CFB Preview: No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame
Fifty years ago, Michigan State and Notre Dame played in what was then called the Game of the Century. It pitted No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 2 Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.
Of course, it ended in a 10-10 tie, a bit of a letdown considering the magnitude of the game. However, 50 years later, the game still stands as an iconic moment with both programs.
And when the Spartans and Fighting Irish meet at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, that historic game will be on the minds of many, almost as much as the fact the 2016 version of each team is trying to find its footing and jump into the national championship hunt.
"Very excited about going down to South Bend to play in this game," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "It's a rivalry game for us. Been involved in this football game probably since '97 as an assistant coach, and there's been some great games with Notre Dame.
"I think it all goes back to the '66 game certainly and even maybe before that. So it's been a traditional-type rivalry and we've embraced that as we have so many of our other rivalries."
Michigan State and Notre Dame have played 77 times, but this will be the first meeting since 2013 as the rivalry took a hiatus.
Even with the break, the teams understand they're getting ready for a big game.
"It's a winning team, so they know how to win," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of the Spartans. "We watched film after film of their games in the Big Ten and there's a lot of opponents that have 'em on the ropes and they find a way to win whether it's Ohio State or Indiana who has a great chance to win the game, but they come back and beat them.
"So it says that you obviously have that winning attitude that you can close out games. But I think more than anything else is Michigan State is going to play the game with that mental and physical toughness and you have to match it."
Notre Dame showed its own share of mental toughness in last week's victory over Nevada, bouncing back from a double-overtime loss to Texas in the season-opener.
The Fighting Irish allowed 50 points and more than 500 total yards in that game but were much more solid in the win over Nevada. What hasn't changed in two weeks has been the play of quarterback DeShone Kizer, who has taken control of the job he split with Malik Zaire in the opener. His passer rating is top-five in the nation and he's been nearly perfect in the red zone, completing seven of 10 passes with five touchdowns.
Overall, the Irish have gained 444 total yards in each of the first two games, running for 239 against Nevada. It's that sort of production that has the attention of the Spartans.
"I would say overall their offense is extremely athletic and they've got a lot of players," fifth-year senior linebacker Riley Bullough said. "Kizer, he's an athletic guy, he can throw the ball but he can also take it and run. So to combat that, you've got to be fundamentally sound on defense. Everyone's got to do their job. They've got to do it every single play for the entire game."
Michigan State had a bye in week two, giving them time to straighten out several issues from an uninspiring victory over Furman in the season-opener that featured 10 penalties and a pair of turnovers.
So instead of taking it easy during the bye, the Spartans went to work, fixing their own issues while getting a jump on the Irish.
"I've been reminded by one of our coaches we've had one game in six weeks since coming here on Aug. 5," Dantonio said. "So hopefully practice makes perfect. ... Again, we've waited. I don't think there is anybody in our program that wanted to sit last weekend. So I anticipate our guys being ready to go, enthusiastic, and it will be fun to go down there. There will be 10, 15,000 Spartan fans there as well. That makes it exciting as well."