College football: Irish has big task in trying to stop MSU’s Le’Veon Bell
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org September 14, 2012 11:42PM
FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2012, file photo, Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell (24) gets past Boise State's Jerell Gavins (5) to score the game-winning touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in East Lansing, Mich. Bell figured to have a bigger role this season in Michigan State's backfield, but his opening game last week against Boise State was a head turner. Bell had 44 carries for 210 yards in perhaps the best offensive performance by any player in the country.(AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)
Updated: October 16, 2012 6:10AM
OUTH BEND — There’s no convoluted triple option to worry about this week. No international trips and quizzical foreign media. No three-quarterback systems, either. And no home-opener fanfare.
No, tonight’s game between No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 10 Michigan State under the lights at Spartan Stadium is a little more straight-forward.
“They have some big guys that want to push me around,” said Irish defensive tackle Louis Nix III. “I’ve just got to push back.”
Indeed, this war will be waged in the trenches.
The Irish defense, with its stout and experienced front seven, will try to corral Michigan State’s Heisman-candidate running back Le’Veon Bell while harassing first-year quarterback Andrew Maxwell into some key mistakes.
The Spartans defense, with its stout and experienced front seven, will try to corral Notre Dame’s deep and talented backfield — including 1,100-yard rusher Cierre Wood, returning from suspension — while harassing first-year quarterback Everett Golson into some key mistakes.
No big mysteries in this one.
“I just think it’s a good, healthy, Midwestern rivalry between two teams that know what to expect on Saturday,” ND coach Brian Kelly said. “They know what they’re going to get from us, and we know what we’re going to get from them.”
And yes, that might include some coaching chicanery. Michigan State memorably beat the Irish on an overtime fake field goal dubbed “Little Giants” the last time these teams met in East Lansing, in 2010. The Irish responded in a big way last season, throttling the Spartans 31-13 in South Bend.
While Kelly (half?) joked that the Irish devoted time this week to preparing for every trick play imaginable, he said the recent past will have no bearing on this one.
“We don’t play videos about the fake field goal, nor do we play the end of the game (last year) when we took a victory kneel,” Kelly said. “We just focus on this week.”
Much of that focus, of course, has been on stopping Bell, who had a whopping 50 touches in a season-opening 17-13 win over Boise State — 44 rushes for 210 yards, and six catches for 55 yards. MSU coach Mark Dantonio went easy on Bell in last week’s 41-7 rout of Central Michigan, rushing him 18 times for 70 yards while trying to get Maxwell — replacing stalwart Kirk Cousins under center — some more action.
Key player: Much of the responsibility for containing Bell will fall to Irish linebacker Manti Te’o, who will be playing with a heavy heart. In a devastating two-day span this week, Te’o’s grandmother died, then his girlfriend succumbed to leukemia. Both lived in Hawaii, but Te’o will stay with his teammates, perhaps heading home during the team’s off week after the Michigan game next Saturday. For now, Kelly said Te’o will play through the pain.
“He wants to be with his teammates, he wants to be with people who care about him,” Kelly said. “He’s a strong man, he’s going through a tough time, but he’ll rise to the occasion.”
ND will win if: Cierre Wood is able to reignite the Irish ground game against a very tough MSU defense after a poor showing against Purdue.
MSU will win if: the Spartans can get to Golson and make Kelly have to consider going to Tommy Rees again.
Prediction: Michigan State 24, Notre Dame 20
— Sports editor Mark Lazerus