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September 10, 2012
Spartans prepare for battle of Top 20 unbeatens
EAST LANSING - Having broken in to the Associated Press Top 10, Michigan State has a chance to break into the national picture in a big way this weekend, with Notre Dame paying a trip to Spartan Stadium.
No. 10 Michigan State (2-0) is coming off a 41-7 victory at Central Michigan. No. 19-ranked Notre Dame (2-0) holds victories over Purdue 20-17 and Navy (50-10).
"The Notre Dame game is obviously a great rivalry game and we respect that and we're excited to play," said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. "We played on a big stage last week (in the opener against Boise State), a huge, big stage. We played an away game this week (at Central Michigan), which is a different mentality a little bit in terms of how we prepare and different things. That was a positive. And now we got back again and play on a national stage again, so it can only help us, and it prepares us for the games following that."
With Big Ten teams struggling in the non-conference season, Michigan State is being regarded as the conference's best hope for getting into the national championship chase. That of course requires beating Notre Dame and staying unbeaten.
Following the Central Michigan game, Dantonio was more concerned about improving as a team, rather than rankings.
"When you look at it as a head coach, you want your football team to get better and grow," Dantonio said. "The only way that you can grow is by playing, by having some adversity and by continuing to push through it and then getting a little bit better and getting your feet under you a little bit more, doing the little things, handling the tough times."
The Spartans didn't have too many tough times at Central Michigan, but quarterback Andrew Maxwell - making his first career road start - had brief bouts of inaccuracy in the early going.
Maxwell finished 20-of-31 for 275 yards with 2 TDs and no interceptions against CMU, eventually finding a comfort level against the Chippewas' surprise method of heavy blitzing and zero-safety coverages.
New to the starting role, and the unofficial role of serving as a spokesperson for the team, program and university, Maxwell was asked if he thinks Michigan State is ready for the visiting Irish.
"Yeah," Maxwell said. "And we are just going to keep getting better. We are going to throw this (CMU) film on and we are going to learn from it and we are going to clean up the mistakes. I know that the coaches are going to have us ready and we are going to have a great week of preparation this week to get ready to play on Saturday night."
Maxwell looked good in zipping the 15-yard out to the wide side of the field, and finding hot routes against blitzes. Maxwell and the coaching staff say they are still working to improve proper timing with sophomore WR Keith Mumphery on comeback routes and out cuts.
"I think every experience you have - as a quarterback, as a corner, as a punter, a kicker, as a snapper - is going to help you improve," Dantonio said. "When those things happen, you just continue to build more confidence and you have another opportunity next week to play against a good football team, a nationally-televised game. So that will be another opportunity for him to grow."
Briefly ... from South Bend
In his weekly press conference on Sunday, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said safety [DB]Jamoris Slaughter[/db] (shoulder) and star tight end Tyler Eifert (suspected slight concussion) have been cleared to play against MSU.
Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who left early with a calf strain, will start doing some work Tuesday and should be OK. Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels sprained an ankle and will be evaluated during the week.
Middle linebacker Manti Te'o has a bruised sternum, but should be okay.
ND's leading rusher from last year, Cierre Wood, will be back after a two-game suspension. Wood rushed for 1,102 yards last year. He was suspended on Aug. 26 for violation of team rules.
Redshirt freshman QB Everett Golson will be making his first start in an enemy environment, Saturday night. ND is prepared to deal with the noise of Spartan Stadium, Kelly said.
"We are really set up to be able to run our entire offense without any verbal communication," Kelly said. "We can put it on the center and the center can be the guy that's snapping the ball. So it shouldn't be a problem at all.
"When we are at home, we use a lot more of our own inflexion. But if it gets loud, then we are in pretty good shape to put it on the offensive line. We can put it on a center or we can put it on a guard. So we are not concerned about that."