The Michigan State Spartans and Notre Dame Fighting Irish will do battle for most likely the last time until 2026, and while us fans are hurting at the loss of such a great and time-tested rivalry, we also want to make damn sure the Spartans leave a sour taste in the golden-domers’ mouths for a decade.
Here are the key players and match-ups for this latest version of the rivalry.
MSU LINEBACKERS v. ND QB BRANDON WIMBUSH
The Michigan State defense is starting to resemble the defense that dominated the BigTen while Pat Narduzzi was in command, and that’s a great thing for Spartan fans. Chris Frey, Andrew Dowell, and Joe Bachie are at the core, and if this defense continues to look familiar, then it could mean a big day for them against Notre Dame.
The Irish bring a quarterback in Brandon Wimbush that resembles a quarterback the Spartan defense loved to feast on in Denard Robinson. Like Robinson, Wimbush is a run-first, pass-second quarterback who is extremely dangerous with his legs, while very easily beatable with his arm. Through Notre Dame’s first three games, Wimbush is averaging just 163 yards passing, and has thrown only two touchdowns all year, as well as two interceptions. Meanwhile, on the ground, he is averaging 16 carries a game for 104 yards and has 6 touchdowns on the year. And last week against Boston College, Wimbush had himself a monster of a game, rushing for over 200 yards and four touchdowns.
State’s linebackers need to contain Wimbush, keep him in the pocket, and make him throw the ball, if they do that, it will be an easy day for MSU.
MSU DEFENSIVE BACKS v. ND IRISH WR EQUANIMEOUS ST. BROWN
The great Michigan State defenses of recent memory have had equal parts up front and in the secondary, from guys like Denicos Allen and Shilique Calhoun, to Darqueze Dennard and Kurtis Drummond. This year’s team is looking to mimic that style of greatness, and with guys like Josiah Scott, Khari Willis, Justin Layne and Matt Morrissey, they have the chance to add their names to the list of recent great DBs.
Their test this weekend is Irish wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. The front seven will need to control Wimbush and keep him in the pocket, which will force him to throw the ball and St. Brown is far and away their best receiver. If the secondary can keep him under wraps, Notre Dame will be hard-pressed to find any sort of offensive rhythm.
MSU DEFENSIVE LINE v. ND RB JOSH ADAMS
Adams has been a key component in the Irish offense in 2017, averaging 148 yards on the ground in his first three games. He is dangerous as both a runner and as a pass catcher as well. In the Irish’s game against Georgia two weekends ago, the Bulldogs defense limited Adams to just 53 yards rushing (53 of his 443 on the season thus far), but he made up for it in the aerial attack with six catches and 60 yards receiving.
If the Spartan defense can do to Adams what Georgia’s defense did to Adams, Michigan State could be sniffing another shutout on defense.
Offensively, the Spartans need to continue to get solid quarterback play out of Brian Lewerke, who through two games thus far has four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, while effectively and confidently making the right reads.
Collectively, Michigan State on the ground has delivered thus far. They currently sit 3rd in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (255.5). Individually, however, the trio of LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Madre London have not been as impressive as hoped in 2017, at least not yet, but a big game against Notre Dame could change all of this.
Wide receivers Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr. are working their way toward becoming household names at East Lansing, and if they can continue that path this week against the golden-domers, it will be a party for Sparty in East Lansing.