No. 20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0) at No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (2-0)
Sept. 15, 8 p.m. ET
Spartan Stadium (East Lansing, Mich.)
Line: MSU -6
Michigan State hosting Notre Dame is one of the biggest games of the weekend, and ultimately it will be a tale of two quarterbacks. Everett Golson and Andrew Maxwell are both first-year starters entering their third game. Their growth and development will be the key to this game.
First up, Andrew Maxwell. The big matchup for him will be finding a way to throw the football. Right now, the Spartans' offense is heavily reliant on Le’Veon Bell because of Maxwell’s uncertainties and the question marks at wide receiver. Against Notre Dame, a team designed to stop the run, Andrew Maxwell will be on front street.
Watch for Notre Dame to put seven and eight in the box early and often. Getting bodies to the point of attack will be the Irish's defensive key to stopping Bell’s ground assault. By forcing second-and-long and third-and-long, the Irish will put the Spartans in situations where Bell is not an option on the ground. That puts the ball in Maxwell’s hands, and he’ll have to prove that he can handle the pressure.
Against Boise State, the Broncos were unable to stop Bell; Saturday, the Fighting Irish have the personnel to stymie the Spartans rushing game. That means Maxwell must shoulder the load. If you’re Dan Roushar, two things that can work early to help out Maxwell are throwing on passing downs using play-action and working Le’Veon Bell into the passing attack via screens and wheel routes.
On the flipside, watch Everett Golson in this game. We’ll find out just how much of the offense he understands against Michigan State’s aggressive, blitzing attack. Pat Narduzzi is one of the nation’s best defensive coordinators, and he feasts on young quarterbacks. If Everett Golson does not know how to audible or check out of plays, or if he doesn’t have the ability to check out of plays, we will discover that early.
The Spartans are going to bring pressure from depth. They’re going to bring pressure from the inside. They’re going to bring pressure from the outside. It will be up to Everett Golson and his offensive line to identify threats, change blocking schemes and make sure they put a body on a body in both the run and pass game.
If Golson can't put the Irish in the right play to combat what Michigan State shows pre-snap, then he’s going to have a long day of evading blitzers, running backs tackled in his lap and overall frustration. Golson does not necessarily want to run, but if he can’t get the Spartans blocked, he’ll have to use those legs more than he planned on it.
Two quarterbacks – both young, both inexperienced, both facing very real challenges. Can they get it done? We’ll find out Saturday. That uncertainty is why this is your matchup of the week.