Big Ten: Lansing 0804

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo
 Michigan State's Javon Ringer (23) rushes for a 7-yard gain during the second quarter of the Spartans' 23-7 win over Notre Dame Saturday.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- To put it bluntly, Saturday's game was boring, a 60-minute grind defined by durable defense, field position and trench combat. Sure, it had intensity, but no flash, no pizzazz.

Mark Dantonio loved every minute of it. He didn't see a dull game. He saw tremendous intensity, solid fundamentals, power vs. power. He saw the way he wants Michigan State to play.

He saw himself.

As Dantonio often points out, Michigan State is still in the foundation phase after seven mostly underachieving seasons under Bobby Williams and John L. Smith. But teams usually turn a corner when they start to reflect their head coach, and if Saturday's 23-7 win against Notre Dame is any indication, Michigan State seems to be getting there.

"When you come out and play with emotion, play physical, that's because coach Dantonio's the one getting us fired up," middle linebacker Adam Decker said. "Him and his staff are the ones preaching being physical all week and all camp and all offseason. It's ingrained into us, and when we come out on a big stage like this, it's what we go back to."

Dantonio came to Michigan State known for his dominant defenses. His top credential was a three-year stint as Ohio State's defensive coordinator, where he coached a star-studded unit that ranked second nationally in points allowed and third in rushing defense en route to winning a national championship in 2002.

Michigan State had a mini-breakthrough in Dantonio's first year last fall, going 7-6 and reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2003. But the defense ranked eighth in the league in points allowed, surrendering 30 points or more five times. The unit didn't fully reflect its architect.

On Saturday, the Spartans throttled Notre Dame's offense, allowing only 16 net rushing yards and recording three sacks. The rare Irish ballcarrier who made it past the line of scrimmage paid the price, like the time safety Otis Wiley ear-holed James Aldridge late in the first quarter.

"We have an award called the Jacked-Up Hit award," Dantonio said. "It's a great award. You should see it sometime."

It's actually a T-shirt given out to the most ferocious hitter in each game. Wiley expects to be wearing it this week. "I'll wear it around, proud," Wiley said.

It took some time, but Wiley is blossoming into a Dantonio prototype. After leading the team in both tackles (94) and pass breakups (10) in 2006, Wiley struggled in Dantonio's first season.

He has rebounded this fall and sparked Michigan State with two first-half interceptions Saturday, bringing his season total to a Big Ten-leading four.

"Last year was just knowing what to do," Wiley said. "Now we know what to do. We know the plays to run and call. Coach D reflects us." Or the other way around. "I don't care where you're coaching, what brand of football you're coaching, you want to see good fundamentals, you want to see guys hustle and playing hard," Dantonio said. "Whether you're in the spread or the I-backs or passing it, you just want guys to play hard, and our guys did that."

Michigan State's style has been molded during hyper-intense practices where full-go hitting isn't merely allowed, but encouraged. The practices can be somewhat overwhelming for newcomers, as quarterback Keith Nichol, an Oklahoma transfer, found out.

"He's holding his head because he's watching guys flying around, killing people in practice," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said of Nichol. "And he's like, 'Oh my God.' He's scared somebody's going to get hurt, but that's how we play."

The physical style isn't only reserved for the defense. Michigan State's offensive philosophy is simple: beat up the opposing defense until it can't take it anymore.

While other Big Ten teams get cute with the spread offense, the Spartans practically announce they're going to feed running back Javon Ringer the ball over and over. Notre Dame was prepared, filling the box with seven or eight defenders, but Ringer still ran for 201 yards and two touchdowns.

"I feel stacking the box is a compliment," right tackle Jesse Miller said. "That means they respect our run game. And we keep going through 'em anyway. What can they do after that?"

Dantonio won his first four games as Spartans coach before seeing the team drop five of its next six. Michigan State won its third straight game Saturday and could continue the push in Big Ten play, which opens with Indiana, followed by Northwestern and Iowa.

The way the Spartans are winning suggests they'll avoid another slide, but Dantonio takes nothing for granted.

"Do I look comfortable?" he asked. "You're always on edge. It's always tense. It's always stressful. "We're building. This is a foundation, but we're not there yet."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
 Jimmy Clausen was 24-of-41 for 242 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in Notre Dame's 23-7 loss to Michigan State.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The wackiness of the Michigan State-Notre Dame rivalry often leaves the losing team feeling bitter and angry.

Notre Dame was steamed after an overtime loss in 2005, and Michigan State never recovered after blowing a big lead against the Fighting Irish the next year.

Notre Dame's 23-7 loss on Saturday at Spartan Stadium stirred different emotions. The defeat was definitive, and though the Irish had their share of chances, there were fewer "what-ifs" and widespread disappointment.

"We didn't deserve to win," head coach Charlie Weis said. "We had a chance to win the game, but we didn't deserve to win."

Teams that deserve to win run the ball effectively. Notre Dame didn't. Teams that deserve to win stop the run. Notre Dame didn't stop Javon Ringer enough.

Teams that deserve to win convert in the red zone. Notre Dame failed on its only two chances.

"Across the board in that locker room there were a lot of people that felt accountable," said Weis, who stood the entire game on the sideline in obvious pain after tearing two ligaments in his left knee last week. "Really, it all starts with accountability. If the players feel they're part of the problem, usually you can fix it. But they have to feel they're part of the problem. They weren't guys that were in the tank. They were guys that were really, really disappointed."

Notre Dame came here 2-0 largely because of its opportunistic play. The Irish converted Michigan's miscues into points and emerged with a heartening win last week.

But many of the same problems that plagued the team last season surfaced Saturday. The offensive line allowed its first three sacks of the season and quarterback Jimmy Clausen was under constant pressure.

Remove a 24-yard end around by dynamic wide receiver Golden Tate and Notre Dame finished with minus-8 net rushing yards. Running backs James Aldridge, Robert Hughes and Armando Allen combined for just 30 rush yards on 15 carries.

"They shut us off up front and we just weren't able to get anything going," tackle Sam Young said.

Notre Dame essentially abandoned the run after halftime, operating mainly from the shotgun with no backs and four or five wide receivers. The strategy clicked at times as Clausen found a groove with Tate (5 catches, 83 yards) and promising freshman wideout Michael Floyd (7 catches, 86 yards, TD).

But repeated mistakes plagued the unit, which didn't score until the first play of the fourth quarter.

"We always talk about, 'Make a team one-dimensional,'" Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Well, they came out and tried to establish the run game against us early in the game. And the second half, [Notre Dame had] probably three or four rushes on draws on third down and 12, and I could care less if they gain 11, to be honest with you.

"If you're an offense and you've got to throw it every down, you're in trouble."

The Irish showed signs of promise, especially from Tate, who made the play of the game in the fourth quarter when he took a hit from cornerback Ross Weaver, kept his knee off the turf and then cut back to convert a third-and-18.

Floyd had a crucial fumble but displayed tremendous athleticism, and the defense got solid play from linebacker Brian Smith (10 tackles, TFL, forced fumble).

"We fought today," Tate said. "I don't think we ever gave up. They just came out and played a little harder than we did."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Several minutes after Saturday's game ended, there was a knock at the back door of Michigan State's media trailer.

When it opened, a parade of Spartans players walked through. The five starting offensive linemen. The fullbacks. The tight ends. Ten players in all. The 11th man, the star of the day, the one whom everyone had come to hear, brought up the rear.

 
  AP Photo/Al Goldis
 Javon Ringer rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns to carry Michigan State to a 23-7 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

"I can do nothing without these guys paving the way for me," Michigan State running back Javon Ringer said. "We were able to win because of these guys, not because of me or because of our receivers. It came from the guys up front. I told y'all they should be doing the interviews instead of me."

It's no surprise that Ringer once again deferred the credit for his latest masterpiece to Michigan State's trailblazers. But it's time to give the Spartans senior running back his due.

With Beanie Wells hobbled and P.J. Hill splitting carries, Ringer has emerged as the Big Ten's best back and one of the best in the country. After four games, he's the obvious choice for league MVP after another yeoman's effort -- 39 carries, 201 yards, 2 touchdowns -- in a 23-7 win against Notre Dame.

Ringer became the first Michigan State player to record back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances. Through four games Ringer has 699 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on a nation-high 143 carries.

"He's the best back in the country," Spartans quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "I go and look on ESPN.com and they've got the Heisman hopefuls or whatever. Javon Ringer should be in there. He's got to have close to 1,000 yards by now. And for him to be that type of person says even more."

Hoyer isn't the only one putting a plug in for Ringer.

"I'll put my vote in for Javon Ringer for the Heisman Trophy," Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said to open his news conference. "That needs to start getting picked up a little bit because that guy's a machine."

Preseason hype is usually a prerequisite for Heisman consideration, and that's where Ringer falls short. But if the award hinged solely on in-season performance, it's hard to find a player who has done more.

The Spartans make no secret about their intentions on offense. They're going to run Ringer until the defense stops him. So far, no one has.

According to STATS Inc., Ringer has the highest carries total in the first four games of a season since Iowa State's Troy Davis piled up 149 in 1996. He has 82 carries in the last two games.

So, can he keep up this pace?

"My body it feels, 1 to 10, I'd probably give it about an 8," Ringer said. "I really wasn't taking too much punishment. So far, I feel pretty good."

Ringer appeared to hurt his ankle twice in Saturday's game -- head coach Mark Dantonio said he cramped up and got the wind knocked out of him -- and came back strong each time.

He carried on six consecutive plays to set up a field goal that put Michigan State up 16-7. Then, after Notre Dame missed a field goal, Ringer burst through for 63 yards. Five more Ringer runs put Michigan State in the end zone and the game out of reach with 2:16 left.

"He reminds me a little bit of Tory Dorsett back in the day, when he was at Pitt," Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said. "Tony was just strong and then all of a sudden, he'd break a tackle. And then in the fourth quarter was just, 'Feed me more.'"

Ringer had talked about feeding his offensive linemen steak dinners if they helped him to another huge performance. When reminded of the pledge after Saturday's game, Ringer said, "I [meant], if I had the money."

The cash will come in April at the NFL draft. For now, Ringer is happy being Michigan State's meal ticket.

"You want to feature your best player, and right now, our best player is our tailback," Dantonio said. "He's going to get touches. ... It's the intangibles within him that make him the back that he is. There's other guys that are just as explosive, are just as fast. But it's the things inside of him that makes him special."

Notre Dame tries to stage late rally

September, 20, 2008
9/20/08
6:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Both offenses woke up in the fourth quarter, and Notre Dame is trying to stage another late rally at Spartan Stadium.

The decision to abandon the run game and operate mainly from the shotgun has paid off for the Irish, who continue to get big plays from young wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. On third-and-18, Tate amazingly stayed on his feet and cut back across the field to get the first down. Tate also broke up a potential interception. But mistakes continue to haunt the Irish, who missed their second field goal after an illegal procedure penalty.

Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer finally got going on a 54-yard drive that resulted in Brett Swenson's third field goal. The senior made two crisp throws to Mark Dell and then let Javon Ringer take over. The Spartans once again couldn't convert a red-zone chance into a touchdown, and Ringer appeared to hurt his foot or ankle. He trotted off the field and looked to be moving fine on the sideline, but there's no doubt he's playing in some pain.

I'm heading down to the field but will be back later with more updates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Notre Dame is showing signs of life on offense, but Michigan State's disciplined defense continues to come up big.

The Fighting Irish wisely shelved their run game after getting nothing out of their backs in the first half. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen is operating almost exclusively from the shotgun, usually with no backs, and he's beginning to find his rhythm. But every time the Irish get on track, they seem to make mistakes. They had a nice drive at the beginning of the quarter that ended with wideout Michael Floyd fumbling in the red zone.

If the Spartans hold on, they can credit a marauding defense and senior running back Javon Ringer (118 rush yards, TD). Senior quarterback Brian Hoyer hasn't improved his completion ratio (9-for-23), and the Spartans are too one-dimensional. They mounted a nice drive following Floyd's fumble but stalled again in the red zone. As I stated before, Hoyer will need to make a play or two down the stretch for Michigan State to hold on.

Clausen appeared to injure his left arm/shoulder on a sack late in the quarter. Backup Evan Sharpley started to warm up but Clausen re-entered the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The good news is I'm still awake after watching one of the least exciting halves of this young football season. But Michigan State will make no apologies.

The Spartans are 30 minutes away from posting their second consecutive shutout. After struggling to stop Cal running backs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen in the season opener, Michigan State has shored up its defensive front and is starting to reflect its defensive-minded head coach, Mark Dantonio. Michigan State's front seven has completely shut down the run, forcing Jimmy Clausen into pressure situations. The Notre Dame sophomore quarterback has thrown two interceptions and easily could have one or two more. Of Notre Dame's 111 first-half yards, 54 came on two plays.

I'm fairly convinced that for the second straight year, Notre Dame has no idea how to block. The Irish can't run the ball, screen passes take forever to develop and Clausen has been under pressure the entire game (sacked twice). Aside from deep passes to talented young wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, the Irish offense has very few options.

Spartans senior safety Otis Wiley is the obvious pick for first-half MVP. Anchoring a secondary missing two potential starters -- Kendell Davis-Clark and Roderick Jenrette -- Wiley has made plays all over the field, recording his third and fourth interceptions of the season. Defensive end Brandon Long also has come up big with 2.5 tackles for loss, and linebacker Greg Jones continues to impress.

The concern for Michigan State remains senior quarterback Brian Hoyer, who completed just 5 of 14 passes in the half. His receivers haven't helped him out a lot, but that percentage won't cut it against better teams. Aside from a fumble, running back Javon Ringer has been typically solid, racking up 82 yards on 18 carries. I still think the burnout factor could come into play for Ringer later in the season if Hoyer doesn't start playing better.

Both teams' struggles to move the ball was best illustrated on the game's only touchdown drive. Michigan State needed nine plays to go only 22 yards and scored as Ringer barely got the ball across the goal line.

At least Sparty the Spartan, who's wearing a sombrero for some reason, seems to be enjoying himself. Here's hoping for some more highlights after halftime.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- We could be in for a defensive struggle at Spartan Stadium, as Michigan State leads 3-0. The teams have combined for just six first downs and 149 yards of offense.

Both defenses have looked impressive so far, and both quarterbacks are struggling to find a rhythm. The Fighting Irish wisely are stacking the box against Spartans star running back Javon Ringer, forcing Brian Hoyer and his receivers to beat them down the field. Hoyer has had some opportunities, but wayward throws, dropped passes and a touchdown-saving deflection by Notre Dame's Raeshon McNeil have stymied the offense. Irish linebacker Brian Smith continues to impress, stripping the ball from Ringer after a Jimmy Clausen interception.

Michigan State safety Otis Wiley has definitely returned to his 2006 form, when he led the team in tackles and pass breakups. Wiley already has an interception in the end zone and earholed Notre Dame running back James Aldridge on a third-down run. Notre Dame simply has to get Golden Tate more touches. The sophomore is a threat every time he has the ball in his hands. Clausen looks shaky under pressure but can throw the deep ball and has the weapons to capitalize. Michigan State's front seven have dominated the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Greg Jones continues to make plays.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is moving gingerly on the sidelines and wearing athletic pants over his injured knee. Strength coach Ruben Mendoza is flanking Weis wherever he goes. Probably a good idea.

Greetings from Sparta

September, 20, 2008
9/20/08
2:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State won't have to worry about rain washing away a big lead today in the second half, as it did two years ago against Notre Dame. It's a gorgeous day here and should stay that way through the rest of the afternoon.

Great atmosphere around the stadium today. The Michigan State student section is filling up fast in the southeast corner of Spartan Stadium. Notre Dame Nation also is here in force. Saw several Jeff Samardzija No. 83 jerseys milling about. Best G-rated T-shirt I've seen so far: Sparty On. Good stuff.

So I'm officially famous. Sort of. For the first time I've been recognized at a game, by a most likely inebriated Michigan State student you yelled, "Hey, Big Ten blogger!" I was honored.

I haven't spotted Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis yet. Weis is going to tough it out today with a brace on his knee after tearing his ACL and MCL last week.

The Stanley Cup is on display in the northwest corner of the stadium, and fans can take a picture with the most famous trophy in sports for a $5 donation. Proceeds go to help kids with cancer, part of the "Shoot for a Cure" initiative led by Justin Abdelkader, a former Michigan State hockey player now with the champion Detroit Red Wings.

Check back later for updates throughout the game.

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