Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. the Michigan State Spartans Will Come Down to the Hog Mollies: The Big Boys!

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Michigan State vs. Notre Dame Both is About The Spartans Running the Ball & Owning the Trenches

Over the past five days I have watched last year’s MSU vs. Notre Dame game 11 times.   On top of the numerous times over the summer, I think I am in a strong position to reflect on that game and look ahead to this game.

No doubt there will be different players, different formations and other intangibles, but this game comes down to the MSU offensive line and their ability to run the ball. If the Spartans run the ball they will win. End of discussion.

MSU QB Andrew Maxwell expounded on that fact. He said, “The run game starts with us, it starts up front. It starts with having seven offensive linemen on our team that are starting football games for us and a lot of the guys have started for at least a full season.”

He went on to add, “So with the depth and the strength that we have there and the depth and the experience that we have at tailback that, really allows us to have good, efficient plays at first and second down and ideally keeps us out of third and long situations, or second and long situations, where we can really open up the passing game and we can have a lot more freedom there.”

Last season the Spartans lost. Sadly it was more to their own mistakes than what Notre Dame did. That isn’t taking anything away from the Irish, it is to clearly show that the Spartans can’t beat Notre Dame and the Spartans. They have to stay on task and force the Irish to do something I don’t think they can: Beat the Spartans!

Max Bullough agrees with me and pontificated about the last game saying, “No, I think especially when it comes to Notre Dame week, you start thinking about the game and obviously you see the film from last year, and so you watch a lot of it. It was a disappointing week for us.”

The Spartans star MLB added, “We didn't think we played up to our standards. Obviously Notre Dame played a phenomenal game, obviously take no credit away from them. But we didn't think we played as physical and as together as we would have liked and we look forward to playing better and having a better experience against Notre Dame this year.”

LeVeon Bell is that Spartan workhorse and he knows that after running the ball 44 times against Boise his name will be called. He spoke of the Spartans rushing attack at the line of scrimmage, “We always wanted to run the ball. Now we have the all-star lineup to do it and these guys are experienced up front, we want to get back to running the football and help get pressure off of Maxwell and when teams start to crowd and box, really stop that run game, we have guys on the outside that can get open and make throws for him. We just want to be a balanced offense and help everybody on offense.”

Don’t think that only the Spartans are talking about the rushing attack and the battle at the line of scrimmage. Irish Head Coach Brian Kelly knows that is where this game will be won or lost. He said, “Yeah, we know what kind of game it's going to be. It’s going to be a physical game. You can't win those games unless you play good run defense, there's no chance. You're going to find yourself on the short end of most of those games. I mean, I'm sure there are some games where a rushing defense didn't factor in, but we built the program and started to build the program and the foundations for it, a good run defense. And games like this are going to test you, because both defenses are very stingy as it comes to running the football.”

The Irish head man added, “Well, I think that it's still going to come down to winning up front in this game. I think the team that can control the football, minimize the turnovers, is going to be the team that has the best chance to win.”

Not just on the OL, MSU has to maintain a stranglehold on both lines. Kelly said, “So if Michigan State can exert their will on both fronts, the offensive line and defensive line, I think we probably know how that game is going to go. We feel like we have to be able to exert our same kind of presence on both sides of the ball and then do all of the other things that require you to win. They are so stingy on defense, you have to find some ways to get some big chunk plays. Because you're not going to go three yards and four yards; you're just not go build a consistency on offense doing that against this kind of defense.”

In a battle like the Irish and the Spartans will have Saturday, little things matter. The mental mistakes of last year must be corrected for the Spartans and exploited by Kelly and the Irish. “So finding opportunities to get some matchups that we can get some bigger chunk plays. And I'm sure they feel the same way about our defense. There's a lot of similarities; both of these defenses are very stingy and trying to find those big chunk plays I think is going to be really important in this game,” said Kelly.

Kelly is good coach, but he doesn’t have one benefit that MSU head man Mark Dantonio has: LeVeon Bell! Dantonio’s work horse is a true Heisman candidate and a great player, and a young man Dantonio will rely on.

The Spartans Coach said of Bell, “No. He's proved that he can touch it 50 times and still make the next game. I'm not worried about that. I thought Larry Caper played well. Nick Hill shows flashes. Jeremy Langford got in. Fourth tailback, very skilled. But plays wideout as well. “

He went to say, “I think Le'Veon, as I've said many times, he's a very good football player, sort of a complete football player in the fact he can run down there, be on the kickoff team, be in the kick return team, return punts, he's a great blocker. He's a physical guy and can withstand that physical type of environment he's going to have to go through. I don't worry about that.”

For Dantonio last year was not about excuses. It was about proving something. Proving that big games are won on the lines and in the trenches. He knows that last year’s tilt didn’t meet goals and expectations, but it did show his team how each play, each series and each game is a battle.

He reflected on last season saying, “If you think back to last year, we had a left tackle that was in his third game as an offensive lineman, period, Dan France. We had Skyler, redshirt freshman, starting at right tackle. Blake Treadwell, third game as an offensive lineman starting at center. We had two guys that had experience. We were very inexperienced as an offensive line at that point.”

Things in 2012 are much different right now in the Spartan Nation and Dantonio pointed out how. “Right now we have much more experience, much more depth on the offensive line. That should make a difference for us down the line. So we're hoping to get everybody back, everybody healthy, continue to try to build that thing.  But it can be a tremendous challenge this week because Notre Dame is very, very good up front. Four very good linebackers, three very good down players, and they're active.”

I will give my prediction tomorrow, but I can tell you I think the Irish will have a tough time running the ball on MSU and I think the Spartans balanced attack will be a lot for the Irish to handle. I know the temptation of most fans is to watch the ball.

I challenge you to watch the lines. Those may not be as sexy, but they are where games are won and lost.