by John Vannie
Michigan State spotted Notre Dame a first quarter touchdown, but took control of the game in the second period and scored five consecutive times to build a commanding 36-7 lead on the way to a 36-28 victory. During their dominant second and third quarter assault, the Spartans established dominance at the line of scrimmage and methodically eviscerated Notre Dame’s soft defense. On the other side of the ball, the Irish ground game was smothered by Malik McDowell and company, managing only 57 total yards. Quarterback DeShon Kizer valiantly tried to rally his team in the final 20 minutes, but the Spartans were able to play keep away and secure the win after the hosts closed the gap to eight points with six minutes left.
Kizer finished with 344 passing yards and had a hand in all four of his team’s scores, but Notre Dame’s one dimensional attack was not enough to overtake the balanced and fundamentally sound visitors. The Irish fall to 1-2 on the season and have been physically manhandled by both major conference opponents. The offense has become much too reliant on Kizer, even though the talented junior is nearly good enough to will his team to victory. This won’t be possible against quality opponents as long as the defense fails to get off the field in crucial situations, suffers blown coverages, whiffs on tackles and allows opposing quarterbacks sufficient time to write a novel in the pocket.
Two costly turnovers started the downward spiral for Notre Dame. Leading 7-0, they forced an MSU punt that hit Irish special teams player Miles Boykin at the Irish 38. The Spartans recovered and Tyler O’Connor followed with a long pass that Spartan freshman Donnie Corley grabbed away from Irish senior Cole Luke in the end zone. Michigan State quickly lined up and executed a two point conversion for an 8-7 lead. Moments later, Kizer hit C.J. Sanders for 19 yards to begin a promising series, but Michigan State stripped the ball and took over. Just before halftime, the Spartans demoralized Notre Dame with a 92-yard scoring drive to lead 15-7 at intermission.
Matters grew worse in the third quarter, as MSU scored three times in four minutes for a seemingly insurmountable 36-7 lead. Although Kizer caught fire and made it interesting, the deficit was too great to overcome. Only a flawless performance by the defense could give Kizer an opportunity for a miracle, but it was not in the cards.
Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions:
Which defensive line will be able to harass the quarterback? MSU’s front four dominated the overhyped Irish, while the Spartan offensive line put Notre Dame on roller skates and drove them backwards at warp speed.
Will either defense be able to create turnovers? Each team had an interception, but two costly first half fumbles doomed the Irish.
Can Kizer continue to turn third and long situations into first downs? Unfortunately not. He hung in the pocket like a true warrior but paid a heavy price for it.
Which special teams will have the greatest impact on the outcome? MSU recovered a fumble when a punt hit an Irish player and took the lead for good on the very next play. Notre Dame also hurt itself on the opening kickoff when a holding penalty negated a long return for a touchdown by C.J. Sanders.
Will Notre Dame’s offensive line finally live up to expectations? Only if you expected them to stink.
Which team’s secondary will give up the big play? Both teams gave up a couple of long passes, but the biggest impact occurred when MSU’s Donnie Corley outfought Cole Luke in the end zone for the Spartans’ first score.
Can Alan Page or Jim Lynch suit up for the Irish? It probably would not matter in Brian VanGorder’s scheme. What Notre Dame really needs is a coach like Ara Parseghian.
What we’ve learned so far this year is that Notre Dame is undeniably talented at several positions and has an elite quarterback, but that is not enough to overcome a lack of fundamentals and toughness. The Irish are out of the playoff conversation for 2016 and have to assess the long term viability of this coaching staff to elevate the program to true contender status. The mere presence of the 1966 team on campus this week served as a painful reminder of just how far away that objective lies.