By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
Last year’s Michigan State-Notre Dame game had all the trappings of a huge early matchup. Both teams were ranked, the game came down the wire and the victorious Spartans moved into the top 10 in the AP Top 25.
Then Michigan State didn’t win another game for nearly two months. Notre Dame finished with a losing record as well.
The teams will meet again Saturday night, and both are hoping to make 2016 an aberration. Expectations are a bit more modest this year — especially for the Spartans — but don’t try to tell these coaches that this game has lost any of its luster.
“It’s the battle for the megaphone,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, referring to the trophy the teams play for. “I think clearly Michigan and Michigan State in terms of proximity, Midwest, we recruit a lot of the same players. There’s been such great history and tradition going back to the ’66 game. I just think that history, tradition, proximity, all of those things make for rivalry games.”
The 1966 game between Notre Dame and Michigan State — when the teams were ranked No. 1 and 2 in the country — ended in a 10-10 tie. A more recent highlight was the 2010 matchup, which the Spartans won on a fake field goal in overtime.
Michigan State (2-0) has beaten the Irish only once since then — that was last year’s 36-28 victory at Notre Dame. The Irish (2-1) will try to avenge that defeat this weekend at Spartan Stadium.
“It was one of my worst games in my career, I think, and so I have a bigger, I think, chip and mentality going into this game,” Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “I was very disappointed with the way I played against them last year and disappointed at the way we played against them as a team.”
Here are a few things to watch in Saturday night’s game:
Notre Dame is coming off a 49-20 win over Boston College in which the Irish rushed for 515 yards, their most since 1969. Running back Josh Adams already has 443 yards rushing on the season.
The Irish will try to turn the tables after it was Michigan State that controlled the line of scrimmage and ran the ball effectively last year.
Michigan State sophomore Brian Lewerke has taken over at quarterback this year and has been effective with both his arm and his legs. He ran for a 61-yard touchdown in a win over Western Michigan.
Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush has completed only 51 percent of his passes, but he’s run for 314 yards and six touchdowns through three games.
“Brandon Wimbush is a guy that can create. I don’t think there’s any question that he can create,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “When you look at a quarterback, I’ve said it all along: You’ve got to be able to create with your mind, with your throwing motion, your mechanics, your release, or with your feet.”
LJ Scott was Michigan State’s top rushing threat coming into the season, but the Spartans can also turn to Gerald Holmes and Madre London in the backfield as they try to repeat last season’s performance against Notre Dame on the ground.
One possible advantage for Michigan State: Last weekend was an open date for the Spartans. They’ve had more time to prepare.
SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE
Notre Dame is 15 for 15 this season in the red zone with 11 touchdowns. Michigan State, on the other hand, has scored seven TDs in eight trips to the red zone. This will be quite a test for the Spartans, who have not allowed on offensive touchdown through two games against Bowling Green and WMU.
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