Friday, September 22, 2006

Vengeance

Last year's 44-41 overtime thriller in South Bend was Michigan State's fifth consecutive victory in Notre Dame Stadium, seventh in the last nine games of the series, and a personal point of emphasis due to what happened immediately after the finish: a band of Michigan State players, apparently under a severe amount of emotional distress due to the absence of the precious Megaphone Trophy, spiked the Spartan flag at midfield.

A little churlish? Maybe. Out of line? Who cares? Neither side seems content to forget about it though, with media types baiting Notre Dame into saying something stupid and Michigan State players flashing a mix of ignorance and quiet pride at marking their 'territory'. Whatever the setup might be, Charlie Weis isn't in the mood to forget about it (behind closed doors), while John L. Smith's troops keep trying to spin it as simply an act of aggression born from the temporary dissociative insanity that was wrought by the emotional trauma of being separated from the one, the only, Megaphone. Seriously, that's what one of them said...

#12 Notre Dame vs. Michigan State
8:00 PM EDT
Spartan Stadium - East Lansing, MI


Why Michigan State Will Win

All it takes is one look at the Michigan game film to know how to beat Notre Dame. Go deep, go fast, go often. The neutralizing factor could be that the Spartans don't have a receiving corps the likes of Breaston, Manningham, and Arrington. But they do have Drew Stanton.

Stanton is one of the top QB prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft, drawing a lot of Jay Cutler comparisions. Quick feet, strong arm, killer instincts, and a thirst to beat the Irish. He entered the 2004 contest in the second half and directed a pair of scoring drives, pulling MSU within 31-24. Who knows what might've happened had he started the game. He was 16 of 27 for 327 in the 2005 game when State carved up the Irish for 488 yards and 44 points. The attack has been even stronger in 2005, ranking now as the #3 total offense in Division I-A.

Stanton is the key to the Spartan offense, no surprise there. The Irish have the experience of a dual-threat QB already this season with Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball, but Stanton has displayed a much higher "football IQ" during his tenure at State. The key matchup again lies in the trenches - Notre Dame gets pressure on Stanton, they buy time for their offense to play the preferred method of "grinder ball". They don't pressure Stanton, and it's a shootout under the lights.


Why Notre Dame Will Win

There are statement games, coming-out parties, arrivals, bounceback performances, and clutch performances. Is it possible to have all 5 in one?

Brady Quinn needs to abuse the suspect Spartan defense - they rank #49 with 300 yds/game allowed through their 3-0 start, but they've been tested against Idaho (#73 in total offense), Eastern Michigan (#95), & Pittsburgh (#50). Notre Dame clocks in at just #68 in those rankings as of now, but that's artificially low thanks to a total of 4 yards rushing vs. Michigan.

Anyway, if you're Brady Quinn and your Heisman hopes are essentially DOA, national titles dreams fading fast, you need to use primetime on ABC as a statement game - Michigan didn't rattle me. And a coming-out party - he's yet to have a lights out game this season. And an arrival - when will he develop the rythm with Samardzija of a year ago? And a bounceback performance from the 4 turnover debacle against the Wolverines.

And who knows, depending on how flimsy both teams could play defense, he might need to come through in the deep clutch. Another tough environment, another hostile crowd, a lot of history in the building due to the Spartans' honoring their 1966 team (which played Notre Dame's '66 championship squad to the infamous 10-10 tie), and an opponent that's no pushover. Want to get back in the national limelight, Brady? Come to play Saturday night.

The Prediction

Sometimes you throw the conventional wisdom out the window - it says high-scoring, tight battle, rough environment for the Irish.

What do I say? PAYBACK'S A BITCH.

Notre Dame 48, Michigan State 13.

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