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Gameplanning will be easier, but stopping RB Ringer won’t

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, September 19, 2008

Going into last week’s game against Michigan, the Irish defensive coaches had a lot of questions when game-planning, from the quarterback to the new spread system. This week against Michigan State, things are a lot easier.

The Spartans boast what Irish head coach Charlie Weis called one of the best running backs in the country in senior Javon Ringer.

“You don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re going to take him out of the game plan, because that is not going to be the case,” Weis said. “So you better bring your lunch pail with you because they’re going to get behind those big linemen and hand him the ball and you’ll have to stop him.”

Ringer has been the Big Ten offensive player of the week the last two weeks, both wins for the Spartans. On the season, Ringer has already racked up 713 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns, including 282 rushing yards and two scores against Florida Atlantic last weekend. The senior tailback also returns kicks for Michigan State.

Spartans coach Mike Dantonio said one of the most impressive parts of Ringer’s day against FAU was that he had no fumbles. Last week’s Spartans-Owls game was played in East Lansing, Mich., which experienced the same downpour South Bend did on Saturday.

Dantonio said the fumbles – or lack thereof – did not surprise him because Ringer’s “intangibles” set him apart from other players.

“It’s the toughness, it’s the attention to detail, it’s the confidence, it’s the work ethic [that set him apart],” Dantonio said Saturday in his post-game news conference. “When you have a tough environment like that, they know you’re running the football, so for him to get the yards and for him to sort of control the game in certain moments was impressive, but it’s the type of person he is.”

Weis said Ringer’s individual performance made the team’s “Top Ten” list of goals for this week’s game because he knows Ringer will be an integral part of the Michigan State offensive gameplan.

“You might stop him a couple times but that’s not going to stop [Dantonio] from giving him the ball,” Weis said. “They’re going to keep on giving him the ball and you’re going to have to keep on stopping him, because they’re going to keep on giving it to him.”

Ringer has been a thorn in Notre Dame’s side throughout his career at Michigan State. During last year’s 31-14 Spartan win at Notre Dame Stadium, he carried the ball 26 times for 144 times, but the Irish kept him out of the end zone. However, Michigan State used his and then-senior running back Jehuu Caulcrick’s 20 carries for 83 yards to set up the passing attack.

In that game, quarterback Brian Hoyer had mediocre numbers (only 11-of-24 for 135 yards and one pick), but also connected with receivers for four passing touchdowns.

Hoyer, now a senior who has started all three of Michigan State’s games this season, continues to have below-average numbers. The 6-foot-3 quarterback has completed only 44 percent of his passes (33-of-75) for 557, one touchdown and two interceptions. Last Saturday against FAU, he only went 5-of-15 passing for 88 yards and a pick.

But Weis said that despite the numbers Hoyer has improved since taking over for former Spartans quarterback Drew Stanton last season.

“Now he’s got a year under his belt, and he looks like a much, much more competent quarterback than when he first took over. I think he’s done a really nice job,” Weis said.

Weis also said Hoyer has the talent to be a top-tier quarterback, but hasn’t had to be one because of Ringer’s spectacular season thus far.

“If anyone could kind of stifle [Ringer] at all, I’d still think they’d feel confident enough that Hoyer can make enough plays to win for them,” Weis said.