The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Irish, Spartans ready for battle this weekend

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It’s a rivalry where the last five games have been decided by 10 points or less. Notre Dame-Michigan State is usually not a disappointing game, and no one knows that better than former Spartan quarterback and Irish coach Tyrone Willingham.”What I would say is that Michigan State believes that it plays its best football against Notre Dame,” Willingham said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “That belief has been passed on going back probably many, many years, that they just feel like that is a game they play great in.”The Irish are preparing for a second straight physical battle, after Saturday’s matchup against Michigan.”I would say that, without question, those two ballgames will be two of the more physical ballgames you play, especially the Michigan State game,” Willingham said. “As you mentioned, I have history with that game. You know what’s said in the locker room, you know what they think, what they want to do in that particular game.”Against Michigan, the Irish were able to match the physical play of the Wolverines with their size and strength, especially on defense. Linebackers Mike Goolsby, Derek Curry and Brandon Hoyte stepped up, making play after play and getting the defense fired up. Goolsby led the group with 14 tackles, Curry contributed six, including one sack and Hoyte registered nine tackles. Goolsby acknowledged the defensive line on Monday as one of the keys to holding Michigan to 56 yards on the ground.”The front-four just played tremendous for us,” Goolsby said. “There were times where as a linebacker I’m trying to get into my gap and there was no gap because they had everything closed up. They clogged everything up for us. Those front-four rotating in and out did a great job for us.”Willingham was also pleased with his defense and its ability to stop the run.”The luxury it gives us is it really forces the opponent into one dimension in this game,” he said. “Any time you can force an opponent into one dimension, then you can kind of slowly take apart that other dimension. In the game of football, it is important that the dimension that you take away be the run.”As far as the Michigan State team that the Irish face, Willingham said he was impressed with its front seven on defense. The Spartan defense gave up 263 yards on the ground and 93 yards in the air to Central Michigan last week, but only seven points. Willingham, however, said he is concerned with the Spartan front line.”The phase I started with this week was their defensive phase, defensive team,” Willingham said. “I was extremely impressed with their front seven, really thought it could be the best front seven that we’ve seen so far this year. That should be saying a lot because I think Michigan’s group is highly touted in terms of their skill, their size, their ability. But I was really impressed with Michigan State’s defensive front seven.”On the Notre Dame side of the ball, quarterback Brady Quinn said he is ready to make improvements since the Michigan game in which he was 10-for-20 for 178 yards in the air.”We try to be tough critics and looking at the tape there were a ton of things that obviously I missed out there, and I could have played better,” Quinn said. “With our offense there were some things that we could have tightened up with the running game and passing game to put more yardage on the board.”