Stats & Info: Cierre Wood

Notre Dame hopes to 'box' up Spartans

September, 14, 2012

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 8pm 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 & 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 RB 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 QB 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.

US Presswire/Matt CashoreCierre Wood (with ball) will be a player to watch in tonight's Citrus Bowl

Two of college football’s most prestigious programs may not have had the best of seasons, but both have significant reasons for wanting to win today’s Champs Sports Bowl matchup (ESPN, 5:30 ET).

Here’s a closer look at this matchup:

It’s the first meeting between the two storied programs since 2003 (a 37-0 win by FSU in South Bend). This is their second bowl meeting.

The first bowl meeting came in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1996 when Florida State rallied from a 26-14 fourth-quarter deficit by scoring 17 points in the final 9:47 of the game for a 31-26 victory.

Overall, Florida State leads the series 4-2.

Florida State is 7-0-2 all-time in games played in Orlando. One of those games is a 23-16 win over Notre Dame on November 12, 1994. This is the Seminoles’ second appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl. They defeated Wisconsin 42-13 in the 2008 edition.

Keys to the Matchup
The biggest battle in this game will be Notre Dame rushing the football against one of the best run defenses in the country.

Florida State holds opponents to 2.3 yards per rush (fewest in FBS) because it does not allow opponents to gain yards in chunks.

Fewer than a quarter of Florida State opponents’ rushes gain five or more yards. The Seminoles have only allowed 104 rushes of at least five yards out of 423 attempts.

The Irish, led by Cierre Wood (1,042 yards) and Jonas Gray (791), rank 20th among FBS schools in yards per carry, netting just over five yards per rush. In fact, the team gains at least five yards on 43 percent of its rushes, the sixth-best rate among FBS schools.

Notre Dame will have to take care of the football. The Irish enter the game fifth-worst in the FBS in turnover margin, with a minus-13 turnover differential. Much of that is attributable to quarterback Tommy Rees, who has thrown 12 interceptions and lost five fumbles. In the past eight games, they've trimmed that differential to minus-3.

This will be the third bowl game and second start for Florida State QB E.J. Manuel. Manuel is 28-for-39 for 273 yards in two previous bowl appearances, with one touchdown throw and no interceptions.

Over the past four games, Manuel has thrown 83 passes and not thrown an interception.

Manuel’s success at throwing the long pass could be significant in this contest. In the three Seminoles losses in which he played, he was 1-for-12 with two interceptions when throwing the ball at least 20 yards downfield.

In his other games, he is 13-for-29 on pass attempts of at least 20 yards, with six touchdowns and one interception.

Stats of the Game
Florida State is appearing in a bowl game for the 30th consecutive season, the longest active streak in FBS (though the NCAA does not recognize FSU’s 2006 Emerald Bowl).

Brian Kelly is trying to become the first coach in Notre Dame history to win bowl games in each of his first two seasons there.

Keep in mind, the Fighting Irish did not play in a bowl from the 1926-68 seasons because of a self-imposed bowl ban.