It’s a common phrase, “A game is won in the trenches,” but in this day and age of the spread no-huddle, high-octane offenses, it gets lost sometimes. However, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, two teams will meet in South Bend, Ind. and put that saying to the test.
Whoever wins the line battle between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s offensive line and the front seven of the Michigan State Spartans wins this game. No matter how skilled the playmakers are on either side, it will take success from the “big uglies” to earn victory.
Michigan State’s defense has carried the Spartans to a 3-0 record, leading the nation in total defense with only 177 yards allowed per game. The Irish defense is allowing 259 yards a game just through the air in the first three games.
It has also assisted in the early season struggles of the offense, as four of the team’s first six touchdowns scored were defensive scores (offense finally exploded against FCS Youngstown State). The front seven has been perfectly crafted to become one of the nation’s best, mixing players with extensive starting experience and players who have grown into the role. They are led by a trio of veteran starters, with linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen and defensive end Marcus Rush all having made 30 career starts at Michigan State.
The defensive tackles lack the starting experience, but they have the size to be a nightmare to any offensive line they face (6-foot-7 and 6-foot-5 and a combined 597 pounds).
Notre Dame will counter with a beefy, experienced unit of their own, heralded as one of the best in the business. Between the five starters, they have combined for 103 starts (116 if you count Troy Niklas), and average over 300 pounds each.
They are led by by fifth-year senior Zach Martin, who was a potential high draft pick, but decided to finish out his college career for a chance to play with his brother, Nick Martin. The elder Martin has 42 career starts to his credit and is one of the nation’s best blind-side protector’s. He isn’t alone on the left side, as Chris Watt is the owner of 29 starts himself, and fits the typical mold of a big mauling run blocker (6-foot-3, 321 pounds).
The Irish will need every bit of their muscle if they are going to beat the Spartans, in what will be a hard fought, physical game. In boxing, rising superstars must generally win a sloppy, ugly, nasty fight that will show how much heart and determination they have to get to the top. This will be that type of game for the Irish.
Michigan State doesn’t offer much on the offensive side of the ball, but their defense has been extremely good to get them where they are now. If the offensive line can throw the first punch, and keep throwing them, the Irish will escape with the victory.