NOTRE DAME — To a veteran like Tommy Rees, hearing that Michigan State has a fearsome front seven is more the norm than newsworthy.
In this case, the Spartans defense is headlined by end Shilique Calhoun, who has three tackles for loss, four sacks, eight quarterback hurries, one interception and three recovered fumbles in three games.
“There have been some good D-ends (at Michigan State) for a while,” Rees said of Calhoun. “They’ve always been good up front. He just carries on that legacy. He’s had a good start to the season.”
A stout, stingy defense is what Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly calls a “hallmark” of a Mark Dantonio-coached team. The Spartans come to South Bend with the No. 1-ranked defense among FBS teams.
What can the Irish (2-1) expect from the Spartans (3-0)?
MICHIGAN STATE OFFENSE Michigan State may have a newly minted quarterback under center, but this Spartan offense is still a largely underwhelming product this point of the season.
Though a potential mobile threat, redshirt sophomore Connor Cook has struggled with accuracy and consistency in his three games under center. His 220 yards against FCS Youngstown State was only 20 yards shy of matching what the Spartans put up in the air their first two games combined.
The 55-17 win over the Penguins also marked Michigan State’s first passing touchdowns of the season. Cook finished with four.
Before Cook’s breakout performance in Week 3, the Spartans had scored only two offensive touchdowns, both on the ground.
Running backs Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill shoulder the majority of carries, combining for five touchdowns and 379 rushing yards on the year. Langford, a converted receiver and defensive back, owns 200 of those yards and four of those touchdowns.
Earlier this week, Hill said that Dantonio told the running backs they were tasked with gaining over 100 rushing yards against an Irish defense that has allowed an average of only 86 in three games.
MICHIGAN STATE DEFENSE
As previously mentioned, the Spartans bring one of the staunchest defenses in the country into Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 21. Defensive end Marcus Rush, nose guard Micajah Reynolds and linebacker Max Bullough join Calhoun as defenders that stand out to Irish offensive tackle Zack Martin.
“Their defense is very balanced and experienced,” Martin said. “It’s going to be a fun one.”
Statistically, the Michigan State defense is a night-and-day comparison to the offense. Where the offense floats in the bottom tier of passing, passing efficiency and total yards, the defense ranks No. 1 in total defense, No. 2 in third-down defense and No. 4 in rushing yards allowed and No. 5 in passing yards allowed.
Notre Dame will have a hard time replicating another seven-minute, 30-second drive against this group.
Watch for a constant, all-out blitz. The Spartans will send its entire front seven after Tommy Rees, freeing Rees up to sink or sail with his receivers in single coverage.
This game will be a dog fight.
These are two teams that have six defensive touchdowns between them, so don’t be shocked if this low-scoring affair features a pick-six or a fumble recovery for a score.
Michigan State has the defensive tools to be a double-digit win team this season, but the Spartan offense will fall short against the most talented defense they’ve seen in the first four weeks. If the Irish defense is up to the task, Notre Dame will crawl away with this one. NOTRE DAME 20, MICHIGAN STATE 17