EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State opened its season with a pedestrian 28-13 victory against Furman. After a bye week, the Spartans get their first true test against Notre Dame.
Michigan State, ranked 12th in this week’s AP Top 25, travels to South Bend, Ind., to take on No. 18 Notre Dame (1-1). The Fighting Irish defeated Nevada 39-10 after they opened the season with a double-overtime loss at Texas. Offense isn’t an issue for Notre Dame, but the defense, specifically the secondary, could be vulnerable.
Here are five storylines to watch during the prime-time matchup Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium.
1. Control Kizer
Notre Dame junior quarterback DeShone Kizer emerged during the loss at Texas. Kizer has tremendous size (6-foot-41/2, 230 pounds) and athletic ability. His growing grasp of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s offense makes Kizer dangerous in the pocket and on the run. Through two games, Kizer has the fifth-best passer-efficiency rating in the country at 195.87. That’s been without senior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., for the most part. Hunter sustained a concussion against Texas and missed the Nevada game. He could return this week.
Kizer has control of what he and the Irish offense are doing. His 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio shows he has made good decisions. Notre Dame has struggled on third-down conversions, though. The Irish have made 14 of 31 attempts (45.2 percent).
2. Be dynamic
Michigan State senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor hasn’t been asked to pass much in his 2 career starts, but that could change Saturday. O’Connor has attempted 30 passes as a starter, completing 20 for 279 yards, with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception.
The Notre Dame defense has been susceptible to the deep ball this season. It has allowed 8 completions of 19 yards or more in 53 pass attempts, including 4 of at least 44 yards. Can O’Connor and the Spartans wide receivers be successful down the field? They will have to try.
3. Be disciplined
Michigan State committed 10 penalties for 120 yards against Furman. The Spartans have averaged 5.6 penalties a game during the last three seasons. The 10 flags against them were the most they’ve had in a game since a 10-penalty game on Nov. 15, 2014, at Maryland.
Michigan State was called for 3 personal fouls and 3 pass-interference penalties against Furman. The Spartans can’t give away that type of yardage to Notre Dame.
4. Return of Ed Davis
It was announced last week that Davis, an outside linebacker, was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA. Davis tore an ACL during the 2015 preseason camp. On Monday, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio indicated on his weekly spot on WJR-AM that Davis might play against Notre Dame.
Anything Davis can contribute would be a plus. Besides being on the field and increasing the depth chart, Davis would provide an emotional boost.
5. Battle of the (former) Bearcats
Dantonio set up a foundation of success in his three seasons (2004-06) at Cincinnati before coming to East Lansing in 2007. It was a foundation that helped Kelly lead the Bearcats to two consecutive BCS games before he left the Queen City to take over Notre Dame in December 2009.
Dantonio and Kelly have differing styles, but they know how to get the most out of their players. Kelly and Notre Dame recently have had the upper hand. Dantonio and the Spartans have lost their last three against the Irish, including 17-13 in 2013. That proved to be the lone loss in a Rose Bowl championship season for Michigan State.
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo