- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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I'm 3-for-3 this year, though I've been off -- way off -- the last two weeks.
When Michigan State has the ball: Connor Cook seemed to establish himself as the guy under center last week, throwing four first-half touchdown passes … albeit against FCS Youngstown State. He is mobile, too, which is a new wrinkle that the Spartans have not really had at quarterback in the Mark Dantonio era. Still, there is a lot to be learned about this offense, which, thanks to last week, now averages 34 points per game. (MSU scored just 26 and 21, respectively, in its first two games … and has help from four defensive touchdowns on the year.) The skill players are relatively unproven, though it will be interesting to see if the Spartans steal a page from past Irish opponents' playbooks and try to take the defensive line out of the game with lots of quick, short passes.
When Notre Dame has the ball: The Spartans rank first overall in total defense, though MSU has not played the stiffest competition so far (Western Michigan, USF, YSU). The Irish are still trying to get the ground game going and will likely try to establish that early. MSU has athletic corners who should challenge TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels in the passing game. Shilique Calhoun is someone to be aware of at all times as well, as the defensive end has three scores on the year and can shift the momentum of a game with one play. (He also has an alter-ego, Bane, which may not sit well with Stephon Tuitt and his villain-like facemask.)
Intangible: Notre Dame is at home and has a defense ready to stop all of the early-season questions after sub-par performances at Michigan and Purdue. The Irish have won the last two meetings with the Spartans, and they have played far greater competition through three weeks, so they know more about themselves this early.
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Michigan State 13. The Irish get off to a quick start early, and their defense finally begins to look like the unit many of us expected them to be entering the season.