Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio talks about the 12th-ranked Spartans as they get ready to face the 18th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a prime-time showdown in South Bend, Indiana Saturday Dale G. Young, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Breaking in new starters and dealing with the on-field growing pains of relying on less-experienced players is reality these days for Michigan State.
After the season-opening victory over Furman, which was far from a masterpiece, the Spartans spent their bye week trying to clean up some of the mistakes — 10 penalties being chief among them — and getting ready to jump onto the big stage with Saturday’s trip to Notre Dame on the horizon.
But the 12th-ranked Spartans are hardly the only team working out the early season kinks. For No. 18 Notre Dame, there just as many issues, tops among them a defense that allowed 50 points and more than 500 total yards in a season-opening loss at Texas.
Coming off of last weekend’s 39-10 victory over Nevada, which snapped a three-game skid dating to last season, the Fighting Irish are feeling a bit better about their defense with Michigan State coming to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 2013.
“It picked up our confidence a lot, just to be able to go out there and execute, and execute the way we wanted to execute, that means a lot,” senior defensive tackle Jarron Jones told ESPN.com. “It showed us that we do have the ability to make plays, so just us having this game and this win under our belt, it means a lot, especially going into a big game like Michigan State.”
The prime time showdown features a pair of ranked teams that expect to be playing for a championship.
Michigan State has lost three straight in the series. And if past games have anything to do with a team’s makeup moving forward, the Spartans will surely be fired up after the 17-13 loss three years ago, the only defeat that season.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly hopes the first two games has prepared the Irish for an intense matchup.
“Here is what I know: We're going to get better each and every week,” Kelly said. “We're a younger football team in certain areas. But we've got enough guys that have played enough football that they know what it's like to play a Michigan State, too. It's not like we've got a bunch of guys that don't know what it's like to go up against a physical, Big Ten opponent like Michigan State.
“But there's other guys that don't know what it is (like) to get punched in the mouth by a big, physical team like Michigan State, too. So there's still growth that's going to happen with this football team as we evolve.”
Quarterback DeShone Kizer expects his teammates will be prepared.
“It's about putting on your hardhat, lunch pail, going out and doing it,” Kizer said. “Michigan State has a rep that they are going to play you hard-nosed, play you in between the tackles. We're going to do it when we have to, take the shots when we have to.”
Michigan State expects to be bigger and tougher thanks to the possible return of linebacker Ed Davis. He was granted a sixth season of eligibility on Friday by the NCAA after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Coach Mark Dantonio said Monday on the Paul W. Smith Show on WJR that Davis’ chances of playing on Saturday will be determined throughout the week.
“It was great for Ed and the program,” Dantonio said. “He was hurt coming in here (in 2011) and was unable to play that first year, so we got to get him on the field now. There’s a couple things he’s still working through, but the possibility is there for him to play at Notre Dame and we’ll see how it all shakes out. It’s good to have him back with us practicing and he’ll be ready as we move forward.”