Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 25, 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 36 of 55 SEPT. 25, 2017 37 BY BRYAN DRISKELL MICHIGAN STATE RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE Michigan State's ground game has been the driving force behind its rise under head coach Mark Dantonio, and through two games in 2017 it would appear it has gotten back on track. A season ago, the Spartans finished with a respectable 172.7 rushing yards per game — but their attack was er- ratic. Michigan State topped the 200- yard mark five times, highlighted by a 260-yard performance against Notre Dame (with a 73-yard TD run by cur- rent reserve back Gerald Holmes). Yet in three games it was held to less than 90 yards, and it had 109 in a season- ending loss to Penn State. This year, Michigan State racked up 215 yards (4.7 yards per attempt) in a season-opening victory over Bowling Green, but it truly broke out against Western Michigan with 296 yards (6.0 yards per carry) in the 28-14 victory. Sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke leads the team in rushing (150 yards) thanks to a 61-yard scoring run against Western Michigan, and ju- nior running back LJ Scott has added 125 yards (3.8 yards per carry) in two games. Scott led Michigan State in rushing last fall, racking up 994 yards (5.4 yards per rush) and six scores. Michigan State has allowed 17 tackles for loss in the first two games, which could be a concern for the Spartans against a Notre Dame de- fense that racked up 14 stops behind the line of scrimmage in its first two games against stiffer competition than what the Spartans have faced. After holding Temple's ground at- tack to just 85 yards on 37 attempts, the Irish defense gave up 185 yards on the ground in its 20-19 loss to Georgia. Overall, the Notre Dame run defense held up well against the Bulldogs' tal- ented backfield, with 70 of Georgia's rushing yards coming on two plays. Notre Dame rotated three inside linebackers and two rovers in the first two games, and that group of five players accounted for 50 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Up front, the emergence of senior defensive end Jay Hayes and the improved play of junior nose tackle Jerry Tillery has played a vital role in Notre Dame's improved run defense. Advantage: Michigan State MICHIGAN STATE PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke took over starting du- ties in the middle of the 2016 cam- paign, but he was lost for the sea- son after suffering a knee injury in a 32-23 loss to Michigan. He is healthy, back under center and poised for a breakout year. Not only did he lead Michigan State in rushing yards through two games, but he has also been precise and effec- tive in the pass game. Lewerke passed for 411 yards and four touchdowns in Michigan State's season-opening victories over Bowling Green and Western Michigan. He completed 64.8 percent of his throws and has done an excellent job spreading the ball around, with 11 different players haul- ing in passes in the first two contests. Redshirt sophomore wideout Darrell Stewart Jr. caught just three passes prior to this season, but through two games he led Michigan State with nine receptions and 118 receiving yards. The Spartans' offen- sive line is completely revamped, but through two games it has held up well while giving up just two sacks and six quarterback hurries. Notre Dame surrendered only 193.0 passing yards per game during its 1-1 start, and opponents were av- eraging a low 6.0 yards per attempt. After allowing opposing quarter- backs to complete 61.7 percent of their passes in 2016, Notre Dame's first two opponents connected on only 54.7 percent of their throws. The ability to disrupt the quarter- back has been a key factor in Notre Dame's improved pass defense. Af- ter recording a mere 14 sacks in 12 games last fall, Notre Dame has al- ready registered five sacks and nine quarterback hurries in two games. Advantage: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. MICHIGAN STATE RUN DEFENSE Notre Dame's ground attack kicked off the 2017 season with a bang, rack- ing up 422 yards in its season-opening 49-16 victory over Temple with three different players eclipsing 100 yards. GAME PREVIEW: MICHIGAN STATE On PaPer Running back LJ Scott's 1,693 rushing yards his first two years at Michigan State are the fifth most by a Spartan through their sophomore season. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

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