Following Flynt - What To Watch for Against Michigan State

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545136.jpegFighting Irish Digital Media intern Josh Flynt ('11) continues to provide the inside scoop on the Notre Dame football program. Here's a look at five things to watch for during the coming weekend both on and off the field ...

'66 Saturday: Celebrating the 45th anniversary of its famous 10-10 tie with the Spartans, Ara Parseghian's 1966 national championship Irish team will be on campus this weekend. More than 80 representatives from this team will be recognized prior to kickoff, and Parseghian and members of his squad will also be present at Friday's pep rally on Irish Green. The 1966 season was Parseghian's first of two championship years while coaching the Fighting Irish. Though his coaching and broadcasting days have long been over, the legendary Irish leader and his family founded the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation in 1994. The organization is dedicated to funding research projects to find a treatment for Niemann-Pick Type C, a rare genetic disease that took the lives of three of Parseghian's grandchildren.

FIGHTING Irish: On Friday night, three-time Bengal Bouts champion Mike Lee ('09) will highlight the first-ever professional boxing card on Notre Dame's campus. Proceeds from the match will benefit South Bend's Robinson Learning Center and the Ara Parseghian Foundation. In his young professional career, Lee is a perfect 6-0 with four knockouts. Lee recently appeared in a Subway commercial alongside Ryan Howard, Michael Strahan and fellow Notre Dame graduate Justin Tuck ('05). The former finance major will square off against Kansas native Jacob Stiers in a four-round light heavyweight bout. Regis Philbin will be among the notable alumni on campus this weekend, and the 1953 graduate will serve as master of ceremonies.

Protecting the Ball: Turnovers, especially in the red zone, have haunted the Irish in the young season. With five in each of its first two games, Notre Dame sits last in the FBS for turnover margin. Even with three or four turnovers in each of the games against USF and Michigan, many believe the Irish would be 2-0 heading into this weekend. Penalties have also been a weak spot for Notre Dame, prolonging opposing drives and cutting offensive possessions short. They have registered 17 for 148 yards. Despite facing a 2-0 and 15th-ranked Michigan State squad, many college football pundits believe Saturday's game is Notre Dame's to win, as long as the Irish hold on to the football and eliminate costly mental errors.

Runnin' Down a Dream: Although overshadowed by the 0-2 record, there are several bright spots from the first two games of the Irish season. One of these is the new-found game on the ground. Though there is not much depth at the running back position, Cierre Wood opened the year with consecutive 100-yard performances and Jonas Gray bounced back from a tough season-opener for 68 yards on six carries against Michigan. The Irish have not had a running back eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since Darius Walker ran for 1,267 in 2006, but if Wood stays healthy and continues to get great support from the offensive line, he could be headed towards this significant milestone. Either way, the combination of Wood and Gray provides the Irish with a strong backfield duo, a part of the offense that has been lacking in recent years. For the Irish to be successful this Saturday and throughout the remainder of the season, continued strong performances from the rushing game will be very important.

Down to the Wire: If recent history is any indication, we can expect another nail-biter between Notre Dame and Michigan State. As I mentioned on Irish UNDerground earlier this week, nine of the last 11 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. Notre Dame and Michigan State have played some classic games during the past decade and with the exception of 2007-08, when Michigan State won two in a row, it has been a back-and-forth rivalry. Particularly memorable Irish highlights came in 2002, 2006 and 2009.

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