FACTS & STATS: Site: Spartan Stadium (72,027) -- East Lansing, Michigan. Television: ABC. Home Record: ND 1-1, MSU 1-0. Away Record: ND 0-0, MSU 0-0. Neutral Record: ND 0-0, MSU 1-0. Conference Record: ND 0-0, MSU 0-0. Series Record: Notre Dame leads, 45-27-1.
GAME NOTES: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish hit the road for the first time, as they invade East Lansing this weekend to battle the Michigan State Spartans.
The Irish are coming off their first loss under new head coach Brian Kelly, as a late drive propelled Michigan to a 28-24 victory last weekend. Despite the setback, ND looks like a different team from a year ago under Kelly, who won his debut with the program in a 23-12 decision versus Purdue on September 4th.
MSU, meanwhile, remained undefeated with a 30-17 victory over FAU last weekend. This will be the first of three straight home games for the Spartans, who opened the season with a 38-14 victory over Western Michigan in East Lansing.
With respect to the all-time series, ND holds a 45-27-1 advantage over MSU and that includes a 33-30 triumph in last season's meeting.
After Michigan took a 28-24 lead with 27 seconds left, ND still had a decent chance to respond from the Wolverine 27-yard line, but Dayne Crist's pass went out the back of the end zone on the final play. It was just good see Crist back under center on the last play, as he missed most of the first half due to a head injury. He finished the game with 277 yards and two TDs in a resilient effort. ND, however, must be careful to protect its starting QB, as the backups clearly aren't ready, going a combined 8-of-18 for 104 yards and two picks with Crist sidelined.
TE Kyle Rudolph was the main target against Michigan, as he snared eight balls for 164 yards and a TD. A preseason All-American, Rudolph hauled in a 95-yard TD reception, the second-longest in school history, with 3:41 left to give ND a 24-21 lead. Unfortunately it went to waste.
The ground attack for the Irish has averaged 153.5 ypg through two games behind Armando Allen, who has rushed for 182 yards thus far.
Defensively, the Irish had all sorts of trouble trying to slow down Michigan and QB Denard Robinson, who threw for 244 yards and ran for 258 more. Robinson also guided Michigan on a 72-yard, 12-play game-winning drive in which he capped with a two-yard run with 27 seconds left. It was quite performance and ND really had no answer for him.
The defense did force 10 punts while keeping Michigan off the scoreboard in the second half until the final drive, but the unit failed to come up with a takeaway or sack and that certainly hurt. Manti Te'o guided the defense with 13 stops and a forced fumble.
Through the first two games MSU has clearly established its ground attack, which went for 225 versus FAU last weekend after gaining 297 yards in an opening win over WMU. Edwin Baker led the charge last weekend with 183 yards, including an 80-yard TD scamper, while Le'Von Bell had 49 yards and a score. Both players cracked the century mark and had a pair of TDs in the opener, so MSU couldn't ask for anything more from these young backs.
The Spartans, however, would like to see more form QB Kirk Cousins, who completed only 9-of-17 pass attempts for 142 yards with one TD and one INT against FAU. It obviously wasn't a good effort and Cousins will need to be much sharper this weekend against a ND defense that will surely put extra players in the box to stop the run.
On the defensive side of the ball, MSU had some issues last weekend even though the unit only allowed 301 total yards and 17 points to FAU. The defense spent over 37 minutes on the field, far too long, and allowed FAU to go 9- of-18 between third and fourth downs.
The run defense though, continues to be stout for the Spartans, who have allowed a total of just 130 rushing yards in the first two games. Greg Jones and Eric Gordon each finished with 11 stops in the win over FAU, with Jones adding a forced fumble and Gordon tallying a sack.
The Spartans have been impressive with their ground attack, but have yet to prove they are a solid pass team. Expect the Irish to focus on the run and make MSU beat them through the air. This should create opportunities for turnovers and gives ND the edge this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 30, Michigan State 27
Saturday, September 18th, 8:00 p.m. (et)