September 16, 2010 at 1:00 am

Matt Charboneau: Michigan State Insider

Cincinnati alums Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly share respect for each other

Brian Kelly is 1-1 in his brief Notre Dame career, including a heartbreaking loss to Michigan last Saturday. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

East Lansing -- The connections between Michigan State and Notre Dame are plenty. From the 10-10 tie in 1966 -- "The Game of the Century" -- to John L. Smith mocking Charlie Weis by slapping himself in the face, there is no shortage of memories.

But one of the more unique moments will take place Saturday night when Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio squares off with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

Kelly, in his first season coaching the Fighting Irish, came from Cincinnati, where he went 34-6 in three seasons, won two Big East championships and led his team to two BCS bowl games. What's interesting is that Kelly succeeded Dantonio, who left Cincinnati after the 2006 season to become head coach of Michigan State.

"He went to Cincinnati and was able to win championships," Dantonio said of Kelly. "To me, he helped make the dreams come true of some of the players I recruited. When we recruited those players, we were just entering the Big East, just getting new facilities, and we recruited them with the idea they could do something special. The fact they were able to recognize that dream and he had a part in doing that I think is a huge statement for what he did for that program and what he did for those young people. So I applaud him."

While Kelly's work at Cincinnati put the Bearcats players over the top and eventually led to him landing the job at Notre Dame, he credits Dantonio for building the foundation.

"Respect," he said when asked his thoughts on Dantonio. "Respect for what he did. He instilled toughness in that unit when I took it over. (I) clearly knew of his work when he was at Ohio State, as well. That's my impressions of Coach Dantonio."

One more interesting note: While Kelly was the coach at Central Michigan, he was a finalist for the job at Michigan State before Dantonio was ultimately hired. Kelly then took the Cincinnati job.

Despite the points at which their careers have intersected, Dantonio prefers to focus on the present.

"I don't know him that well," Dantonio said. "I know that he's a great football coach. But as far as the Cincinnati thing, to me it's sort of a non-issue."

While they have taken different paths, Dantonio and Kelly will both be coaching at Spartan Stadium -- against each other.

More ground troops

The Michigan State rushing attack has been impressive in the Spartans' opening victories over Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic.

The Spartans rushed for 297 yards against Western Michigan, including 141 yards from true freshman Le'Veon Bell. Against Florida Atlantic, sophomore Edwin Baker gained 183 yards while the Spartans ran for 225 as a team.

If that isn't enough for Michigan State's opponents, it should get tougher this week. That's because sophomore Larry Caper, who led the Spartans in rushing last season, is expected to play for the first time. He hasn't played while nursing an injury to his right hand.

"Setbacks only make you more hungry," Caper said. "I'm hungry now and it's a big stage on Saturday."

Caper, who had 468 yards on 120 carries in 2009, injured the hand while stiff-arming teammate Johnny Adams in practice. He's since watched as his fellow backs have starred but it hasn't been a negative experience.

"We're all friends, almost like brothers," Caper said. "When we do make a mistake we're there to help each other out. It's not a competition-thing where we're jealous, we're just trying to make each other better."

Close calls

Nine of the last 11 games between Michigan State and Notre Dame have been decided by 10 points or less. Here's a breakdown:

1999: Michigan State 23-13, in South Bend

2000: Michigan State 27-21, in East Lansing

2001: Michigan State 17-10, in South Bend

2002: Notre Dame 21-17, in East Lansing

2003: Michigan State 22-16, in South Bend

2004: Notre Dame 31-24, in East Lansing

2005: Michigan State 44-41 (OT), in South Bend

2006: Notre Dame 40-37, in East Lansing

2007: Michigan State 31-14, in South Bend

2008: Michigan State 23-7, in East Lansing

2009: Notre Dame 33-30, in South Bend

By the numbers

27: Michigan State victories over Notre Dame. Only Southern California (34) has more wins against the Fighting Irish

8: Prime-time games that have been played at Spartan Stadium. Saturday's against Notre Dame will be the ninth

0: Penalties the Notre Dame defense has been flagged for in its first two games

He said it

"Lot of animosity Just so much me vs. you, and I want to win. That's the bottom line." -- Greg Jones, Michigan State linebacker, when describing the emotion of playing against Notre Dame.

matt.charboneau@detnews.com">matt.charboneau@detnews.com