2013 Season Preview - Michigan State

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September 15, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Le’Veon Bell. USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES

It’s been a crazy week for Notre Dame Football. Everett Golson has officially been suspended and dis-enrolled from the university. His “poor academic judgment” will cost him at least one year of eligibility and he may never again return to Notre Dame, although Kelly and the administration left the door open. Eddie Vanderdoes, the prized defensive tackle, has decommited and enrolled at UCLA citing distance from home as his primary reason for flip-flopping. Vanderdoes’ loss will be felt in 2014 and beyond as Notre Dame attempts to fill the void vacated by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix.

But Notre Dame football, like always, chugs on. So here I am trying to take your mind off the negative thoughts and return to actual football with our evaluation of Notre Dame’s 2013 opponents. So far we have reviewed the first three games of the Irish’s upcoming season (Temple, Michigan and Purdue). In today’s article I will evaluate the Irish’s matchup against their old nemesis from East Lansing.

Schedule: September 21, 2013
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
Network: NBC

Overview
The two teams have met 75 times since their first meeting in 1897 and Notre Dame leads the series with a 46-28-1 record. In the modern era the Michigan State game has served as a heartache or a heartbreak for the Irish. Obviously few fans can forget the fake field goal in 2010 or Michigan State’s overtime win in 2005. The Irish have returned the favor with a legendary comeback victory in 2006 and another late game victory in 2009. Irish fans can look forward to a reprieve from this early season matchup as the current agreement between both universities offers a two year break due in 2014 and 2015, starting up again in 2016 and running through 2032 at four seasons on and two off.

In 2012 Notre Dame beat Michigan State by shutting down LeVeon Bell and harassing QB Andrew Maxwell. The Spartan offense managed only 50 total yards and Maxwell was sacked five times. On offense, Notre Dame controlled the ball and the receivers stepped up to make the big plays (see John Goodman). The loss opened the floodgates for Michigan State who came into the game undefeated but went on to finish a disappointing 7-6 after certain pundits had predicted a Rose Bowl appearance. However, like most of Notre Dame’s opponents in 2012, a closer look at the schedule reveals a team that competed in nearly every game they played but lacked the consistent offensive production to put W’s on the board.

The Spartans lost to Ohio St. 17-16, Iowa in overtime, Michigan 12-10, Nebraska 28-24 and Northwestern 23-20; Notre Dame was their worst loss of the year. Based on their first three games of the 2013 season (W. Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown St) Michigan State should again be undefeated when they face the Irish setting the stage for another marquee matchup between two historic rivals.

Offense
The 2012 Spartans had a simple philosophy on offense: Give the Ball to Bell. Bell rushed for 1,739 rushing yards and accounted for 92% of the team’s rushing attack. But even Bell’s ridiculous season could not prevent the Spartans from finishing last in the Big Ten in pass efficiency. Andrew Maxwell threw for an average of 210 yards per game last season but the offense failed to score points and Maxwell ended the season with only 13 passing touchdowns. Even with last year’s struggles, Dantonio has dubbed Maxell as the “the guy”, but he will allow Connor Cook and Tyler Conner to make their case for the starting job. I predict that Dantonio starts the season with Maxwell but sprinkles in the mobile Tyler Conner as he molds his quarterback of the future.
The offensive struggles and Maxwell’s struggles were the direct result of a receiver corps that underperformed and simply could not catch the ball. This group loses their best weapon TE Dion Sims who did not even start every game last year. The Spartans return Bennie Fowler, Keith Mumphery, Tony Lippett, Aaron Burbridge, DeAnthony Arnett, Macgarrett Kings Jr, and Andre Sims Jr, all who played in games last season. The current depth chart lists Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphery and Aaron Burbridge as starters. The efficiency of the wide receiver corps needs to improve for Maxwell to have any chance.

LeVeon Bell’s departure to the NFL has left a huge void in the backfield. Nick Hill (Jr) will attempt to fill that role, but a lot of talk has been about Jeremy Langford (Jr) who has received praise from Will Gholston as well as some of the coaches. Dantonio will likely replace Bell with a combination of both backs that he hope can attack the edges and run between the tackles.

Bell’s performance in 2012 was even more impressive when you account for the fact that the offensive line suffered injuries to 7 of 8 starters. In 2013 most of these starters have healed and will return to anchor one of the B1G’s veteran units. Led by team captain Fou Fonoti (Sr.) this will include Blake Treadwell (Sr.), Travis Jackson (Jr.), freshman first team All-American [FWAA] Jack Allen (So.) and Skyler Burkland (Jr.). Rumors have Burkland retiring because of injuries which would leave the position to former left tackle Dan France. If this group remains healthy the offense may find the balanced attack they failed to produce in 2013. However, the line lacks depth which could be a problem if the injuries pile up like they did last year.

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