Gotta love the life of being a Michigan State Spartan... There ain't nothing like taking on the Irish Catholics under the lights, on national television, in front of a prime-time audience, and especially after a recent history of kicking their butt (10 out of the last 15 appearances).
The ES looks forward to the second night game of the year to watch the BEST Spartan defense in a generation. But, is it good enough to make up for a Spartan offense whose passing-game has been, for the most part, offensive?
The oft-mentioned Spartan defense has everything a coach would want -- other than to coach an Alabama defense -- with experience, speed, size, and depth. The Spartan defensive front is Herculean, led by the speedy and mammoth defensive end, William Gholston. Gholston, at 6-7, 280 lbs, is complimented on the interior by 300-lb run-stuffers in Anthony Rashad White and Micajah Reynolds. All of its backers are Big Ten All-Conference caliber: team-leader and three-generation Spartan legacy Max Bullough (11 tackles, 2.5 for loss), speedy Chris Norman, and hard-hitting Denicos Allen. Interestingly, Kyler Ellsworth is another guy to watch, as this guy is a playmaker at LB and special teams, with a history of blocking kicks and picking up fumbles, seemingly always in the right place at the right time during the right play.
While the defense is giving up just 54.5 yards per game on the ground, it hasn't found its mojo in getting to the quarterback, with just one sack on the year. Gholston, who terrorized Georgia in the Outback Bowl on New Years' Day, and Marcus Rush, who can bring the hammer from the other end position, have been more than serviceable in pressuring QBs into hurried throws, but they haven't buried passers. The ES has a reason for this: a lack of inspiration against both an unknown Boise squad and an undermanned Central Michigan team. This will change on Saturday, when the Spartan joy of slapping around a struggling Irish offensive line will lead to bruises, broken body parts, and turnovers.
And, the Michigan State secondary is stellar; it should take advantage, thanks to the push from the Spartan front. The DBs are allowing just 171 yards through the air on just 45 percent completions with three INTs. The secondary returns All-Conference starters Isaiah Lewis and Johnny Adams, as well as the experienced Darqueze Dennard. Spartan defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is licking his chops: expect his athletic corners to play freely by manning-up the tall receivers from South Bend, and turning loose the 'backers to blitz through that Irish line and knock Irish QBs Everett Golson and Tommy Rees senseless. OK, Irish TE Tyler Eifert may be a key to watch here, and it is intriguing to see if Norman can stay toe-to-toe on pass coverage.
On the offensive side of the scrimmage line, RB Le'Veon Bell (280 yards, 4.5 per carry, 4 TDs) reminds the Spartan faithful of one of its greatest players, Lorenzo White, but with speedier legs. At 6-2, 244-lbs, Bell can dance around, or over, but more often runs through opposing linebackers. He is nicely complemented by the speedy Nick Hill and Larry Caper, who started for MSU when Bell was a freshman. The offensive line returns four very good starters, helping to pave the way for this power running game. So far in '12, the Spartan running game has its mojo, but the question is if it can flex its muscle against a sturdy Irish front, including the very large DL Louis Nix and its All-American LB Mati Te'o. One way is through diversification.
Under head coach Mark Dantonio, and with offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, the Spartan offense has diversified -- at least 25 passes thrown in 23 of the last 28 games. It's not Pound Green Pound as the Spartan Nation thinks it knows, or what the Nation may want. Rather, the reality is that MSU is more than a splash of pass with a dousing of run. It is this deliberate play-calling which has helped Michigan State to outwit and outlast opponents during the Dantonio era. Thus, expect newby Andrew Maxwell at QB to be handed enough chances to throw the ball to a burgeoning, yet inexperienced Spartan receiving corps. Yes, this is the Spartan's most exploitable weakness, but it must be only serviceable to be effective enough for victory. Maxwell has shown his rawness with 3 INTs and an overthrown wide-open receiver against Boise State. A let-me-hand-you-a-gift interception dropped at the goal line at CMU (dropped by noneother than Lorenzo White's son, White Jr., who plays safety for the Chips). But, there is as much good as bad: Maxwell has thrown spot-on passes, particularly to his mighty huge tight end, Dion Sims, and their one experienced wideout, Bennie Fowler. Maxwell is showing some Cousins-like moxie in games, with errs early but an upwards-learning-curve late. With time, and with an experienced offensive line providing protection, Maxwell should be serviceable at minimum. The ES expects a pick, or two, by Notre Dame... but it won't be enough.
Of course, the Spartan punting game will be called to service, and Mike Sadler is one of the BEST punters to drop balls inside the 20, three of four so far this year. Senior Dan Conroy has been a bit off, missing a pair of FGs, but he has the experience and distance (long of 50 this year). Nick Hill returning kicks for MSU is due for a breakout return; his speed at RB is not tested often, but he is damaging in the return game with an average 23.4 per return (he is currently eighth in Spartan history with over 1,000 return yards). Indeed, it may be the Spartan kicking and return game that helps to bail out Maxwell's misfires with field position.
Gimme a break... Who is the ES kidding??? In the end, all of this analysis... is crap. We all know the Michigan State defense will do its part, that D will be all jacked-up to throw around the Irish like play toys and to stomp on their jugulars when down. Moreover, it will be the Spartan history and home field advantage that will do in the Irish. Last time, "Little Giants," this time -- well, nothing so fancy. Rather, the Spartan coaching, team experience, and defensive domination will overwhelm the Irish enough for Michigan State to coast to victory. Yes, the ND offense will do what others have not done in 2012 -- get into the end zone against the MSU defense... once. However, Michigan State will do the same with its defense, and a pair more TDs on offense.
'Tis tough to find more enjoyment on God's Green Earth than whipping up on the Irish in Spartan Stadium. The ES will be in attendance, screaming Spartan pride and sporting his Spartan green hair, cheering on the domination. The nation is invited to tune in on Saturday, 8 p.m., on ABC to watch the flogging live. It will be a beautiful symphony.
ES sez: Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 13.
The Enlightened Spartan began in 2001 as the first Big Ten football blog. The ES cheers, cries, and lives Michigan State football... not from the sidelines, nor the press box, but from the upper deck. http://www.enlightenedspartan.com