FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame is preparing to be physically challenged as it gets ready to kick off one of its most difficult stretches of the season.
The No. 22 Irish (2-1) play host to Michigan State (3-0) on Saturday, to No. 14 Oklahoma on Sept. 28, then they play No. 23 Arizona State on Oct. 5 in Arlington, Texas.
The Spartans are the only opponent not ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, falling one vote shy of sharing the No. 25 spot with Texas Tech.
It’s going to be one of those typical Big Ten games where the last man standing through four quarters comes out victorious, coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday.
Michigan State comes into Saturday’s game leading the nation in fewest yards given up with 177 a game.
The Spartans have the No. 4 run defense, giving up 50.3 yards a game, the No. 5 pass defense, giving up 126.7 yards a game, and the No. 12 scoring defense, giving up 12 points.
As impressive as Michigan State’s defensive statistics have been, Kelly said it will come down to an Irish offense – averaging 29.7 points and 451 yards – executing at its highest level to get a victory.
We make sure that our kids are prepared for the schemes that they are going to see against Michigan State, and understand their personnel, Kelly said. Now, after that, it’s up to us to execute what we do. We are not going to go into the game and hope. We have to execute. So after we have handled this week’s preparation on what they are doing scheme-wise and then their personnel and how we need to play, it’s going to ultimately, week in and week out, it’s going to come down to how we execute.
It’s going to be how we protect. It’s, (receiver DaVaris) Daniels is going to have to make big plays. Our backs are going to have to run. Our lines are going to have to identify the schemes. You’d better recognize Michigan State’s personnel and their schemes, but you’re going to have to execute to beat this team.
The Irish will also have to deal with a new wrinkle in the Spartans’ offense. Connor Cook emerged as Michigan State’s starter over Andrew Maxwell and Tyler O’Connor after throwing for 202 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday’s 55-17 win over Youngstown State.
Cook, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound sophomore, has completed 27 of 49 passes for 276 yards and has run for 70 yards in three games.
Cook is somebody that’s elusive. He’s a big kid that can run the football, Kelly said. What he does for them, obviously, is gives them the ability to run the quarterback, and that has not been something that has been part of their offense in the past.
Kelly said the defense should be at full strength to contain Cook as Irish defensive end Sheldon Day recovers from a sprained ankle.
He’s going to stay in a walking boot (Tuesday), and we’ll take it off (today), Kelly said. Pretty encouraging that he’ll be able to practice (today), and then we’ll see how he goes from day to day.