Michigan State rolls into South Bend on Saturday with a 3-0 record, but with 3 wins that came against the teams ranked 126th, 135th and 139th in the Sagarin Ratings. In preparation for Sparty, here are 3 questions to consider for Saturday.
1) Can the Irish establish a running game?
Through week 3, Michigan State is 4th in the country in giving up 151 rushing yards on 82 attempts by their opponents (1.84 yards per carry). While their opponents have been weak (okay, maybe “weak” is an exceptional understatement) it is a worrisome figure for a Notre Dame team that is 79th in the nation at 4.12 YPC through 3 games. After looking outmatched against an inferior D-line at Purdue, Notre Dame’s offensive line took over the end of the game to ice the clock and the victory. That strong play will need to carry over to Saturday for ND to establish a rhythm on offense.
2) Who will win the turnover battle?
Though MSU’s offense generally looked horrendous against Western Michigan and USF, the Spartan defense has scored plenty on its own. MSU has forced 8 turnovers through 3 games (4 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries) and has returned 4 for touchdowns. Outside of one poor decision by Tommy Rees against Michigan, the quarterback who earned a nickname based on his propensity for turnovers has taken good care of the football. Particularly if ND struggles to establish a running game, the winner of the turnover battle could very well end up winning the game.
3) Will one running back emerge?
From the way Brian Kelly has discussed the 5-back situation in his pressers and the way GAIII, Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel have shared carries, it is very difficult to predict who might touch the rock the most on Saturday. Through three games carries have been as follows: Carlisle 30; McDaniel 29; Atkinson 18; Folston 5; Bryant 3. While McDaniel was a workhorse against Purdue and showed his toughness in bouncing back from a helmet to his bare head, his 16 attempts for 56 yards at 3.5 yards per carry was probably not enough to distinguish him from Carlisle and Atkinson. All three of the featured backs have shown flashes, and until one really separates himself we may continue to see a relatively equal distribution of carries.
And of course, don’t forget to PUCKER: