48 Total Yards. One First Down. Zero Pionts. That’s what the Spartans’ defense allowed in last weeks 44-0 victory over pitiful Florida Atlantic. And after going without a sack in the sloppy opener against Youngstown State, Michigan State got to the Owls Quarterbacks three times. In other words: total dominance against an overmatched opponent.
“The sky’s the limit for this defense. We’re very humble, we’re very hungry, and we want to go out there and showcase our skills”, MSU defensive tackle Jerel Worthy said after the game. And he better keeps his promise, because after five weeks of practices and two warm-up games the upcoming game against Notre Dame marks the beginning of one of the toughest road schedules in MSU history (the Spartans also play at Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Iowa and at Northwestern).
“We’ve talked a lot about that as a program, really, since August — really, even in the spring,” coach Mark Dantonio said during his press conference Thuesday. “We knew that our road schedule was going to be a difficult one. This is our first test. This is not the exam, but this is our first test.”
But boy, it will be a tough first test. An emotional one. Last year against the Fighting Irish, Dantonio experienced on one of the wildest roller-coaster rides ever seen in a single football game. First, he called “Little Giants” (a fake field goal) in overtime – and won the game. A play, that “Detroit Free Press” sportswriter Michael Rosenberg called “one of the gutsiest calls in recent college football history”.
And then, Dantonio suffered a heart attack. Of course, nobody roots to repeat that part of the memorable night, but almost everybody around East Lansing hopes that the Spartans might find something else again in the game down the road in South Bend: destiny.
“That night last year, the Spartans started to feel like a team of destiny”, Rosenbaum wrote in his recent column. “And that kind of self-assurance can go a long way.” And it did. Michigan State got away with some close games last season, turned around some more and finished the season 11-2 – the best record in years and a shared Big Ten title.
This year, the Spartans haven’t found their destiny yet. Or, as Dantonio calls it: the teams identity. “We’re still trying to find, who exactly is Michigan State in 2011? What is our identity?”, he said. And: “This is our toughest opponent to date, so we’re going to find out a little bit more about ourselves as we go through the season.” And about how this season might turn out.
Win that game and you gain loads of confidence. Maybe even identity or destiny. But Lose that game against a team that is 0-2 – and you’re in danger of entering a downward spiral straight to insignificance.
So, winning this game is crucial. But it will be tough. Notre Dame does not play like a team that is 0-2 – and after last weeks staggering last-minute loss against the Wolverines, they are out to make up for some stupid mistakes. The Irish are playing for their season and they wont fall for any trick plays this time. No, they will play their best game so far. and that’s exactly what the Spartans have to do, too. Don’t rest on what you’ve accomplished in two easy games against swamped opponents – but play your hearts out (no pun intended).