Notre Dame Football: Next Level

Notre Dame hopes to 'box' up Spartans

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
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Matt Cashore/US PresswireNotre Dame RB Cierre Wood returns from a two-game suspension Saturday against Michigan State. Wood rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns last season against the Spartans.

In the only matchup between teams ranked in the AP Top-20 this weekend, No. 10 Michigan State hosts No. 20 Notre Dame at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. The Spartans and Fighting Irish have split their last 10 meetings with the home team winning each of the last four contests.

The last time these two teams met in East Lansing, Michigan State defeated Notre Dame, 34-31, on a fake field goal in overtime two seasons ago. The 29-yard TD pass from Aaron Bates to Charlie Gantt gave the Spartans their first and only lead of the game.

Including that win, Michigan State is 9-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer since 2010. The win was also the second of what is now 15-straight wins at home for Michigan State, the fourth-longest active streak among FBS schools.

Notre Dame enters the game at 2-0 and hopes to win its first three games of the season for the first time since starting 8-0 in 2002. The Irish have entered their matchup with Michigan State at 2-0 twice since then (2005 and 2008) and lost each of those games on the road.

Should the Irish come away with the win, it would be their first win over a team ranked in the AP Top-10 since 2005 when they knocked off No. 3 Michigan. They have lost nine straight such games since then, the longest streak in Notre Dame history.

One player the Irish will need to slow down if they hope to come up with the road win is Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell. Bell ranks sixth in the nation with 140.0 rush yards per game but has been limited when opponents have stacked the line of scrimmage.

Against defensive fronts with seven or more players in the box, Bell has averaged 3.5 yards per carry on 32 attempts with 37 yards after contact. Against fronts with six or fewer in the box, he has averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 30 attempts with 74 yards after contact.

You can expect Notre Dame to bring a safety or two up to help against the run because Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell has yet to stretch the field consistently. He’s completed only 38.9 percent of his pass attempts 10 yards or more downfield this season.

Speaking of defense, it’s tough to ignore the numbers that Michigan State has put up in two games this season.

The Spartans enter the weekend as one of three teams in the FBS yet to allow an offensive touchdown in 2012 and the other two (Florida State & TCU) have played only schools from the FCS. The 225.5 total yards they have allowed per game lead the Big Ten and rank eighth in the FBS.

Last weekend, Tommy Rees replaced Everett Golson at quarterback for Notre Dame’s final offensive drive against Purdue, which led to a game-winning field goal. However, head coach Brian Kelly said Golson will be the starter on Saturday.

Elsewhere in the backfield, the Irish hope the return of RB Cierre Wood will provide a spark against Michigan State like he did last season in South Bend. Wood, suspended the first two games of 2012, rushed for 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Notre Dame’s upset win over the No. 15 Spartans last season.

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