SOUTH BEND – Tommy Rees understands the challenge Notre Dame faces today against Michigan State.
The Spartans (3-0) bring the nation’s top-rated defense into the game against the No. 22 Irish (2-1), but the Notre Dame quarterback also said the offense has to focus on what it can do and not what Michigan State’s defense has done.
You are cognizant of the success they have had, but for us, it is all about what we are doing on offense, Rees said. It is about our execution, our understanding of our game plan. You can’t dwell too much on what they are ranked or anything like that. You just got to get their scheme down and understand what they are trying to do and go out and execute to the best of our ability.
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.
Even though the Spartans compiled those defensive numbers against Western Michigan, which has the 98th-ranked offense in the nation; South Florida, which has the No. 117 offense; and FCS opponent Youngstown State, coach Brian Kelly said Michigan State does so well on defense because of what it does not because of who the Spartans play.
Outstanding defensive schemes, Kelly said. (They) make it very difficult to run the football. You have to find ways to manufacture runs. You’ve got to be able to protect your quarterback. You’ve got to play tough, physical football for four quarters. You’ve got to take care of the football. All of the little things matter in matchups like this.
Safety Kurtis Drummond leads Michigan State with 17 tackles, and linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough each have 15 tackles, while combining for 5 1/2 tackles for loss. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun has two sacks and has scored on an interception return and a two fumble returns.
Michigan State is also averaging three sacks and has four interceptions, and the Spartans keep offenses guessing what they are going to do before the snap.
It’s tough, left guard Chris Watt said. We’ve studied them on film. It basically comes down to execution when we are out there on the field on Saturday, being able to talk and communicate among one and other. That’s the biggest thing as far as getting the blitzes and other types of looks blocked.
Rees will try to neutralize Michigan State’s attempts to disguise its defense with adjustments at the line, a skill Spartans coach Mark Dantonio has been impressed with from the senior, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the first three games and has seven touchdowns to two interceptions.
He does a great job doing that, Dantonio said. He does a great job throwing the ball down the field. I’ve been very impressed with him standing in there and taking a hit, getting out of a bad play, getting into another one. But that’s experience. You see that happening. Strong-arm quarterback, deep routes. He makes it happen.