Early Analysis: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State

Photo: USA Today Sports

No. 22 Notre Dame vs. Michigan State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. NBC
Line: Notre Dame -7

The college football schedule for this weekend may not be the most appetizing, but it does include another rivalry game that has been fun to watch over the years. Notre Dame will play their third straight game against a Big Ten opponent when they return to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since the season opener against Temple. Michigan State comes to town, looking to pick up their first win since 2007 in South Bend. The Spartans have played well on defense but need to pick up the offense against the Irish, who also look to lock down on defense for the first time this season.

For Notre Dame to Win: Tighten up on defense. Through three games this season we have seen that the Irish are not quite as automatic on defense as they were a year ago. Temple managed to rack up 362 yards of offense on Notre Dame in the season opener, Notre Dame's only home game so far, and the Owls enter the week with the 96th total offense in the country. With questions about stability on Michigan State's offense, the Irish have to bring pressure on Connor Cook, making his first road start of his career. Notre Dame has just three sacks through three games.

For Michigan State to Win: Show up on offense. The Spartans have limped out of the gates this season on offense, being outscored by their defense in the first two games before finding somethign that seemed to work well against FCS Youngstown State last weekend. Have the Spartans found a quarerback in Connor Cook, or will they get hit with a big dose of reality this weekend in South Bend? Last year Michigan State managed to score just three points against the Irish. Notre Dame's defense is good, but not great so far. They can be scored on with the right offense on the field.

Key Player, Notre Dame: If we are going to focus on Notre Dame's defense, it starts up front with Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. Between them the Irish have 679 pounds to handle fo Michigan State's offensive line. They should be able to plug some holes for Michigan State's running game, which has been the lifeblood of the Spartans offense for a while now and may be needed in this weekend's match-up on key downs.

Key Player, Michigan State: Connor Cook will be thrown under a huge spotlight this weekend. After being declared the starting quarterback for a second straight week, it appears as though he will be the guy leading this offense until he stutters. At the moment there appear to be problems, who short will the leash from Mark Dantonio be before swapping back to Andrew Maxwell or freshman Damion Terry? Cook has completed jus 55.1 percent of his passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers may not blow you away, but that is the best the Spartans have to offer right now under center.

Key Stat: Everybody who watches football knows that turnovers often play in to the outcome of a game, and this rivalry has been no exception. The winning team in the series has won the turnover battle as well in each of the last five years. The last time a team managed to overcome a turnover deficit was in 2007 when Michigan State had two turnovers but pulled away from the Irish 31-14. And if history is any indication, turnovers will happen. In that same span there has been only one game in which one team did not have a turnover. Notre Dame did that last season in a victory.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to NBCSports.com's College Football Talk, Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and iHeart Radio. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.