(Sports Network) - In serious jeopardy of starting the season 0-3, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish welcome the 15th-ranked Michigan State Spartans to South Bend on Saturday.
The Spartans made quick work of Florida Atlantic last week, crushing the overmatched Owls, 44-0. A Member of the Big Ten Conference, Michigan State is now 2-0 on the young season, as it cruised past FCS foe Youngstown State to open the campaign by a 28-6 final.
As for Notre Dame, it appeared to be on its way to a victory over rival Michigan in the first-ever night game at the Big House last Saturday. Unfortunately for Brian Kelly and his Fighting Irish, they yielded a touchdown with two seconds remaining to remain winless on the year. Notre Dame lost its opener to South Florida at home and has gone from a ranked team to a club at risk of letting the season slip away in a very short span of time.
"They know how to win," said Kelly of his players. "They've got to obviously stop making those little mistakes, and we've got to give them a game plan each and every week that puts them in a good position."
Notre Dame owns a 45-28-1 series advantage over Michigan State, but the Spartans have won three of the last four meetings.
Michigan State standout quarterback Kirk Cousins finished 16-of-21 for 183 yards and threw two touchdown passes to lead his squad to victory over Florida Atlantic. B.J. Cunningham became the Spartans' all-time receptions leader in the tilt by hauling in a first-quarter pass for his 149th career grab. Cunningham caught five passes for 73 yards on the day.
"I told him he needed one catch before the game and I said, 'Make it a good one,'" said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. "I thought he did. We were punting if he had not made that catch."
Le'Veon Bell ran for 69 yards and a score, while Edwin Baker added 50 yards and a touchdown for the Spartans, who posted 434 total yards in the clash.
The Spartans are averaging 36.0 ppg and 415.0 total ypg through two outings. Cousins has completed 81 percent of his passes for 405 yards with three scores and no picks, tremendous numbers to say the least. Cunningham already has 14 catches, and Bell has run for three scores.
The most impressive stat from Michigan State's shutout of Florida Atlantic is that the Spartans permitted only one first down in the contest.
"Anytime you throw a shutout in 2011 I think you get a phenomenal performance by your defense," said Dantonio. "I thought our players played and executed the defense very, very well. Offensively, we controlled the football, controlled the tempo."
The fact that the Spartans have only permitted three points through two games says it all about the stellar play of the defense. The team has permitted a total of 302 total yards and has been impressive against both the run and the pass.
On a night when Michael Floyd became Notre Dame's all-time leader in receiving yards, the Irish made one fewer big play than did Michigan in the four-point loss in Ann Arbor. Floyd caught 13 passes for 159 yards, and fellow wideout Theo Riddick scored twice, including a 29-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left which figured to win the game. Quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 315 yards and three scores, but his two interceptions did prove costly. Still, his coach was impressed with the effort.
"If you look at what Tommy did out there, almost throwing for 70 percent completion, getting us into a lot of good run checks, playing against a team that shows all kinds of different pressure packages, that's a very good situation at the end of the day," said Kelly of his quarterback.
Rees began the season as the second string quarterback but was far more impressive than Dayne Crist in the opener against USF and is now firmly entrenched as the starter.
For three quarters, the Notre Dame defense was tremendous against Michigan, limiting the Wolverines to seven points. Unfortunately for the Irish, the Wolverines were able to score four touchdowns in the final stanza, including a TD pass with two seconds left that capped a three-play, 80-yard drive.
Notre Dame is generating 25.5 ppg and 510.5 total ypg through two outings while permitting 29.0 ppg and just 353.0 total ypg.
This Notre Dame team seems to be far too talented to fall to 0-3, but Michigan State is simply the better team. Cousins is one of the top signal callers in the nation and will shine once again.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan State 24, Notre Dame 23