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Breaking down Michigan State-Notre Dame

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Mark Dantonio diagrams famed trick play (1:37)

Hearts were in throats when Michigan State ran a trick play in overtime against Notre Dame in 2010. But Spartan Stadium erupted when a game-tying field goal attempt turned into a walk-off TD. Mark Dantonio shows how the "Little Giants" play went down. (1:37)

Michigan State and Notre Dame renew their rivalry Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium after a three-year hiatus. The meeting also marks the 50th anniversary of their “Game of the Century” matchup in 1966, a 10-10 tie. The jury is still out on both teams this early in the season, but Big Ten reporter Dan Murphy and ACC reporter Matt Fortuna take a crack at breaking down the matchup.

How to beat Michigan State: The Spartans remain somewhat of a mystery in 2016. A team with a ton of turnovers has played only one game (a lackluster victory over FCS Furman) so far this season. The best bet to beating Michigan State, though, is to give your quarterback time to operate and attack the edges of a physical defense. The Spartans were susceptible to the big play a year ago. It's not easy to run against their always-strong front seven, but if the Irish can hold off the pass rush, DeShone Kizer should have time to put up some points. -- Murphy

How to beat Notre Dame: Attack the Irish deep. Their secondary gave up a number of big plays in the opener at Texas and had some early busts against Nevada before getting its bearings. Still, starting corner Shaun Crawford tore his left Achilles on Saturday and is out for the season, meaning the spotlight is now on Nick Coleman. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly himself said he expects defenses to test the green Coleman, and with little in the way of safety depth -- free safety Max Redfield was dismissed after an August arrest -- the Irish have a lot to prove in the defensive backfield. -- Fortuna

How Michigan State beats you: Mark Dantonio's teams love a good slugfest. The Spartans have a knack for finding ways to win tight games, something that Notre Dame hasn't forgotten since 2010. This season, though, Michigan State's offense might have to rely a bit more on perimeter speed from players like Monty Madaris and freshman Donnie Corley to put up the type of offense that's required against a competitive top-tier opponent. If the Spartans are going to be in position to pound out those fourth-quarter victories moving forward, they'll have to be able to get to the end zone often to keep things close. -- Murphy

How Notre Dame beats you: When everything is clicking, this is a high-octane offense. Kizer has at times looked as sharp as any quarterback in the country, and though the receiving corps is relatively young, there is plenty of talent there. Josh Adams is an explosive threat out of the backfield as well. There is a sense Notre Dame might be able to overcome its defensive shortcomings this season because it has the offensive firepower to win shootouts. It's unclear if that will have to be the case against the Spartans, given the mystery of that offense, but the Irish have to at least be sleeping decently this week knowing they have some playmakers on offense taking on what should be yet another strong Michigan State defense. -- Fortuna

Michigan State's X factor: The element of surprise. Michigan State played the equivalent of a preseason game two weeks ago before a very early bye. The Spartans would have liked to wait until later in the season to take their week off, but at least in this game it gives them an opportunity to break out an offseason's worth of new tricks and tweaks, especially given the turnover at skill positions such as quarterback and wide receiver. -- Murphy

Notre Dame’s X factor: Does the opposite hold true here for the Irish? Having gotten two games' worth of experience from so many young players -- albeit through a loss in one of those games -- should serve Notre Dame well against a team that's played zero games against FBS competition. Of course, being the "less fresh" of the two teams in a matchup against a program known for its physicality could backfire, too. -- Fortuna

Predictions

Murphy: Notre Dame threw 20 deep balls the last time Michigan State visited South Bend (Dantonio still remembers all of them), and the Irish and came away with a 17-13 victory. Expect a similar game plan with a lot more scoring. Notre Dame wins yet another close game in this series, 38-34.

Fortuna: Notre Dame's offense could very well meet its match in Michigan State's defense. On the other side of the ball, the Irish defense just hasn't inspired much big-game faith. A late touchdown from Sparty caps another classic in this series, a 31-27 MSU win.