Notre Dame Stumbles at Michigan State

The shoe was on the other foot this week as the Irish had the bad luck with turnovers and eventually succumbed to a pretty good Michigan State team in East Lansing. In many ways, this game mimicked the Week 2 game vs Michigan, but unfortunately ND was on the wrong end of turnover margin as MSU beat the Irish 23-7. If this didn’t cost them the game outright, it certainly prevented it from being real close at the end. The Irish repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, and it also appears that somebody shot the feet of ND’s kicker’s, too.

Let’s first talk about the kicking game. ND’s Brandon Walker missed 2 field goals … one was a rather lengthy 51 yarder in which he had the distance and the second was a real momentum killer in the 4th quarter, a very makeable 42 yarder. If you’re gonna win a tough rivalry game on the road, he’s got to make one of these kicks. But Walker’s accuracy and confidence have been very poor since he stepped on campus, so ND fans and coaching staff know this will likely be a problem all year. Furthermore, ND’s kicker on kick-offs has consistently been short of the end zone, and this tendency really cost the Irish in the 4th quarter after they grabbed the momentum and closed the score to 13-7. The ensuing kick-off was fielded by MSU at their 15 yard line and returned to the 45 … this really seemed to deflate ND as MSU marched down to kick a field goal making it 16-7. But there was plenty of time left, as ND moved the ball into the red zone yet again, only to witness Walker’s back-breaking miss from 42 yards.

Now let’s talk about ND’s running game, or lack thereof 16 net yards rushing! Before including lost sack yardage, ND had only 50 yards from their backs and averaged only about 2 yards per carry. Again, OL play was a huge weakness last season and run blocking has been a major deficiency for 3 games now. The pass blocking has been fairly good as MSU tallied the only sacks allowed by ND this season … 3 in this game. When Clausen had time, he was pretty effective. But the OL and running backs need to improve greatly if ND is to become a “real contender”.

Now we get to the turnovers. Similar to the San Diego State game, ND killed itself with red zone turnovers … primarily a 1st half INT in the end zone which cost them points, and a fumble by Michael Floyd on the MSU 13 yard line in the 2nd half likely also took valuable points away. There were a couple of very significant penalties as well, especially one in the 4th quarter which cost ND a 1st down at MSU’s 8 yard line and instead pushed them back to the 23 … leading to Walker’s second FG miss.
MSU gets credit, though, for playing a very good, smart game. They relied on their strengths … a really good running game, a stiff defense, and good line play on both sides of the ball. They made very few mistakes and waited for the Irish to make theirs. Still, for ND, there were some positives, especially when compared to last season’s team. The skill position talent is pretty obvious … Clausen, Tate, Floyd, etc … but the running game has been stifled and will continue to be until the OL matures and gets more push off the line of scrimmage. The defense really kept ND in this game … holding the score down … until the very end. The D-line is very young and is not generating enough pass rush, plus ND’s blitzes aren’t really yielding any payoff. MSU’s Hoyer was not sacked once and really not pressured all game. ND’s secondary is strong and has anchored the D through 3 games.

The Irish face Purdue next week at home. The 2-1 Boilermakers squeaked by Central Michigan Saturday and have yet to play on the road. Their lone loss was in OT to Oregon. If ND believes they are a bowl bound team, they must win this home game vs a suspect Purdue squad. The Irish have clearly superior talent up and down the roster and will be playing in front of the home fans. As for today’s loss, it should be another learning opportunity for this relatively young team. ND was an 8.5 point underdog coming in and the game was winnable in the 4th quarter, but ND made too many mental errors and red zone turnovers to come out on top. Irish faithful will be looking for a turn around next week.

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6 Responses

  1. I loved Golden Tate’s run after the catch for a first down in the second half.

    Great play by the MSU defensive back to take away an Irish touchdown.

    Hopefully the young talent at the skill positions will stay around and not skip to the NFL.

  2. Great point Casey. Golden Tate is one helluva player, isn’t he? Great hands, great speed and tough as nails.

    One thing I should’ve written in the posting …. ND’sOffensive Coordinator (Haywood) has got to realize SOON that this team’s clear strength is passing, while running the ball is clearly a weakness. We wasted the entire 1st quarter trying to establish the run against an opponent who is strong defending the run. Duh … of course we went nowhere.!!! MSU was stacking 8 in the box … just daring ND to pass. Well, we finally did after 6-7 straight running plays and a wasted quarter.

    Wally

  3. Clausen showed that when given time, he has the potential to pick apart a good defense. That drive to end the third quarter and the ensuing drive for the missed field goal were impressive.

    What change did ND make to buy him time? I was thinking earlier in the third – why do they keep putting him over center? But even after they went to the shotgun, Clausen was pressured the first couple of plays, and then it was like they flipped a switch.

    The drive for the td, the goal-line stand, and Tate’s run after catch was a great sequence.

    Allen’s kickoff return was a case of too little-too late, but more potential there.

  4. I did not get to watch the second half. It seemed like Clausen was forcing throws on blitzes. Then again, his receivers were not recognizing when the corners blitzed and just took off running their routes. If you see your corner cross your face and take off, wouldn’t you want to just sit right where you’re at and allow a quick dump off when your QB reads the blitz? He knew the blitz was coming but had to wait for his receivers to complete their routes.

    MSU secondary was very good and threw a lot at the ND offense. I think they’ll be contenders for a little while in the Big Ten and may surprise Penn State or Ohio State.

    It seems like everyone is optimistic about this ND team and I just don’t see it yet. Is Clausen the real deal or just a “you tube” phenomenon? Maybe it’s the lack of an established running game, as you’ve mentioned. Tough when you don’t have support.

    Anyway – another great breakdown of the game. Would love to see a preview of the Purdue game – have seen their scores but no games or highlights. What type of measuring stick will this be? Central Michigan is a much better football team than they get credit for.

    Heisman Watch:
    1. Chase Daniel MIZZ
    2. Mark Sanchez USC
    3. Javon Ringer MSU

  5. Rey —
    To address your points/question.

    1) The reason to be optimistic about this team rests almost solely with the load of talent Weis has recruited recently … the current sophomore and freshman classes. The optimism should not be about going to a good New Years Day Bowl this year or finishing 9-3 or better. I think 7-5 is a realistic goal and the optimism is about the 2009 season when the current sophs are juniors … and beyond. On the negative side, this coaching staff has not yet proven to us that they are a top flight crew … but the jury is still out and will be for at least another year.

    2) I believe Clausen is the “real deal”. In many ways, he’s ahead of where Brady Quin was at this point in his career … and they’ve both faced similar obstacles/challenges as frosh/sophs. Yes, the lack of a running game is really going to limit his effectiveness/efficiency … but he’s actually done pretty well thus far. Last year he was literally running for his life and was hurt.

    3) The Purdue game is a measuring stick, for me at least … geez … after last year, every game is! I’ve always looked at Purdue this way: ND gets better talent than Purdue year in and year out. Some years the discrepancy isn’t large (Davie -Willingham years), but in others it is (Holtz & Weis). PU always seems to get decent QB’s and WR’s because of the passing offense they run, but the talent discrepancy right now is starting to get sizable. But our talent is “young” and they have a very talented veteran QB — Curtis Painter. Anyway, IMO, ND should almost always win the home game vs Purdue and win about half of them on the road. Under Holtz, we may have won 10 in a row. But going back to my skepticism about this ND coaching staff … ND could get out-schemed. The game will likely be close … but ND “should” win … again based on talent and having home field advantage.

    Wally

  6. I am optimistic because ND was just a few plays away from throwing a scare into a good team on the road. After the impressive drive for the TD, ND’s defense had a goal line stand. I realize that means they allowed MSU to drive the field. Then the offense responded with another solid drive that required a great play by a Spartan defensive back to stop another TD. Then the the awful sequence – a missed field goal and the ensuing 60 yard run from scrimmage turned what easily could have been a two point game into a 16 point game in just five plays.

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