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Michigan State at Notre Dame: What to watch for

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame faces the nation's top defense when the No. 22 Irish (2-1) play host to Michigan State (3-0) at 3:30 p.m. today.

Michigan State has held opponents to 177 yards per game, the best in the nation. The Spartans also have the top passing efficiency defense at 68.14, the No. 4 rushing defense – giving up 50.3 yards per game – and the No. 12 scoring defense – holding teams to 12 points per game.

Here are some things to watch for as the Irish try to win for a third straight time against the Spartans before the series takes a scheduled two-year break after this season:

  • Notre Dame tackles Zack Martin and Ronnie Stanley will need to try to slow down Michigan State defensive Shilique Calhoun, who has three touchdowns with two fumble recoveries for scores and a 56-yard interception return. Calhoun also has two sacks, eight quarterback hurries, three tackles for loss and another fumble recovery.
  • The Irish gave up only eight touchdowns in the red zone in 12 regular-season games last year. This year, Notre Dame has given up eight red zone TDs in three games. Michigan State has scored seven touchdowns in 12 red zone trips and settled for field goals four times.
  • Notre Dame's Tommy Rees became the second Irish quarterback to pass for 300 yards in the first three games of a season, joining Jimmy Clausen in 2009. If he wants to be the first Notre Dame quarterback to pass for 300 yards in the first four games, he will have to do it against a Michigan defense that ranks No. 1 in pass efficiency defense (68.14) and gives up 126.7 passing yards per game.
  • Notre Dame has leaned mainly on three of its five running backs through the first three games with Amir Carlise leading the way with 148 yards on 30 carries. Cam McDaniel has 125 yards on 29 carries, and George Atkinson III has 98 yards on 18 carries. Coach Brian Kelly says he wants to use freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, who have eached run for 14 yards, this season. But against a Michigan State defense that holds teams to 50.3 rushing yards per game, it will be hard for Kelly to turn to freshman backs.
  • Michigan State has done a good job of getting after the opposition's quarterback and defending its own. The Spartans are averaging three sacks and giving up 0.7 sacks per game. The Irish have three sacks this season and have given up three sacks in three games.