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  • Irish Get Defensive in Rout

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame’s defense rose to the occasion on Saturday and shut down Michigan State for a convincing 31-13 victory. Cornerback Robert Blanton, safety Harrison Smith and freshman defensive lineman Aaron Lynch stood out as the inspired Irish stopped the run early and slammed the door on Kirk Cousins and the Spartan passing game in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame won its first game of the season and reset the high expectations for this talented team.

    The Irish clearly won the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball. MSU managed only 53 yards on the ground, and sprinted to a 21-10 halftime lead behind the strong running of Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray. Wood had two touchdowns and this tailback tandem earned 126 yards on 26 carries. When the Spartans attempted to use its safeties to slow the Notre Dame rushing attack, quarterback Tommy Rees threw over the top to his receivers in single coverage.

    T.J. Jones hauled in a 26-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to give the Irish a commanding 28-10 lead, and the defense took over from that point. MSU could manage only a field goal in the second half as Dan Conroy hit from 35 yards early in the fourth quarter. A fumbled punt by Notre Dame’s John Goodman gave the Spartans a final shot with 4:28 left in the game, but Blanton’s interception near the goal line and subsequent 82 yard return set up David Ruffer for the game’s final three points.

    The afternoon was not without some early drama. Notre Dame gave up a sack and fumble in the first quarter and Lynch returned the favor on the next series. Rees immediately tossed an ugly interception in his own territory when the defense got him the ball back, and cries of “Here we go again” resonated through the stadium. Redemption came shortly thereafter as the Irish held MSU to a field goal, and freshman George Atkinson returned the ensuing Spartan kickoff for an 89-yard touchdown.

    Cousins responded with his best drive of the day to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 14-10, but a 92-yard second quarter drive by the Irish was capped by Wood’s six yard run around right end. Michigan State came back with a threat before halftime but the drive stalled at the Notre Dame two with less than a minute remaining. After a timeout, the Irish were ready for a lame fake field goal attempt by Mark Dantonio’s special kicking team.

    Here are the answers to our pregame questions that provided insight into the outcome:

    Will Notre Dame be able to convert on third and short? The Irish threw the ball to convert on the game’s first series, and they never looked back.

    Which team will be able to generate pressure on the quarterback? With Lynch leading the way by abusing Spartan tackle Dan France, Notre Dame caused numerous sacks, hurries and holding penalties.

    Can the Irish clean up their turnover problem and force a few of their own? No and Yes. Two of the three Irish turnovers were silly unforced errors, but Lynch and Blanton caused Spartan miscues and Smith’s pass breakups resulted in a turnover on downs.

    Which team will have greater success in the ground game? Notre Dame dominated the early going and its ability to stay balanced set up a successful offensive showing.

    Can the interior of Notre Dame’s offensive line contain MSU’s huge defensive tackles? Absolutely, and this was one of the keys to the game.

    Will Cousins be able to continue his remarkable accuracy in the passing game? Not with Lynch and friends in his face.

    Will the Irish special teams look solid or shaky? A mixed bag. Atkinson erased a lot of bad karma with his return, and punter Ben Turk got better as the game progressed.  The Irish did allow a couple of long kickoff returns, but the gaffe by Goodman put a damper on an otherwise strong performance.

    Although Cousins finished with 329 passing yards, most were checkdowns for inconsequential gains between the 20’s and he was unable to set his feet for longer throws throughout the day. The Irish offense remains a work in progress as they still commit too many mental mistakes, but the key takeaway from this game on that side of the ball is the physical domination of a quality defensive front.

    Defensively, the Notre Dame secondary was stellar after last week’s collapse, and the players in front of them did their part by bringing relentless pressure and making sure tackles. This was a team victory in every sense of the term, but the question remains as to why success does not come a bit more easily for this group of players. The only thing to do now is look forward, and this is much easier to do at 1-2 instead of 0-3.

    49 Responses to “Irish Get Defensive in Rout”

    1. Where was the offense in the second half? Did we get 100 yards???!!! A couple penalties by MS and its a different game. Thanks for the win, still inconsistent.

    2. Should ND have beaten USF…yes
      Should ND have beaten M…of course

      Should we have doubted this squad…never

      Keep your chins up

    3. I still say this team wins 9 games. Lots of potential on both sides of the ball. Brian Kelly is the right coach and he will win many more games at ND.

    4. Blanton was da man!

    5. irishhawk50 says:

      A win is a win, but it really wasn’t that pretty and a couple of bounces of the ball the other way and it would have been a lot closer. The defense played well, Blanton in particular, and the defensive line stuffed the run. The offense was OK. I think BK stuck with the run too long in the second half. I guess he was playing conservative, but I would prefer to go for the knockout. I think the team will mentally benefit from this win and maybe play a little less tight. Hopefully they can fine tune things against very beatable teams the next couple weeks. In spite of the upperclassmen this is still a young team. Hopefully they will grow in leaps and bounds the next couple weeks for a run at a BCS game.

      • BUDDY WHITTAKER says:

        Yes and and couple of bounces the other way against USF and UM and the Irish could have won those games. We won, not go and beat Pitt.

    6. Grey?

      By my count he gave up three receptions and stopped none, and could have been more if not from help from the safety

      What gives with him?

      • I don’t have the stats in front of me, but if a team goes to the #1 receiver only three times in a game, that’s an outstanding job by Grey. He stopped dozens of receptions, and because of his coverage. Cousins didn’t throw Grey’s way for a reason. The fewer times you see a corner on TV, the better he’s usually doing.

        Are you a fan? Let’s start picking these kids up.

        • As a former cornerback, I must agree with Scott. If your team is facing a passing offense and you never hear a CB’s name, he’s having a huge game.

          By the same token, let’s not get too carried away by our lads shutting down MSU’s run game in the 2nd half. Yes, they did a good job, but MSU was playing from behind all half, so they had to air it out.

          To me the best thing was ND *finishing* the game. Aside from the muffed punt, the 2nd half was solid.

    7. Joe Schaefer ND'59 says:

      Where would the offense be if Kelly had picked his quarterback at the end of Spring practice, as he should have? Instead he kept the tryout going well in to Fall practice. Joe Schaefer Universal City TX

      • How are you going to decide when your senior 5-star recruit quarterback (with all the physical tools) is unable to fully participate because of knee surgery? Let’s remember what this quarterback cupboard looked like at the beginning of last season. I think Kelly has done a tremendous job with a difficult situation.

        Like it or not, if Kelly can’t do it, it’s not going to get done. There is no way they would be able to get a quality coach after another quick change. I can’t even believe I have to type this. Kelly is the guy. Be patient and appreciate the win

        • I agree, Scott…..Kelly is our last chance to right this ship, we have to be patient and give these kids a chance. The recruits Kelly pulled in last year are just the beginning, I believe we will see an overall attitude-adjustment from this win. Let the naysayers jump ship, who needs the bad attitude that they bring on board. GO IRISH.

    8. Defense definitely brought it, but the offense played not to lose in the second half. Still need to learn to finish. lynch will be fun to watch.

    9. I said a few times last week – it’s going to take one play and one player to turn this around and when MSU was driving early in the 4th quarter and people were starting to fear that it would happen again and Blanton came up with that interception and subsequent 82 yard return – I gave myself a pat on the back.

      Just watched FSU v. Oklahoma – FSU would have loved to have Lynch in there. he is amazing.

      We needed this and we got it – because we TOOK it.

      On to Pittsburgh.

    10. Well, Rather win ugly than lose pretty. For all the faults, we still hung 31 on Sparty and a stumble on the INt from 35. A good win. Balanced on the O. Lynch is going to be a monster. Good special teams. Mistakes yes, But a nice win after last weeks killer. After Pitt’s fold job…2-2 heading to October. Not what we wanted, But it beats 0-4. Go Irish…Beat Panthers

    11. Great win. Still see inconsistency on offense. Why is Goodman even in the game? Need a punt return man. Why not try Atkinson there, too. Need to get him more special teams touches.

    12. This was one of those games where Notre Dame was clearly the better team, and that Michigan State was perhaps a little overrated. Against a very good team though, those Irish turnovers, would have cost the Irish dearly.

      It was a solid performance by the defense. As for freshman Aaron Lynch, he is a game changer. His addition to the lineup suddenly makes the front 3 or front 4 of the Irish, depending on the formation, very formidable. Aaron Lynch will open up opportunities for the rest of the defensive line to make plays. I was very glad to see Calabrese make a play in pass defense. Robert Blanton was a star throughout this game. Harrison Smith finally found his game, especially in the second half. Troy Niklas played like a freshman, and Gary Gray is still struggling with his pass coverage.

      As for the offense, they played an average game. Notre Dame presented a very good running attack in the first half, but the second half running game was ineffective. I believe the second half ineffectiveness was due to poor play calling, and to Michigan State’s commitment to stop the run. The Spartan’s second half adjustments out-flanked Notre Dame. The Spartans dared Tommy Rees to throw in the second half. I believe this decision to defend the running game, and have Tommy throw was calculated. Tommy Rees’ propensity for interceptions and/or turnovers was what Michigan State was banking on. Fortunately, Tommy protected the ball in the second half.

      Special teams had its moments. I was happy to see Ben Turk actually execute a good punt. The Atkinson kick-off return for a touchdown was fantastic! David Ruffer seems to have found his groove in the kicking game, and I was very pleased with Kyle Brindza’s kickoffs. The late game fumble on the punt to Goodman, was painful to watch. The kick coverage was very poor all game long.

      Overall, I am grateful for the win. This is a starting point for Notre Dame. The Irish hit the road next with Pittsburgh, and Purdue waiting for the Irish. Now, I can actually get a good night’s sleep on a Saturday night. Who would have ever thought that would become such a challenge.

    13. Just happy we got the W!!! Don’t care who played good or bad, who coached good or bad, or who’s to blame for whatever mistakes that were made. Just proud of the guys for pulling it together to beat Sparty!!! Bring on Pitt!!!

    14. A team is rarely as bad as it looks when it looses and rarely as good as it looks when it wins.

      This is the case with this year’s Irish football team.

      I agree with Bill (where was the O in the 2nd half?) and IrishHawk50 (a couple of bounces….).

      The D stepped up for a full game, yet we haven’t seen the O for a full game. The O needs to put away a team when it is down, yet our running game was for the most part absent in the 2nd half once Sparty made adjustments on its defense….one needs the running game to put away the game in the 2nd half.

      And, this is surprising. Kelly and his Camp Kelly and Mr. Longo and the focus on fitness and the running of a boat load of plays during practice (vs the prior coaching regime)…..all should (and from those in the know it has) have improved the fitness level of the Lads on both sides of the ball. Yet, the running game was AWOL in the 4th quarter when the fitness levels are the most demonstrative.

      A win is a win….beating Sparty is nice.

      Looking for a complete game by both sides, yes on the road, next week against the team that just lost to the Hawkeyes.


    15. Great win for the team. MSU is a very strong and physical team. Think about all of the young talent that played and did very well. Like others, I am a little concerned with the offfensive shutdown in the second half, but they were pretty safe which is what you want.

      We dominated the line of scrimmage against another big heavy. That is very encouraging.

      BTW…Aaron Lynch is an absolute beast!!!

    16. Gary Gray was still bad. The coaches apparantly gave Gray safety support, but he is still QB prey when on the field.

      Did anyone else notice that Blanton’s late interception was a fluke. There was great confusion on the defense and then Blanton picks the pass right in front of the receiver and Gary Gray. Why would the two corners be on the same side of the field?

      I still think 10-2, but Navy is the scariest team left on the schedule with standford a close second.

    17. martinjordan says:

      After 3 games Notre Dame has 13 turnovers and 5 takeaways. Notre Dame has fumbled 11 times and lost 7 while opponents have fumbled 3 times and lost 1. Notre Dame has been penalized 22 times to their opponent’s 30.

    18. This team is 3/8 Kelly recruits.

      Three freshmen are making their names already on D, Lynch is amazing, they (we) NEEDED this one and they (we) GOT IT.

      Way to go guys, and way to go coach.

      Better days are coming.

      Pittsburgh – be afraid, be VERY afraid.

    19. There is a long way to go and some issues that still need to be corrected, but I can’t help but wonder if Blanton may have made another “attitude adjustment” play this year. I have heard very little about the fact his blocked punt/TD last year against Utah completely changed the direction of the team. That was the first thing that came to mind yesterday as he raced down the field after that INT. Again, the team needs to do plenty of things better, but that was a good team we just beat and I think Blanton’s play might be a catalyst to a bunch of wins.

    20. It wouldn’t have been realistic to pick a quarterback in the spring when Crist just came off surgery and wasn’t 100 percent. Everyone on here seems to think they could do a better job then Kelly coaching, amazing. It’s also amazing that after a nice win, there are only 7 comments. After the last couple games people were all over this board complaining. We need a few more optimistic people following a program that is finally trending in the right direction.

      • I totally agree with you. All anyone wants to discuss is the negatives. It’s a bummer people can’t just be happy with a win. Positivity breeds positivity. Nd football needs more positive fans period.

    21. When Goodman muffed the punt, our (and Kelly’s) thoughts turned to “deja vu all over again.” But the lads came thru. The IRISH beat a very good MSU team that had racked up big yards running the football. ND should be favored in all remaining games until Standford. Now on to Pitt and, hopefully, the BCS.

    22. There are two questions that should be answered before you close the book on Michigan:

      Where was Lynch (and the other freshman) against Michigan?

      Is it just a coincidence that they didn’t play and the defense couldn’t pressure the QB and collapsed in the fourth quarter.

      At the end of the day, despite the turnovers and penalties, the deciding factor was the mistake of not playing Lynch & Co.

      • I am not sure that Lynch and Tuitt were ready to face a dual threat QB like DR. It is easy to pin your ears back and play aggressive hard charging defense when you know that the QB is staying in the pocket and you are not thinking about contain and edge protection. DR is so quick if Lynch and/or Tuitt crashed the edge and lost contain he would be gone for 30 yards.

        I expect both to have big games throughout the rest of the year, but will probably disappear against Navy and Air Force.

    23. I beg to differ: 1) the specials team never have blocked a man to the ground on kick off or punt returns..all pushes 2) the secondary is confused along with the linebackers on pass plays.
      Question: just how imature is Lo Wood,why not try him?

      • The confusion in the secondary is a serious concern. Almost cost us 7 pts. at the end of the 1st half. I have to believe that is a problem of coaching and that it can be corrected.

    24. longislandirish says:

      Gary Grey needs to learn to turn his head around and find the ball. You never really see him getting burned he is always in position he just doesn’t turn and find the ball. Luckily this seems to be something that can be fixed with coaching. Aaron Lynch is going to be a beast. I haven’t seen an Irish D-lineman dominate with pure unrefined physical talent like that in a long time. Once the D knew that they could pin their ears back and rush the MSU o-line could not contain them. Needed this after the first two weeks – I am breath a bit now. Go Irish!!

    25. Why can’t we convert a 3rd and short ?? It happened again yesterday especially in the second half.

    26. I’ve read here and there that the Irish “should be 3-0.” Well, this comment, and others similar to it, is nothing but wishful thinking that flies in the face of reality. The fact is that this team is 1-2, and if they turn the ball over 3-5 times per game for the rest of the season, they will be LUCKY to win 7 of them. And if Brian Kelly’s teams follow this pattern, he will, no doubt, be out of his job in 3 more years.

      On the other hand, on a non-related matter: the White Sox “should have” won the Central Division this year. That said: Congratulations to the Detroit Tigers, American League Central Division Champions! To you ND Tiger fans out there: Good luck to your team in the play-offs.

      • ND_Irish_24 says:

        Ummmm… mpsND’72 what the crap are you talking about? If you take away all of the fumbles and turnovers the Irish made those two loses turn into something very different.. what for it a W!!! And one more thing don’t post something unrelated to Irish football on an Irish football Website. GO IRISH!!!!!! One more thing stop bashing Gary Gray I’m guessing you guys don’t remember if it weren’t for him, Blanton, and Harrison Smith last year against USC we wouldn’t have won!!! Let the kid play without bashing him!! Once again GO IRISH!!!!!!

    27. Great win for the Irish. Great physical presence up front by the defense against the run. I agree with others on here, where was Lynch for the rest of the 2 games? Why didnt he play? He is a BEAST. I had heard coach Kelly say that he did not play Lynch because he was worried about the Michigan Spread offense and Lynch having a problem with it… I do not understand this thinking. A Beast is a Beast no matter what type of offense you play against. We needed someone to wreak havoc inside the middle and pressure Robinson in the 4th quarter. I’m happy with the win. Although I would have liked to see us go with the knockout punch in the 2nd half. I’m more of an aggressive type of fan as far as putting points up on the board and feel that we have the talent to put Michigan State out of this game much earlier with more points. I also understand conservative play calling but its almost like in the 2nd half they (our offense) was playing like they didnt want to give up the lead instead of solidifying the win with points. I think we could have been more aggressive with playcalling in 2nd half with some long passes. They were daring us to throw. I really like coach Kelly dont get me wrong, I just dont want him to get too complacent with runs when they are stacking up box. I would like us to score as many points as possible. We need all convincing wins from now on if we are going to get to the BCS. We still have a chance I do beleive, if we win out the rest of our games go 10-2, win Convincingly (style points high scores). Now we do need some high teams along the way to lose but it is bound to happen, we just have to take care of the football and execute for 4 quarters. I agree Gary Gray for some reason has has a horrible time tracking the ball and turning around when it is in the air. He has to fix that. Harrison smith fnally had some nice tackles and stops. Blanton played solid all game. Even Jonas Gray ran hard up the middle and found some seams. It was nice to see. If we fix our turnovers we will not lose anymore games. We will win out. 10-2!

    28. IrIsHMaDmAn says:

      I will agree that the game could have been much closer, but everyone has to agree that we could be 3-0 right now. Bottom line: we won! GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    29. My ten year-old is a cornerback, and Blanton put on a frigging clinic for him on how to play the position. Thanks Robert, the little man is your biggest fan. He was a beast….so was Lynch. Teams have got to be sweating thinking that the kid is only a freshman. Floyd and Wood are the best tandem in college football.

      One downside: I did wonder why Goodman even tried to catch that punt he fumbled. At that point I saw absolutely NO upside to him even fielding the ball.

      • Why have anyone back there to begin with? Let the punt bounce around awhile and eat away some precious seconds. So what if they down it inside the 10. Run three running plays, make them eat their timeouts and punt the ball with a 15-point lead. Blanton’s interception covered up what could have been a huge gaffe by the coaching staff.

    30. Here we come, baby. Lots and lots of fire from the squad. Did anyone see the action with Manti and the Mich State offensive lineman after the first quarter State fumble? Our boys were fired up. Blanton said they woke up in the morning prepared to win. What a game from #12 – he wasn’t lying. We have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. Once the mistakes (silly turnovers, silly penalties) are corrected, we’re going to be a FORCE in college football. I have to admit that I wasn’t the biggest Tommy Rees supporter, but the kid is going to come around. Shoot – he’s only started 6 games – and he shows signs of real brilliance. Pitt feels the pain next week. Go Fighting Irish!

    31. I have to reiterate a point made by some posters above. How many big receptions did Gray give up this game? You realize he was covering their best receiver, who is quite talented, right? And the guy throwing the ball probably has a shot to make an NFL roster in the future, right? He played quite well in run support and had 10 tackles. As far as I could tell (i was in the stands pretty far from the play), the one longer play he gave up to Cunningham on ND’s sideline, he turned his head (maybe a split second late) and raked the WR’s arms. It was just a very good throw and catch. Something you would absolutely expect Cousins and Cunningham to do a couple times a game. Gray played horrifically against Michigan, that’s a fact, but he did not play terribly at MSU. Let’s stop looking for every possible negative with this young man. He is not Darrelle Revis. Temper your expectations a bit.

      • Kelly had Grey lead the team after the game in singing the fight song. The kid came back after a nightmarish game and showed real heart.

    32. Kelly needs to find a new punter. How can ND not recruit someone who can kick with authority and consistently? It may seem minor, but the difference in field position with and without a good punter can sometimes make the difference in a close game. Also, why do the Irish never run a screen pass play? While such a play may be difficult when the offense is in the spread position, many times Rees is under center. Finally, why does Kelly never have Rees pitch the ball to a running back on either a reverse or sweep play? I have never seen it done in two years.

    33. GOOD WIN!

    34. Awesome win. I’m proud of these guys the way they bounced back. I agree with what one of you said though. I think Atkinson needs to be our return guy on punts. At least give him a shot. Goodman is slow and looks out of his element. The only reason he was back there catching em is because he was supposed to be sure handed but after this last debacle so much for that. Imagine how much more explosive our offense could be if we got some good field position for once. Glad to see Turk actually improved on his kicks. He even pinned them at the 1 yards line once. Those rugby style kicks seem to help him. I hope we keep this momentum and find a way to dominate Pitt. Go irish!

    35. I will take Tommy’s brains over Quinn’s athleticism any day. Although I liked Brady, where is he now? Once Tommy matures some more then we can call him Tom. Before the MSU game I thought that the weakest position was our secondary. Now I can see that it is our special teams. We are just a few cylinders short of our V8, but we should be firing on all cylinders coming out of the Air Force game. If we are not then it might be a disappointing season to most. Still holding my preseason prediction of 9-3 with the possibility of a 4th loss due to bad bounce.

      For the nay sayers… do not compromise the integrity of UND by lower standards. There are plenty of SMART football players out there. No matter good season or bad, I like to think I can take pride that UND is teaching these kids rather than letting them coast through. That is what college is for.

      Old Notre Dame will win over all