MSU Rush Offense vs. ND Rush DefenseOnce again, MSU's backfield feature some familiar faces. 23 Javon Ringer and 30 Jehuu Caulcrick have shared the load this year for a team that is averaging 194.7 yards per game on the ground. Ringer has the slight advantage in carries per game (18 to 15) and yards per game (85 to 72). But Caulcrick has been the man in goal line situations, scoring 6 of MSU's 8 rushing TDs. 20 AJ Jimmerson and 28 Andre Anderson have each carried the ball at least 8 times in relief duties. In addition, WRs 5 Devin Thomas and 6 Mark Dell each have multiple carries. FB 45 Andrew Hawken only has one rush on the season, for four yards. New starting QB 12 Brian Hoyer has a combined -31 rushing yards, so it doesn't look like he's much of a threat to run.
For all that you can say about the offense being unable to stay on the field, and the good rushing attacks faced, there's still no excuse for the Irish defense giving up 237 rushing yards per game. With a new quarterback and two experienced rushers, the Spartans would be more than happy to run the ball down ND's throat all day long. While the Irish defensive line has played decently this year, it's time for the linebackers to step up as a unit.
ND Rush Offense vs. MSU Rush DefenseUm, yeah. James Aldridge and Armando Allen are the closest ND has to a rushing attack right now. Aldridge is averaging 5-6 carries and 22 yards per game, and 3.9 yards per rush. Armando Allen is averaging 6-7 carries and 20 yards per game, and 3.0 yards per rush. But both can only do so much unless the line creates holes from them.
As usual, the Spartans are rather solid against the run, giving up 88.7 yards per game. However, they're only returning two starters along their front seven. Linebackers 43 Eric Gordon and 53 Greg Jones are tied for 3rd on the team with 18 tackles apiece; the pair have combined for 5.5 tackles for a loss.
MSU Pass Offense vs. ND Pass DefenseWith a new QB and two experienced rushers, MSU has wisely gone with a 1.6:1 rush/pass ratio this year. Still, when Brian Hoyer has had to pass, he's been very effective. Hoyer's, average day consists of completing 15 of 25 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, with maybe an interception thrown in there. (Hoyer was a year ahead of Robby Parris at St. Ignatius in Cleveland, so I'm assuming that he was Parris' high school QB. Oh, and on behalf of F-Bomb, go St. Ed's.) Devin Thomas is far and away the Spartans top receiver, averaging 4 catches and 105 yards per game. Those numbers are aided by a 76-yards touchdown reception, one of Thomas' two scores on the year. When Hoyer is in a pinch, he likes too loft the ball towards athletic 6'6" TE 80 Kellen Davis in the seam. Davis is averaging just over 2 catches and 35 yards per game, and has a TD reception on the year. Javon Ringer, Mark Dell, and WR 84 Deon Curry are each averaging 2 catches per game and 16-20 yards per game.
Presumably, Terrail Lambert will draw Thomas this week. But how will ND choose to guard Davis? With the 6'2 safety David Bruton, or with 6'3 former safety Anthony Vernaglia. And how will that assigment affect the run defense?
ND Pass Offense vs. MSU Pass DefenseJimmy Clausen's average day consists of completing 10 or 11 of 18 attempts for 84 yards, and perhaps an interception. Armando Allen has been his primary receiver out of the backfield, averaging 3 catches and 15 yards per game. But David Grimes has quietly tied Allen for the team lead in catches (9); Grimes averages 19.7 receiving yards per game. George West, John Carlson, Robby Parris, and Duval Kamara are all averaging more than one reception and 13-24 yards per game.
The good news for Irish fans is that Michigan State's two leading tacklers are a cornerback (38 Kendell Davis-Clark, 22 tackles) and a safety (13 Travis Key, 19). The bad news is that DE 94 Jonal Saint-Dic has 5 sacks, and 6 overall TFL. LB Greg Jones has added 2.5 sacks. TE Kellen Davis is sometimes used as a rush end, and he has 2 sacks on the season. S 21 Otis Wiley leads the team with two interceptions.
Special Teams14 Brett Swenson is back as MSU's field goal kicker. He's 3 for 5 on the year, missing in the 20-29 and 40-49 ranges. For Notre Dame, Brandon Walker is 2 for 2 from inside 30 yards, while Nate Whitaker has missed a 50-yarder.
Freshman 18 Aaron Bates is the new Spartans punter. He's averaging 5 punts per game, and 39 yards per punt. Six of his punts have been fair caught. For the Irish, Geoff Price is now averaging 8 punts per game, and 42.3 yards per punt.
Star WR Devin Thomas also returns kicks for the Spartans. On 8 attempts, he's averaging 29.5 yards per return with a long of 39 Nate Whitaker is now getting 61 yards per kickoff. But the Irish are giving up 25 yards per return, meaning opponents start at the 34 on average.
It looks like Golden Tate may have one the primary kick return job for the Irish, although Armando Allen still has the most returns of anyone on the team. Tate is averaging 26.7 yards per return with a long of 40; Allen, 19 yards per return with a long of 25. 15 Todd Boleski is MSU's kickoff specialist. He's averaging just under 65 yards per kick, and MSU's coverage team is surrendering 22.6 yards per return. That gives opponents an average start at the 28.
Receivers Mark Dell and 18 Terry Love have each returned 2 punts for the Spartans. Dell is averaging 1.5 yards per return; Love 12.5. Notre Dame's coverage team is giving up a medicre 12.2 yards per punt return.
ND's Tom Zbikowski is averaging a decent 14.4 yards per punt return, with a long of 47. MSU's punt coverage team has been very good, giving up just 7 yards per return.
Look for a big game from Clausen, Parris, the O-Line (especially Tom Bemenderfer, whose older brother is a very cool guy), Trevor Laws, Pat Kuntz, Vernaglia.
ND 20, MSU 17: MSU is decent, but they're nowhere near the level of talent ND has seen to start the season. The Spartans have their flaws, and the Irish need to exploit them. It may take bonus football, but Notre Dame will finally get the job done.