SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame and Michigan State can punish opponents with the running game, but each team goes about it in different ways.
Michigan State relies on junior running back Le’Veon Bell while Notre Dame will use three different backs to attack Michigan State. Cierre Wood, who was suspended for the first two games because of a violation of team rules, is back, joining Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III.
The four running backs, and each teams’ ability to stop them, will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday night’s game at Spartan Stadium between the No. 20 Irish (2-0) and the No. 10 Spartans (2-0).
We know what kind of game it’s going to be. It’s going to be a physical game, Kelly said You can’t win those games unless you play good run defense. There’s no chance.
Games like this are going to test you, because both defenses are very stingy as it comes to running the football.
The Irish will find it hard to be stingy against Bell. The 6-foot-2, 244-pounder jumped into the Heisman Trophy conversation by running for 210 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-13 win over Boise State on Aug. 31.
Bell added 70 more yards in last week’s win over Central Michigan, giving him 62 carries for 280 yards with four touchdowns. His production has steadily climbed with the Spartans. He ran for 605 yards and eight touchdowns on 107 carries as a freshman, and 948 yards and 13 touchdowns on 182 carries as a sophomore.
Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III said the Irish defense is ready.
They said he has all these Heisman accolades and possibly he’s in the running. That doesn’t matter to me, Nix said. I know he is a great player, so I’m going to come at him like one.
Notre Dame will have a great player back in Wood. The 6-foot, 215-pound senior ran for 1,102 yards with nine touchdowns last season.
He’s been out a couple of weeks, and any time we get an explosive player like that it is going to help us a bunch, left tackle Zack Martin said.
Riddick and Atkinson did plenty of running in the Irish’s season-opening 50-10 win over Navy. The 5-11, 200-pound Riddick, a senior, ran for 108 yards with two touchdowns, and the 6-1, 210-pound Atkinson, a sophomore, ran for 99 yards with two touchdowns.
But the Irish’s running game struggled in last week’s 20-17 win over Purdue, gaining only 52 yards.
We’ve got to do a good job of making sure that all those guys are reintegrated (into the offense), Kelly said.