ND readies for postseason foe
Kit Loughran | Tuesday, October 28, 2014
The Irish take a break from conference play for a midweek ACC-Big Ten showdown.
The No. 5 Irish (9-4-2, 5-1-1 ACC) take on Big Ten rival No. 12 Michigan State (9-3-3, 3-1-2 Big Ten) tonight at Alumni Stadium. The Spartans represent Notre Dame’s third and last regular-season Big Ten opponent of its 2014 campaign. The Irish fell in two previous contests, 1-0 to Indiana last Wednesday and 3-2 to Michigan on Oct. 7, while they clinched a 1-0 victory over Northwestern on Oct 14.
“[Tonight] will be a very good ACC-Big Ten clash,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We’re down 1-2 at the moment … so we better at least square it up for the moment and win this game.”
Notre Dame welcomes the Spartans back to South Bend after its 2-1 victory over Michigan State in the NCAA tournament quarterfinal on Dec. 7 last year. Goals from junior midfielders Patrick Hodan and Evan Panken earned the Irish their first-ever College Cup berth.Though the Irish and Spartans don’t find themselves in the tournament quarterfinals, the intensity remains the same as both teams approach the end of regular-season play. Michigan State enters the match after tying Northwestern 1-1 in double overtime Sunday. The Irish beat the Wildcats two weeks ago and take to the pitch after a 3-1 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday, but the Spartans still stand as an obstacle to overcome.
“They have a lot of great experience,” Clark said. “They have a lot of returning players from last year, so I don’t think that we are going to get much out of them there. They’re a tough team. … They’re just a really good team.”
While the Irish have faced top-ranked opponents all season, the Spartans currently boast one of the top-ranked defensive units in the nation. Michigan State has shut out its opponents in 10 of its 17 games this season, holding all of its opponents to just eight goals total. Junior goalkeeper Zach Bennett has 46 saves with a 0.852 save percentage and 0.51 goals-against average.
“Michigan State might be the stingiest team in the country,” Clark said. “They might have the most shut outs of any team in the country. They’re the number one defense so on paper, so you would think this would be a very difficult game to get goals.”
In their past two ACC contests, the Irish have made scoring seem effortless. Notre Dame’s offense erupted with four goals against Duke on Oct. 17 and three against Virginia Tech. Clark said the Irish looked to finish more on goal, and while they netted more goals, they did not hold their opponents scoreless. Notre Dame allowed the Blue Devils and Hokies one goal each, holding the Irish shutout record to five on the season, compared to the Spartan’s nine.
“It would be terrific if we could get some goals and make it easy, but at the same time, realistically, you just want to get one more goal than they are,” Clark said. “I think it would be important that we don’t concede any goals. We haven’t had shutouts for a couple games now, so I think that is important for us coming into this game now that we start to get shutouts.”
With both teams aiming for a shutout, the Irish might need to rely on their second-half stamina to deliver the victory. Notre Dame has outscored its opponents 17-8 in the second half and overtime this season, with a 142-87 shot advantage.
“I think that we will have to play at our very best to win this game,” Clark said. “If we play well, then we will be fine. If we give anything less than our best, then it will be a very tough game, but if we play to our best, then we should be in pretty good shape.”
The Irish and Spartans take to the pitch tonight at Alumni Stadium at 7 p.m.