SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was asked about the challenges he faces going against Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who he has faced four times and followed as coach at Cincinnati.
"He’s only about 190 pounds, so I don’t have much of a challenge with him," he quipped. "But their team is a challenge, if that’s what you mean."
The 12th-ranked Spartans (1-0) and 18th-ranked Fighting Irish (1-1) play on Saturday night, ending a two-year gap in the series that dates to 1897 and has been played regularly since 1948. Both teams have something to prove.
The Spartans, who have finished ranked in the top six the past three seasons, are looking to show they are ready to be playoff contenders after an unimpressive 28-13 win over Furman. The Irish are looking to stay alive in the playoff race following a season-opening loss at No. 11 Texas.
Dantonio said he has a lot to learn about his team.
"I think we have a good football team. I think we’ve got players. So, that remains to be seen," he said.
Players on both teams say they expect a physical game. Spartans linebacker Riley Bullough recalled how hard-hitting the game was in a 17-13 Irish victory in 2013, the Spartans’ only loss that season.
"Notre Dame was a physical, fast, violent team. Kind of the same things that we pride ourselves on," he said.
Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu, who played in that 2013 game, describes the Spartans as hard-nosed.
"Everybody’s been saying physical, physical, physical," he said.
Kelly told his players they must remain poised.
"This is not a boxing match. This is not UFC," he said. "What we can’t get caught up in is the emotion of a game like this where words turn into poor actions."
Other things to be aware of involving the Michigan State-Notre Dame game:
Michigan State wasn’t off last week because the Spartans wanted extra time to prepare for Notre Dame. It was because Alabama in 2013 canceled a pair of games against the Spartans. Dantonio concedes it wasn’t an ideal time for an off week.
"I don’t think there is anybody in our program that wanted to sit last weekend," he said.
Michigan State linebacker Ed Davis is expected to play after being granted a sixth year of eligibility because he missed last season with a knee injury. Dantonio said he doesn’t know how much Davis will play. Davis was a starting linebacker for the Spartans in 2014, when he had 58 tackles and seven sacks.
Kelly said receiver Torii Hunter Jr., who sat out against Nevada after sustaining a concussion against Texas, will play.
Last season, Notre Dame tight ends had a combined 20 receptions, the fewest in a season for the Irish since the tight ends had eight in 2001. Through two games the only Notre Dame tight end with a catch is Durham Smythe with one for eight yards. Kelly said the tight ends are still part of the game plan.
"If he’s open and he’s part of our progression, we’ve got to get the ball to them. We’re just not going to force it to him," he said.
Michigan State is 6-2 against ranked opponents the past three seasons. Notre Dame is 5-8.
Kelly said he still gets hand-written notes weekly about the previous week’s games from 93-year-old Ara Parseghian, the Notre Dame coaching great who led the Irish to a famous 10-10 tie against the Spartans in 1966.
"I keep them all," Kelly said. "They are for me they are inspirational in a sense that at 90-something years old he takes the time to write me a note and I can read them."