make it difficult – by taking up a lot of space – in pass protection, but he’s also difficult to run against. Irish backs Tarean Folston and Josh Adams will need to establish some sort of presence between the tackles.


One trademark of Michigan State teams coached by Mark Dantonio is cornerbacks who like to play receivers up tight at the line of scrimmage and make them work to even get in a pass route. With a group of young pass-catchers like Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders, Corey Holmes, Miles Boykin and Kevin Stepherson, this may be the first time they’ve had to deal with this approach to this extent. Irish coach Brian Kelly isn’t the least bit concerned about how they’ll handle it, but it’s something to watch.


If the Michigan State offense can be effective running the ball with LJ Scott, Delton Williams and Prescott Line, that will open up the Spartan passing game – which is bad news for a struggling Irish secondary. Notre Dame’s base defense has had some success making the opposition work for its rushing yards. Eliminating garbage-time snaps, the Irish are giving up just over three yards a carry, while in its normal alignment. Maintain that stat against the Spartans and it will reduce their offensive flexibility.

Notre Dame's Isaac Rochell (90), here chasing Texas QB Shane Buechele on Sept. 4, is being counted on to help improve the Irish pass rush. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)