By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
One of the oldest rivalries in college football will be renewed today when Michigan State visits Notre Dame Stadium to take on No. 22 Notre Dame.
The two teams first started playing in 1897; the Irish hold a 47-28-1 edge in the overall series, including a 28-13 mark at home.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly expects another physical contest as the Irish take on a Big ten opponent for the third consecutive week.
“(Michigan State head coach) Mark Dantonio’s teams, obviously a hallmark of their teams, are physical, and certainly well prepared in all phases of the game,” Kelly said earlier this week. “They have been great football games. So, another one here at Notre Dame this weekend.”
Michigan State is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2010 and for the third time under seventh-year head coach Mark Dantonio (2007, 2010).
The Spartans have opened the 2013 campaign with wins over Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State.
Dantonio isn’t sure his team has really been challenged yet.
“You are going to find out how they handle adversity, how they play away, look for matchups here, how do they play in crunch time in a close game, which we really haven’t had that yet,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans have done it so far with defense: They are the No. 1 defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), giving up just 177.0 yards per game.
Offensively, the Spartans look to have decided on a quarterback, as Connor Cook will make his first start against a BCS-level opponent after winning the job by throwing for four touchdowns in the first half in a 55-17 victory against Youngstown State last week.
Cook, a 6-4, 218-pound sophomore, will be going against a Notre Dame defense that is 89th in the country in pass defense, 56th in total defense and has struggled against mobile quarterbacks.
Dantonio has confidence in his young signalcaller as he takes the field in a hostile road environment at Notre Dame.
“This week in practice, it’s about making good decisions with the football,” Dantonio said earlier this week during the Big ten teleconference. “We want to see him adapt and get into rhythm with his wide receivers, and continue to just lead.”
Kelly said offensively, the Irish will have the know their assignments against the stingy Spartan defense.
“We make sure that our kids are prepared for their schemes that they are going to see against Michigan State, and understand their personnel.” Kelly said. “Now, after that, it’s up to us to execute what we do. We are not going to go into the game and hope; we have to execute.
So after we have handled this week’s preparation on what they are doing from a scheme wise and then their personnel and how we need to play, it’s going to ultimately, week in and week out, it’s going to come down to how we execute.”
This contest could come down to who is able to rush the football more effectively: The Irish are 24-4 in four seasons under Kelly when outrushing opponents, while the Spartans are 43-10 in seven seasons under Dantonio with the rushing advantage.
So far in 2013, Michigan State, behind the rushing of Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill, has been the better rushing team. The Spartans are averaging 210 yards a game while the Irish, who have three running backs sharing the load, are averaging just 125 yards.
Michigan State has compiled a 47-17 record (.734) in games played against non-conference opponents since 1999. ... Over the last 13 meetings, the Notre Dame-Michigan State game has been decided by a TD or less on nine different occasions — the game-winning score coming late in the fourth quarter or overtime in eight of those 13 meetings. ... The Irish will be looking to extend their winning streak to 10 games at Notre Dame Stadium. The last time the Irish won 10 straight at home was Oct. 25, 1997-Aug. 28, 1999.