This is a brand new weekly segment that the Spartan Red Zone is getting underway. We are going to share our thoughts on what the X-factors will be for each game. We will be providing these articles the week leading up to Michigan State’s game. After State’s BYE week, let’s see what the battle for the Megaphone Trophy with Notre Dame has in store for Sparty:
Andy Chmura: @andy_chmura
Beating Notre Dame is not an easy task, but it is a fairly straightforward one. The Irish defense is incredibly thin, particularly in the secondary. Cornerback Devin Butler remains suspended indefinitely while safety Max Redfield was dismissed from the team in preseason camp. Cornerbacks Nick Watkins and Shaun Crawford are also out with injuries.
Notre Dame’s offense has been productive, but other than a few big runs, this success has come from the air. With the potential absence of wide out Torii Hunter Jr., Notre Dame’s entire lineup revolves around one man–quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kizer is a dual threat and potential dark horse Heisman candidate. He is an absolute playmaker, but if MSU limits him, Notre Dame will wither away to an ugly 1-2 record.
The X-factor for Michigan State on September 17 is to keep pressure on Kizer. The Spartans stuck with a vanilla defense against Furman, but this will not be the case in South Bend. MSU needs to complicate their defensive scheme in a way that will utilize the agility of linebackers Riley Bullough and Andrew Dowell to contain Kizer.
MSU needs to keep the Irish offense on its toes, striking them with blitzes from every corner of the field. Notre Dame needs this game to be shootout to have any possibility at victory, but if MSU keeps constant pressure on Kizer, this will not happen.
The Spartans also need to take advantage of Malik McDowell. He has the ability to play both tackle positions as well as defensive end. McDowell’s positioning will always capture the focus of the offense.
McDowell has the talent to attack Kizer and force him to rush his throws while preventing him from escaping the pocket. He also has the ability to be a decoy and distract opposing pass blockers from blitzes. Limiting Kizer is not an easy challenge, but he is the only obstacle in between Michigan State and a 2-0 record.
Brendan Wilner: @b_wilner16
This weekend a rivalry will be back in action when Michigan State travels down to South Bend for a top 25 matchup against Notre Dame. Notre Dame enters this game 1-1 with an opening round loss to Texas, while Michigan State is coming off a bye week after beating Furman 28-13 in their opener. Both teams will be looking to use this victory to make a run for a playoff spot. Lose and they might be done.
With that being said, the Spartans will have to be able to contain DeShone Kizer. His speed and athletic ability could give the front seven fits if he is able to get outside the pocket and run the ball. The defensive line will have to do better than what they did in the opener. Malik McDowell is going to need help from guys like Demetrius Cooper and Kevin Williams.
On the offensive side of the ball, things will be run through the passing game. Tyler O’Connor should be able to be effective down the field because of the weak secondary by the Fighting Irish. The receiving core was impressive in the first game and will be key for the success in the offense.
Running the ball might be a struggle, but LJ Scott has looked like he belongs as the starter. If he can hold onto the ball and take what the defense gives him, he will do enough for the offense. Also, Notre Dame might be stacking the box early on, which opens up the passing game. If the passing game is successful, coach Mark Dantonio won’t hesitate to sneak in some running plays.
This game will come down to the which defense will be able to make plays. It would a surprise if this was a high scoring game. Look for Michigan State to try and surprise Notre Dame in their offensive play book. Also, with Ed Davis back for the Spartans, he will add to the linebacker depth, which could allow for the defense to be a huge x-factor and win them the game.
David Manion: @The_Manion1
After a lengthy three year intermission, these two petty rivals are ready to square off. Michigan State (1-0) will collide with Notre Dame (1-1) this Saturday in South Bend with a ton on the line. Pride, College Football Playoff and of course, the Megaphone Trophy will all be on the line this weekend.
My biggest X-factor that Michigan State needs to excel at in order to win is for Tyler O’Connor to throw the ball effectively downfield.
After an impressive rushing attack and a questionable passing game, Spartan Nation wants to see LJ Scott establishing the ground game at the start of the game. The Notre Dame defense will be anticipating this run hefty scheme, which is where O’Connor comes into the equation.
The fifth-year senior will catch the Irish defense napping by taking downfield shots. He needs to recapture his Ohio State mojo from last year by finding his groove right out of the gate and maintaining it. O’Connor should be able to get all the nerves out of his system, while framing his confidence in his throwing ability as a pocket passer by throwing the ball early and often.
O’Connor has the necessary arm strength and personnel to find major success in the passing game. Be on the lookout for veterans R.J. Shelton and Josiah Price, along with emerging stars in Monty Madaris and Felton Davis to explode onto the scene under the lights.
The Spartans also have an advantage with the Notre Dame backfield banged up both on and off the field. They have surrendered 481 yards against No. 11 Texas and Nevada combined, with both teams exposing the vulnerable and inexperienced secondary on the deep ball.
To make matters worse, former Irish safety Max Redfield was released from the team and star cornerback Shaun Crawford tore his achilles and has been ruled out for the rest of the year.
All of these culminating factors will present more opportunities for the Spartan offense to capitalize on in the ball game. If the aerial attack can stretch the Irish defense, it will lead to more openings between the tackles for Scott and implement more unpredictable play calling.
Matt Mika: @themattmika
No. 12 Michigan State will clash with No.18 Notre Dame Saturday night in South Bend. This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the famous “Game of the Century” when the first-ranked Irish took on the second-ranked Spartans on November 19, 1966 at Spartan Stadium. The result was a 10-10 tie, but the game proved to be much bigger than a final score. 31 players from that matchup went on to play in the NFL, including nine first-round draft picks.
Fast-forward to this season, there will be many key players on both sides to pay attention to. X-factors who will dictate the outcome of the game.
Michigan State’s defensive front seven are going to have to be tough for a full 60 minutes. If MSU can turn the game into a brawl that is a win for the Spartans.
In past years MSU and Notre Dame have had similar styles of play and for the most part it has not changed all that much. MSU will always be a program of toughness, smashmouth and gritty football. Winning the trenches is the key for the Spartans success. The Irish have a similar style, but over time they have produced a slew of fantastic perimeter players and now under coach Brian Kelly’s seventh year, the Irish have two mobile quarterbacks who can operate the offense with their arm and their legs.
If the Spartans can establish a dominance up front and turn the game into a backyard brawl, the Spartans will be in business to capturing the Megaphone.
“We need to pressure the quarterback,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “Our defensive front needs to play at a high level.”
With the addition of Ed Davis, the Spartans have another weapon in their arsenal. Malik McDowell will need to clog up the middle and use his athleticism to create chaos in the backfield. With eyes fixed on the All-American, the Spartans can send different blitz packages off the edge. Different combinations can cause confusion for the opponent and even though Davis is not in the starting lineup, he has the ability to change the course of a game with his presence off the edge.