Notre Dame and Michigan State played “the game of the century” in 1966 and it ended in a 10-10 tie, which proved to be a win for the Irish as they beat USC 51-0 the next week and earned the national championship. That was an epic battle in the 20th century and more often than not the Irish beat Michigan State in that century. In fact, I was at a game when Notre Dame was so far ahead they tried an onside kick so they could get the ball and run out the clock. Things changed after Lou Holtz left and since the turn of the century the Irish have had a tough time with the Spartans. In fact, but for the Michigan State quarterback missing a wide open receiver at the end of the game in 2009, the Spartans would have defeated the Irish in every home game in the 21st century until last year. That means that under Charlie Weis the Irish never would have beaten the Spartans at home, but for that pass which was followed by an interception.
I still haven’t figured out Brian Kelly but at least he restored some order at home last year as Notre Dame defeated Michigan State handily, 31-13. In the 21st century the Irish have a losing record to the Spartans, 5-7. Hopefully, Kelly and the Irish can build on last year’s win and defeat them again to move to 3-0.
Notre Dame and Michigan State have both started the season 2-0 and they are both trying to get back to national prominence. Michigan State opened with Boise State and beat them 17-13 when Boise was unable to convert a first down late in the game. Spartans running back, Le’Veon Bell ran the ball 44 times for 210 yards and a touchdown and overall Michigan State ran the ball 52 times in that game. They also threw the ball 38 times for 238 yards which means MSU had 90 offensive plays . They also controlled the clock with a nearly 20 minute advantage in time of possession. The Spartans had the ball for nearly 40 minutes, they gained 461 total yards and yet they won by only 4 points. This means the score was misleading as the Spartans dominated BSU. Boise State is rebuilding but they are still a pretty good football team, so it was a nice win for Michigan State.
Last week Michigan State played Central Michigan, which is like Ohio State playing Toledo or Akron. The Spartans dominated of course and held the ball for over 35 minutes and had 78 offensive plays while winning in a rout, 41-7.
Notre Dame’s first two games have been somewhat similar as they have controlled time of possession, number of plays, and have had a balanced attack taking what the defense gives them. Against Navy, Notre Dame was able to run the ball 46 times for nearly 300 yards, but Purdue decided to make Everett Golson beat them with his arm and they stacked the box and held ND to just 52 yards rushing. As we all know, Golson played well not great and Rees was brought in for some last minute leadership based on his experience. Rees did a good job but when you look at the stats he was only 3 for 6 for 35 yards. But those were an important 35 yards and the Irish won a game at home that they should have won. Against Purdue, ND had the ball for over 34 minutes and they eked out a victory.
So, in each team’s close game time of possession has mattered greatly and tonight it will be interesting to see who is moving the ball and keeping it away from the other team’s offense. It looks like another evenly matched game that could come down to the last minute. We have had more than a few of those this century with too many heartbreakers that could have gone Notre Dame’s way, but for a play here or there.
Here’s a look at the scores for each game this century:
ND – MSU
31-13 2011 Home
31-34 2010 Away — Fake field goal game
33-30 2009 Home – MSU QB misses wide open receiver for possible last minute win
7-23 2008 Away
14-31 2007 Home — 6th straight home loss to Spartans
40-37 2006 Away — Stunning 4th quarter comeback for win
41-44 2005 Home (OT)
31-24 2004 Away
16-22 2003 Home — 4th straight time to lose at home
21-17 – 2002 Away
10-17 – 2001 Home
21-27 – 2000 Away
So, yes, the teams look evenly matched on paper and both have similar characteristics of preferring to run the ball but showing ability to pass it as well. Both defenses have been pretty stout, too. Everett Golson was not happy to be benched at the end of the game last week and that’s a good thing. You want a guy who wants the ball in his hands at the end. It shows good character, drive, and determination. I just hope he doesn’t try to do too much tonight. He could come out thinking he has something to prove and from that can come poor decision making which leads to interceptions and fumbles. We will know early if ND is going to be successful when we see if their offensive line can control the line of scrimmage. If so, over the course of a game that can wear a team down and in what could be a very close game that will matter greatly.
I think Notre Dame has looked pretty good their first two games. Not great, but the season is early and they have a new quarterback. Key to tonight’s game may well be the return of Cierre Wood. He missed the first two games for disciplinary reasons and they could have used him last week. Wood is a very talented back who doesn’t get a lot of press and I expect him to have a big night leading the Irish to a victory.
Tonight, the Irish show a balanced attack and keep the ball away from Michigan State. In 6 of their last 8 games against Michigan State, Notre Dame has scored over 30 points, but in those games they are just 4 and 4. If you score 30 points you should win. Notre Dame’s defense looks pretty good but their corners are vulnerable. I don’t know that ND will score 30 points tonight, but I do think they will win.
I’ll take a 10 point win on the road which would mean the first time this century Notre Dame has defeated Michigan State two consecutive times. Let’s do this!