Irish-Spartans game will come down to trench play
By Mark Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org September 14, 2012 9:50PM
Notre Dame must corral Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell, who rushed for 210 yards in the Spartans’ season opener against Boise State. | AP
AT MICHIGAN ST.
The facts: 7, Ch. 7, 890-AM.
Updated: October 16, 2012 6:10AM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There’s no convoluted triple option to worry about this week. No international trips and quizzical foreign media. No three-quarterback systems, either. And no home-opener fanfare.
No, the game Saturday night between No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 10 Michigan State at Spartan Stadium is a little more straightforward.
“They have some big guys that want to push me around,” Irish defensive tackle Louis Nix III said. “I’ve just got to push back.”
This war will be waged in the trenches.
The Irish defense, with its stout and experienced front seven, will try to corral Michigan State’s Heisman-candidate running back Le’Veon Bell and harass first-year quarterback Andrew Maxwell into some key mistakes.
The Spartans’ defense, with its stout and experienced front seven, will try to corral Notre Dame’s deep and talented backfield — including 1,100-yard rusher Cierre Wood, returning from suspension — and harass first-year quarterback Everett Golson into some key mistakes.
No big mysteries in this one.
“I just think it’s a good, healthy Midwestern rivalry between two teams that know what to expect on Saturday,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “They know what they’re going to get from us, and we know what we’re going to get from them.”
And, yes, that might include some coaching chicanery. Michigan State memorably beat the Irish on an overtime fake field goal dubbed “Little Giants” the last time these teams met in East Lansing in 2010. The Irish responded in a big way last season, throttling the Spartans 31-13 in South Bend.
While Kelly joked that the Irish devoted time this week to preparing for every trick play imaginable, he said the recent past will have no bearing on this one.
“We don’t play videos about the fake field goal, nor do we play the end of the game [last year] when we took a victory kneel,” Kelly said. “We just focus on this week.”
Much of that focus, of course, has been on stopping Bell, who had a whopping 50 touches in a season-opening 17-13 victory over Boise State — 44 rushes for 210 yards, and six catches for 55 yards. MSU coach Mark Dantonio went easy on Bell in last week’s 41-7 rout of Central Michigan, rushing him 18 times for 70 yards while trying to get Maxwell — replacing stalwart Kirk Cousins under center — some more action.
Much of the responsibility for containing Bell will fall to Irish linebacker Manti Te’o, who will be playing with a heavy heart. In a devastating two-day span this week, Te’o’s grandmother died, then his girlfriend succumbed to leukemia. Both lived in Hawaii, but Te’o will stay with his teammates, perhaps heading home during the team’s week off after the Michigan game next Saturday. For now, Kelly said Te’o will play through the pain.
“He wants to be with his teammates; he wants to be with people who care about him,” Kelly said. “He’s a strong man, and he’s going through a tough time, but he’ll rise to the occasion.”