Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 4: Michigan State

MSU Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

This year, Michigan State has shown that they love to stick to the ground game when it's going well. So far, it has gone gone well, to the tune of 41 rushes and 258 yards per game. That includes a 48 rush, 335 yard performance against Pitt last week. MSU returns many familiar faces on offense, starting with 23 Javon Ringer. On an offense that has been able to share the love fairly well, Ringer is the closest thing to a workhorse. He's averaging 15 carries and 119 yards per game, with 1 touchdown on the season. The guys to look out for in the red zone are QB 5 Drew Stanton and 260-pound short-yardage back 30 Jehuu Caulcrick. Both are averaging 10 carries a game, and both share the team lead with 3 rushing touchdowns. Stanton is averaging 64 rushing yards per game, sacks included, while Caulcrick is averaging 57. It doesn't look like the Spartans employ a fullback, unless Caulcrick or a tight end are called when the right situation presents itself. Redshirt freshman RB 20 AJ Jimmerson has seen mopup duty, carrying 13 times for 89 yards on the year. Split end 18 Terry Love carried for 5 yards on the team's lone end-around this season.
Notre Dame is giving up 132.3 yards per game on the ground this season, which could make this one interesting. The entire 11 will need more discipline than a purple belt in this game. The linebackers will have to contain Ringer and Stanton, cover the option well if it comes, and execute perfect form tackles to make up for the size disadvantage against Caulcrick. The safeties will have to stay within themselves and stick to their assignments when Stanton leaves the pocket. And the corners will have to stick to their men so the backers and safeties can do their own jobs.

ND Rush Offense vs. MSU Rush Defense

Notre Dame's run game was simply shut down last week. Even despite the need to play catch up last year against MSU, Darius Walker ended the game with 116 rushing yards. He will need a big game to get his stats back on track, as he's only gained 180 yards through the first three games this season. Notre Dame will also need to find a reliable backup and short-yardage option. Asaph Schwapp may be out again; can Ashley McConnell be trusted with the ball? Will we see more or less of Travis Thomas in the offensive backfield? Will quarterback Brady Quinn make the wise decisions that led to 11 scrambles for 59 yards, or the unwise decisions that led to 8 sacks for 62?
MSU has shut down the run this year, holding opponents to 79 yards per game, and 2.8 yards per rush. The numbers are actually eerily similar to those gained by the ND offense. On only 9 more total carries, the Irish are averaging 84 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. Is the MSU run defense that good? The Spartans do return linebackers 34 Kaleb Thornhil and 31 David Herron, and "Bandit" 27 SirDarean Adams. But it is the safeties and the linemen doing the dirty work. S 21 Otis Wiley leads the team in tackles (26) and tackles-for-loss (4). S 3 Nehemiah Warrick is right behind with 23 tackles and 1 TFL. Linemen 92 Clifton Ryan, 51 Ervin Baldwin, and 17 David Stanton have combined for 24 tackles, 8 for a loss.

MSU Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Drew Stanton is back at the helm for the Spartans. Thanks to their success with the run game, Stanton hasn't had to rely too much on his arm. Still, he's been very effective. Stanton's average day so far consists of completing 18 or 19 of 27 pass attempts for 226 yards and 2 TDs. Stanton has some familiar faces at wide receiver, and he prefers throwing to his wideouts more than anyone else. 6'6 6 Matt Trannon, who has also tossed a 35-yard touchdown bomb of his own, is averaging 6 catches and 63 yards per game. 15 Kerry Reed is averaging 5 catches and 69 yards per game, while 32 Jerramy Scott is averaging 3 catches and 49 yards per game. While each of the receivers have hit double digits in the receptions column, no other Spartan else has more than 4 catches. The man with 4 is running back Javon Ringer, who is averaging 14 receiving yards per game. Trannon and Reed are tied for the team lead with 2 receiving TDs. Backup tailback AJ Jimmerson also has 2, so don't take your eyes off of him when he comes out of the backfield. TE 80 Kellen Davis is averaging just one catch a game. David Grimes' brother 4 Carl has made one reception on the season.
The Irish are holding opponents to a respectable 195 passing yards per game. Of course, one in every ten completions and one in every 17 attempts overall has gone for a touchdown. Again, the key to this game will be discipline. The corners must be able to cover their men well enough to let everyone else do their job. The entire secondary can't leave their men early just because Stanton is drifting out of the pocket. MSU runs a base 3-receiver set, so look for nickel from the Irish quite a bit, along with some dime. This means all eyes should be on Terrail Lambert. So far, he hasn't exactly become the Lou Gehrig to Leo Ferrine's Wally Pip at nickelback. Lambert, Ray Herring, Darrin Walls, and Raeshon McNeil will all be tested in this one.

ND Pass Offense vs. MSU Pass Defense

If Brady Quinn wants to silence any doubters, now would be a great time to start. Quinn has been less than spectacular so far, but then again he's faced some tough competition. Quinn is averaging 24 of 40 passing for 256 yards, 2 TDs, and an interception per game. Like Stanton, he hasn't spread the ball out too much so far. Quinn's "Big Four" - guys with 10 or more catches - are Rhema McKnight (18 catches, 243 yards), Darius Walker (18, 125), Jeff Samardzija (16, 160), and John Carlson (13, 176). David Grimes did turn in 4 catches for 48 yards this week. Playing against his brother, perhaps Grimes will have some motivation to kick it up another notch this week. McKnight and Samardzija each have 2 receiving touchdowns, while Walker and Ashley McConnell have added one apiece.
MSU's pass defense is surrendering 221 passing yards per game. Their 5 sacks and 3 INTs aren't too impressive (that's the same number of sacks as ND, with only one more interception than the Irish). But, they have faired well in the "close enough" categories, recording 15 pass breakups and 11 quarterback hits. Then again, those numbers can be subjective, and it's possible the Spartans just have a generous scorekeeper. End Ervin Baldwin leads the team with 2 sacks, while tackle Clifton Ryan has 5 quarterback hits. Safety Otis Wiley has 4 pass breakups, while linebacker Kaleb Thornhill and CB Desmon Williams are right behind with 3. Wiley, Ryan, and tackle David Stanton have each added a sack, while Williams and linebackers David Herron and SirDarean Adams account for MSU's three picks.

Special Teams

Freshman 14 Brett "Bubbles" Swenson has converted 4 of 5 field goals this season, with his only miss coming from greater than 50 yards. Swenson's long is a 43-yarder. Carl Gioia has converted 2 of 4 for the Irish.
Perennial Ray Guy candidate 8 Brandon Fields has averaged 49.2 yards per punt this year, with a long of 63 (and at 6'6, 235 lbs, what's this guy doing at punter?). Not to be outdone, Geoff Price is averaging 49.8 yards with a long of 2 for the Irish.
Javon Ringer and Desmond Williams return kicks for the Irish. Ringer is averaging 21.2 yards on 4 returns, while Williams is averaging 18 yards on 2 returns. Bobby Renkes is averaging 62 yards per kickoff for the Irish, with 3 touchbacks. ND's kick coverage team is averaging 14.4 yards per return, giving opponents an average start at the 17.
David Grimes and George West have been Notre Dame's kick returners. Grimes has had a little more success than West, returning 7 kicks for an average of 27.3 yards. West is averaging 19.7 per return on 3 chances. 15 Todd Boleski is MSU's kickoff specialist. He's averaging 61.2 yards per kick with 6 touchbacks. Given MSU's 23.2 yards given up per return, opponents on average will start at the 27 yard line.
Terry Love returns kicks for the Spartans. He's picked up a measly 12 yards on 5 chances. ND is surrendering 11 yards per punt return.
Tom Zbikowski returns punts for the Irish, and he hasn't had much more luck than Love. Zbikowski is averaging 5.4 yards per return on 7 tries. On 3 tries, MSU opponents are averaging a whopping 1.25 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, Walker, Samardzija, and Crum.

ND 31, MSU 27: Walker, Samardzija, McKnight, and Zbikowski all find a way to take it to the house, and Gioia tacks one on for good measure.