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And in that corner... the Michigan State Spartans

It hasn’t exactly been a love affair between the Spartans of Michigan State and the Fighting Irish, yet a unique rivalry has been crafted between the two teams.

(Who else plays for a half blue/half white megaphone?)

As Michigan State prepares to come to Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday, we caught up with renowned Michigan State blogger LVS of the new Spartans website He swears he has nothing to do with the flag planting incident.

Inside the Irish: Let’s get right to it: Why does Michigan State hate Notre Dame?

LVS: On a base level, the hate arises for the same reasons why many other college football fans hate Notre Dame: perceived arrogance, disproportionate and unwarranted national attention and influence, etc. But it’s really the familiarity that matters: our campuses are only two and a half hours apart, and we play each other yearly, so contempt is only natural. Furthermore, I think some MSU fans sort of resent how Notre Dame-types give this game relatively short shrift, even though we beat ND with greater regularity than anyone not named Southern Cal. Finally, you can’t underestimate just how traumatic the 2006 game was for our collective psyche; winning the last two years has barely started to heal that awful, awful night. Firing John L. Smith helped more.

It should be said that while there’s hate on a year-to-year basis, any serious MSU fan also greatly appreciates the role ND played in the development of our program. When most big midwestern schools wouldn’t play MSU (at that time, MAC/MSC), Notre Dame did, every year. Those games greatly legitimized our program and directly led toward MSU joining the Big Ten.

ITI: This is an interesting rivalry from both team’s perspectives. Where would you slot this rivalry in for the Spartans? Is it a different kind than the rivalry with the Wolverines?

LVS: It’s definitely different than the Michigan game, and quite frankly not as important to us. Take the familiarity I just discussed, crank it up by a factor of, oh, 15 or so, and that’s the Michigan rivalry. We play Notre Dame every year; not only do we play Michigan yearly, but many our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. are Wolverines or Wolverine fans. Add in conference implications and state bragging rights (at least when we don’t let Central into the picture . . . bleh) and you end up with a big, big deal.

For most MSU fans, this is the second (or, if Ohio State’s on the schedule, sometimes the third) biggest game of the year.

ITI: What do you think the biggest key to MSU’s dominance at Notre Dame Stadium has been?

LVS: First, it isn’t a coincidence that all but one of the wins in the streak have come against mediocre-to-bad Notre Dame teams ('07, 03, ’01, ’99, ’97). Really, only the 2005 win was against an above-average Irish squad. (Of course, many of our teams during that time period weren’t the greatest, either.) Also, it doesn’t hurt that we’re usually coming off of a relatively easy win the week before the ND game (usually!), while ND always plays an emotionally and physically draining game against Michigan right before facing us.

More directly, I think that at this point, our guys aren’t awestruck or intimidated by Notre Dame Stadium as many other visiting players are. Each of our players will play there twice during their careers; the first time around, they’re surrounded by upperclassmen who know nothing but winning in South Bend, and the second time, they are those upperclassmen.

ITI: Obviously, we’re coming off pretty difficult losses. How much wind came out of the Spartan’s sails after losing to the Chippewas?

LVS: Oh, loooooots. We simply played a terrible game: we couldn’t establish a consistent running attack, our defense couldn’t stop anything, our pass rush was nonexistent, we took a bunch of inexcusable penalties, and we lost in the epically inept manner of MSU teams past. We had all hoped that, after last season, we had left those sorts of performances behind. Simply: we anticipated being at least in the discussion for the Big Ten title. Championship contenders don’t lose to MAC teams at home. It’s a cold reality.

ITI: Can your defense stop the ND offense?

LVS: I doubt that we can stop ND’s offense, but I do think we’re capable of slowing it down enough to win. Remember, ND’s offense is comprised of substantially the same players who could only score seven points against us last season; those players are obviously more experienced and better now, but even if you quadruple that output, I still think we can score 31 points and win the game.

I wouldn’t read too much into last week; CMU runs the type of spread offense we’ve historically been awful against. ND has incredible receivers, but I think our secondary is much better suited to defend against the type of pro-style offense ND uses. One thing which may be interesting: MSU hasn’t faced a real running back yet this year. Montana State more or less abandoned the run after 10 minutes or so, and CMU’s screen passing game essentially is their running game. I expect our rush defense to be better than average, but there’s no evidence to back that up yet. If there is a weakness there, Armando Allen is clearly talented enough to exploit it.

ITI: Who should the Irish be scared of for the Spartans?

LVS: I think MSU can move the ball on Notre Dame, primarily through the air.We have two excellent receivers in Blair White - who is a walk-on, as you may have heard - and B.J. Cunningham. White is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, and will work both from the slot and split wide; coming into this season, many MSU fans were concerned about Cunningham’s reliability, but he has been sure-handed and excellent through the first two games.Each has two touchdowns already this season.The wide receiver corps will additionally given a boost if Mark Dell plays.(He’s missed the first two games with a leg injury.)Last season, Dell was a bit inconsistent, but he’s tremendously athletic, and the closest thing we have to a genuine gamebreaker.We also have three tight ends who are big threats in the passing game: Charlie Gantt is the starter, Brian Linthicum is a Clemson transfer who looked great in our first game and then was woefully underused last week, and Dion Sims is a freshman, and an athletic freak in the mold of recent MSU tight end Kellen Davis.

I’m confident in both of our sophomore quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol.Briefly, Cousins is the pure passer of the two, while Nichol can pass, but is also a threat to scramble.The two have been rotating throughout the first two games (to our great detriment in the CMU game, in my opinion), but Cousins is the team captain and has been slightly more impressive in the first two games.I’d expect the rotation to end and for Cousins to play the entire game unless something goes terribly wrong.

Conversely, Notre Dame shouldn’t be particularly worried about our running game.Javon Ringer obviously killed the Irish last year, but he’s gone, and we’ve struggled so far to replace his output.Two running backs - redshirt freshman Caulton Ray and true freshman Larry Caper - have separated themselves a bit from the pack; expect to see them both on Saturday.But the real problem has been our offensive line, which has two new starters on the right side and has struggled mightily to create holes for the backs.Their play needs to improve, and soon, for MSU to be successful.

On defense, ND should be worried about Greg Jones, our team’s best player and the Big Ten preseason defensive player of the year.He’s the best linebacker we’ve had in East Lansing in many, many years; he flies to the ball faster than almost anyone else in college football, and is also a big threat on the blitz.

ITI: Did you have anything to do with the flag planting?

LVS: Ha.My tuition helped pay John L. Smith’s salary, so I suppose I’m complicit in some way.Honestly, I think the entire episode was waaaaaay overblown, but I think I speak for all MSU fans when I say that I’m very, very glad that unfortunate era of Spartan football is dead and gone.

ITI: If you had to guess, what do you see happening this weekend?

LVS: Eesh.Like I said, I think we can move the ball and score points on the Irish.Tenuta is an excellent defensive coordinator, but his default setting is blitz, blitz, blitz, and stacking the box and bringing pressure really isn’t the way to defend against us.You really want to clamp down in the secondary, and force us to beat you on the ground, because we haven’t yet proven that we’re capable of doing that.

For me, this game will turn on how game-ready Michael Floyd is.If he’s healthy, we’re probably not going to be able to stop both he and Golden Tate, and ND will get a couple long touchdown passes that will make the difference.If he’s still hurt, I think we can somewhat contain Tate, and slow down ND’s passing game just enough to win.Ultimately, though, I think our biggest problem is that our pass rush isn’t going to bother Clausen at all, and with time in the pocket, he’s going to pick us apart.Another thing to watch is whether Clausen and Allen are able to gouge our defense with screen passes; we looked absolutely hopeless last week in defending screens.

Gun to my head prediction: ND jumps out to an early lead, MSU fights back to take the lead, but ND gets a late touchdown to win 31-27.But I’ve picked ND to win this game at home many times now, and somehow we keep on escaping back to East Lansing with the Megaphone, so you never know . . .

This is obviously an enormous game for both teams.I’m really looking forward to being in South Bend for it.

ITI: If Dantonio doesn’t work out, do you think you guys have any interest in hiring proud MSU alumnus Ty Willingham?

LVS: Why would we need to hire him?By doing more than anyone to run Notre Dame’s program into the ground, he’s already served his alma mater well.

Check out LVS and the rest of the crew at