SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -It's not panic time at Notre Dame or Michigan State - yet.
That likely will change for the loser of Saturday's game between the Fighting Irish (1-1) and the Spartans (1-1). After last-minute losses last week, marked by costly penalties and defensive troubles, fans of both teams are frantic for answers.
Players are hearing the questions. They may be more urgent in South Bend after Notre Dame's 38-34 loss at Michigan.
``This time last week we were ranked 18th and we were on our way to the title and everything. You're talking about one or two plays here or there and we're right back where we started,'' Notre Dame linebacker Toryan Smith. ``Now we've got questions about this guy. We've got questions about the coach. It's real tough, especially in a big loss like that when it seemed we had opportunities to win.''
Michigan State knows the feeling. They've been getting the same type of questions following their 29-27 loss to Central Michigan when the Chippewas recovered an onside kick then kicked a 42-yard field goal with 3 seconds left to win.
``Obviously you get a lot of questions about what happened and things like that. But people are going to say whatever they want to say,'' Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones said. ``It really doesn't matter.''
What matters is coming up with some answers this week.
The biggest question for the Spartans is whether they can slow the Notre Dame offense.
Last week, Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour completed 33 of 46 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns against the Spartans. Now they face Jimmy Clausen, who is averaging 325.5 yards a game, completing 66.7 percent of his passes and is third in the nation in pass efficiency. Clausen has thrown seven TD passes and no interceptions.
The Spartans need to pressure Clausen, something they failed to do against LeFevour, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
``We didn't hit the quarterback enough. If you're going to affect the quarterback, you got to hit him more. You got to do more in coverage. Whatever it is, you have to get hits on the quarterback,'' he said.
The Irish gave up 190 yards rushing last week and they are worried about getting some hits on the ball carrier. Coach Charlie Weis even had the Irish first-team offense learn some Michigan State plays so the Irish defense could practice against it.
``I saw a concerted effort to stop the run,'' Weis said. ``The only way to do that is by going at it going full speed and blowing things up. Because if you try to just play assignment football when you're going to try to stop the run, it really doesn't take you too far.''
Michigan State will be trying to extend a six-game winning streak at Notre Dame Stadium that started in 1997. Lou Holtz was the coach the last time the Irish beat the Spartans in South Bend.
This series used to be best remembered for the 10-10 tie in 1966 that led to the Fighting Irish winning the national championship and the Spartans finishing No. 2. But this century the annual game has been marked by a series of squabbles.
In 2001, it was a tiff over whether the teams agreed to be on the field for a ceremony on the first game after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2005, there were two issues. After Michigan State won 44-41 in overtime, some Spartans ran to midfield at Notre Dame Stadium and plunged a school flag into the turf. But when the Spartans went to pick up the Megaphone Trophy awarded the game's winner, it was nowhere to be found.
Then there were reports that Weis allegedly vowed to an alumni group that he would never again lose to the Spartans. The Irish have. Twice.
Last season, Michigan State asked a liaison to the officials to remove a laptop from Notre Dame's coaches box. Weis said it was the result of a student manager being unaware it wasn't allowed.
Any controversy this year is impossible to predict. What is easy to expect, though, is that Saturday's loser will be hearing from fans.

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