POPE: Getting run going will be tough for ND vs. stingy Spartans
September 17, 2013 11:22PM
Notre Dame v Michigan
The Big Number
Notre Dame has won nine straight games at Notre Dame Stadium. The last time the Irish won 10 consecutive games there was Oct. 25, 1997-Aug. 28, 1999.
The Extra Point
Defensive lineman Sheldon Day suffered an ankle sprain Saturday. He was in a walking boot Tuesday, but is expected to have it off and practice today.
Updated: October 19, 2013 7:36PM
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame is still trying to establish its ground game.
Through three games, Michigan State has shown it might be easier to push a semi-truck up a hill than to gain rushing yards on its defense.
No. 22 Notre Dame (2-1) knows jumpstarting its running game won’t be easy this Saturday against the Spartans (3-0).
“They make it very difficult to run the football,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “You’ve got to find ways to manufacture runs.”
Just how tough is the Spartans’ defense? Take a look at these imposing numbers.
Michigan State limited Western Michigan to 11 rushing yards on Aug. 30. The next week, the Spartans held South Florida to 89 yards on the ground. Youngstown State rushed for only 51 yards on Saturday.
Michigan State is fourth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 50.3 yards per game. The Spartans lead the country in total defense, surrendering just 177 yards per game.
Opponents are averaging just 1.8 yards per carry against the Spartans.
“Our defensive football team does a great job of not taking anything for granted and adjusting to who they play every week,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think that’s experience (the team has seven returning starters on defense). That’s a level of confidence. That’s being in the same system.
“So all those things I think are very, very positive for us.”
Shilique Calhoun has had a lot to do with the success. The defensive end is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (three) and sacks (two). He also has three touchdowns. He’s returned two fumbles for scores and one interception.
“You’d better know where he is,” Kelly said. “Obviously he’s had a couple fumble recoveries. He’s tall, he’s long, extremely athletic. You’ve got a guy like Marcus Rush who seems to have been there forever who is a tenacious, physical player. It’s just a really good football team across the front.
“They lost some veterans up front, but it looks like they have, you know, just reloaded up front with the same kind of guys.”
Notre Dame is using a variety of guys to get its ground game going.
The team is 92nd in the country in rushing offense (125 yards per game). The Irish had 188 rushing yards in the opener against Temple, but haven’t been able to crack 100 yards the last two weeks.
Four running backs got carries in Saturday’s win against Purdue. The Irish finished with 91 rushing yards.
“They are all contributing. I think we’ll continue to see it week to week. Next week, maybe we’ll talk about somebody else. We just think we have got a lot of guys that can contribute, and they are all going to have roles,” Kelly said.
“I don’t know that we are going to have one guy that we put up there and say ‘he’s the guy.’ I think they are all going to contribute in some fashion.”
Notre Dame has had balance in terms of carries for its more experienced backs. Amir Carlisle leads the team with 148 rushing yards on 30 attempts. Cam McDaniel is next with 125 yards on 29 carries. He had team-high 56 yards and one touchdown against the Boilermakers. George Atkinson III has 98 yards on 18 carries.
Freshmen Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant have five and three carries, respectively.
“I think across the country, that singular back, that one guy, has not been able to fit all the things that you want to do offensively,” Kelly said. “I think the position has now required a guy that is multidimensional and it’s better to find that maybe in two or three different backs.
“For us, we think we’ve got five. We haven’t been able to get five on the field. I think we’ve gotten three on the field. We’re still I think in the process of trying to evaluate our freshmen (Bryant and Folston) as well, and we have not been able to get into the ideal situation to do that, primarily because we have had to deal with so many pressure fronts and so many times where we are calling our backs back in to protect. It has not been the best proving ground for some freshmen running backs. Hopefully as time moves on, we’ll be able to do that.”
As with the two previous weeks against Big Ten teams, Kelly is anticipating another slugfest.
“You’ve got to play tough, physical football for four quarters,” he said. “You’ve got to take care of the football. All of the little things matter in matchups like this.”