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  • Irish Flag Down Spartans

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame’s defense asserted itself in the second half and Cam McDaniel scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter as the Irish held off Michigan State by 17-13 on Saturday. The game was an exercise in frustration for both offenses, but Notre Dame took advantage of a few favorable pass interference calls as flags littered the field all afternoon.

    The Irish started poorly with a three and out followed by a partially blocked punt that put MSU in business just 31 yards from the goal. The Spartans failed to capitalize, however, as Mike Muma badly hooked a field goal attempt. Notre Dame got on the board later in the first period when Kyle Brindza converted a 41-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

    Brindza had another opportunity on the next Notre Dame possession, but missed from 38 yards. Connor Cook then put together the only touchdown drive of the day for Michigan State, which he capped off by hitting Macgarrett Kings in the corner of the end zone from 11 yards out for a 7-3 advantage midway through the second.

    Tommy Rees answered for Notre Dame as the half drew to a close. A pass interference call on a fourth down pass kept the drive alive, and Rees hit Robinson on a crucial third down throw to give the Irish a first and goal at the Spartan two with seconds left in the half. Following two incompletions, Rees hit T.J. Jones, who made a leaping catch at the back of the end zone and managed to come down in bounds for the touchdown.

    Leading 10-7, Notre Dame kicked off to start the third quarter and Michigan State immediately marched downfield with strong runs and crisp passes. The Irish defense gathered itself and forced a third down incompletion inside its own ten. Michael Geiger replaced Muma and capped off the eight minute plus drive by booting a 25-yarder for the 10-10 tie.

    The Irish failed to move and it appeared that Michigan State had seized the momentum after a poor punt by Brindza. The Spartans picked up the tempo and were near midfield when disaster struck. Flanker R.J. Shelton attempted a deep pass on a first down reverse, but Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell and safety Matthias Farley were not fooled. Farley picked off the floater and brought it back near midfield, and a 15-yard penalty at the end of the play moved the ball to the Michigan State 37.

    An apparent interception by Rees on third and ten went by the boards when the Spartans were guilty of pass interference. The Irish faced another third and ten on the next series, and once again a pass interference call gave them a first down. As MSU coach Mark Dantonio went ballistic on the sidelines, Cam McDaniel burst through from seven yards out to give Notre Dame a 17-10 lead just seconds into the final period.

    The Spartans tried to answer, and a great catch by Bennie Fowler brought the visitors into the red zone. The Irish defense came alive at this point, and Dantonio again had to call upon Geiger to cut the margin to 17-13 with 10:40 remaining.

    Needing to burn time off the clock, Notre Dame could not get its running game untracked against the stout Michigan State front. The Irish once again failed to convert on third down and one, forcing them to give the ball right back to the Spartans. A sack by the suddenly rejuvenated Stephon Tuitt stopped Cook in his tracks, and the Spartans had to punt it away.

    Jones almost gave it back at his 20 when he muffed the fair catch, but the Irish held on to recover. A penalty on the Notre Dame sideline after the scrum pushed them back against their own goal. After another three and out, Brindza picked an opportune time to blast his best punt of the day, and the Spartans were forced to start back at their own 30.

    Cook was ineffective, while Notre Dame’s Russell was stellar in coverage on a third down throw. Once again, Rees and his mates could not generate a first down, but Brindza followed with another long punt with two minutes remaining. Michigan State brought in Andrew Maxwell at quarterback, but his high velocity throws were off target. The Irish were able to take over on downs and run out the clock.

    Although Notre Dame’s offense did not take control to ice the game in the fourth quarter, the defense elevated its game with a little help from the erratic Spartan quarterbacks. Dantonio and Michigan State loyalists will point to the four pass interference penalties and one defensive holding call, but most were obvious infractions and a by-product of their strategy to employ close, physical coverage of the Irish receivers.

    Notre Dame enjoyed strong performances by Louis Nix, Tuitt, Russell, and Robinson, while Jones and DaVaris Daniels battled the aggressive Spartan secondary all afternoon. Meanwhile, their MSU counterparts dropped critical passes and did not make enough plays to win.

    Let’s review the pregame questions for additional insights.

    Which offense will create more manageable third down situations for its quarterback? Michigan State actually had shorter average distances on third down due to a more efficient ground game, but the Irish converted four third downs and one fourth down on major MSU penalties.

    Will the Irish offensive line be able to protect Rees from the Spartan strip/sack specialists? The lone strip/sack turnover by Michigan State was overturned by the replay officials early in the contest, but Rees was well protected after that.

    Can Cook and his young receivers continue to have success through the air against much stronger competition? Aside from the touchdown reception by Kings and the nice grab by Fowler, Michigan State’s passing game was lousy. The Spartan passing line was 16-35-1 for a measly 135 yards.

    Which team’s running back by committee approach will be most productive? The trio employed by MSU outgained the Irish by a margin of 119-78, but it was not enough to put points on the board or play with the lead in the second half.

    Will Notre Dame play with high intensity and emotion, particularly at the start of the game? The Irish started poorly and did not find the end zone until nearly halftime for the second straight week. Fortunately, the defense was better but they also missed too many tackles. Next week’s opponent will not fail to take advantage of this.

    Which team will commit a costly turnover or suffer a special teams breakdown at a crucial moment? The unforced turnover by Shelton when the Spartans had the momentum set up the winning score by McDaniel. Special teams play was horrific by both teams, although Brindza’s fourth quarter punts came at the best possible moments.

    The Irish will have to gear up for another undefeated opponent next week, and it’s likely that the Oklahoma Sooners will want to repay last year’s Notre Dame victory in Norman with their own statement game. Rees will have to be more accurate than his modest 14 for 34 and 142 yard performance this week, and the running game must settle down and become productive now that it’s clear the head-spinning five back rotation is not getting it done.

    After 201 combined penalty yards and enough offensive ineptitude on both sides to fill a blooper reel, the best course for Notre Dame fans and players may be to forget this ugly performance as soon as possible except to say it belongs in the win column.

    41 Responses to “Irish Flag Down Spartans”

    1. The offensive play calling continues to be predictable, terrible, and therefore frustrating to watch. Last week, they continued to refuse to go vertical. This week they constantly passed down field and, often, too close to the sidelines, forcing throws that had little chance of being completed. Whatever happend to a crossing route or a pitch and catch in the flat especially on 3rd down and short? How about using Niklas on 3rd and short?
      If it weren’t for some of those qestionable interference calls, and a challenged State passing attack me thinks this game would not have gone into the win column.
      Happy they won but left with a feeling this team – coaches and players – have a ways to go. Have a sense they, deep down, know this!

      • Jeff Merritt says:

        I agree. They are simply struggling in so many ways it makes it difficult to feel good about the rest of the season. The way they are playing they could lose to any team remaining on the schedule. I am really surprised by how bad they look. The offense doesn’t look good, the defense doesn’t look good, special teams are struggling what a mess!

      • I agree also, it’s almost like Kelly still thinks Golson is still in there. Golson complete those passes on the sidelines last year. Tommy isn’t that good with those types of passes.

    2. An ugly win is better than a beautiful loss.

    3. irishhawk50 says:

      Still say 8-4. The defense was marginally better, but looked that way because Michigan State was dropping balls and throwing high where Purdue connected last week. Pass rush a little better but linebackers and secondary not much improved.

      Rees had a mediocre game, missed lots of open receivers but no picks (barely). All and all a C+, but still a long way to go to be BCS cailber.

    4. You know what, even if they were questionable and the only one that was, was the one that could have gone against Robinson; then we got our due. At Michigan we shot ourselves in the foot, but there were two bull@##$ interference calls in the 4th that cost us. Why do Irish fans have to whine even when calls go our way?

    5. Rockne Schaller says:

      No doubt tough trenches type of game..but I love the critics use of controversial with refs ok they are BIG 10 REFS SO WHATS THE PROBLEM ? Don’t set up another stop in excuseville doubters…. At any rate Irish will have a test this next Saturday with a laying in wait Sooners team. Gooo Irish!!!

    6. NDBonecrusher says:

      Came from behind to beat a scrappy, undefeated Big 10 team that has played us tough since forever. ND vs MSU is always a slug fest and today was no exception. Enough with the negativity–I’ll take the W. Not perfect by any stretch, but good enough today. Plenty more learning points on tape for the boys and coaches to get ready for Oklahoma.

    7. NDBonecrusher says:

      Vannie your prediction was pretty accurate once more, and once again closer than mine. I’ll get you at some point this year!

      • John Vannie says:

        You’d better hurry. I’ll be going on the shelf after the USC game due to surgery that could end my season. I’m thinking about hiring a monkey with a Ouija board to take my place.

        • mjhollerich says:

          Say it ain’t so! Apart from your rosy Temple forecast, you’re the voice of reason in these agitated precincts. This week’s pick was right on the money.

    8. Mark napierkowski says:

      The win almost feels like a loss, in the sense that we continue to see no significant improvement in any phase of the game. In particular, the offense is remarkably pedestrian, although we were facing a very good defense. Kelly speaks of these wins as though they are all great efforts, but it seems as if he’s just grateful to escape for two weeks in a row. I can’t trace the accuracy or source, but BK was quoted today as saying (and I paraphrase) “we want to run but the opposition won’t allow us.” That sort of comment is impossible to reconcile with any semblance of leadership or confidence.

    9. This team really misses Golson. Just his threat to run/pass would help our running game out, extend drives and actually help out our defense more. Rees has the brains but is just to physically limited in what he can do but he is our best option. I will never understand why Kelly continues to run into a box loaded with 8-9 defenders. The middle was open for crossing routes and slants when the LB’s blitzed. And how is it that this team always comes out flat??? I’m glad we got the win but something has to change. And I don’t blame the coaching staff for the players being flat, the players need to take it upon themselves to be more focused and energetic. I’m pretty sure Kelly and Co keep telling them how every opponent will come out swinging and give it their all to beat ND so their is no reason not to be pumped. It is possible to play with passion and a fire but not go overboard with mistakes and penalties. Come on ND, your better than this. Lets kick some ass!!

    10. John Cochtoastin says:

      Godspeed on the surgery Vannie. Great site you run here.

      The defense stepped up some this week and the secondary looked very good, but coming into this season I compared our dline to 1992 Alabama. Both Tuitt and Nix were pre season all americans. Farley and Russell have not performed to an optimal level either.

      Guess T’eo was pretty good.

    11. Got to give credit to the MSU defense. The Irish woke up well enough to grab the megaphone.

    12. martinjordan says:

      1. Michigan State has worse special teams than ours.
      2. TJ’s punt return/fumble was our best punt return in a couple of years.
      3. Why did Michigan State stop running? They were pounding us.
      4. That wide receiver pass was a GIFT.
      5. Those “bad” interference calls even out for the ones the refs missed.
      6. A mobile QB would have loosened up MSU’s defense.
      7. I’d like to see more of Folston
      8. Mayock had a good comment about TJ’s elbows on the second fumble.

    13. ND’s short-comings were 3 fold–unable to run the ball, inability to make contact with down-field receivers and inaccuracy of the QB. The offensive line gave TR plenty of time to throw the ball, however, down field coverage was stout. There was no doubt that MSU played aggressively on coverage but that aggressiveness did catch up with them on several key plays. The troubling point seemed to be the inability of ND to modify the game plan.

      It certainly was a poorly played game from both schools.

    14. Absolutely, I’m happy for the win. Once again, though, special teams was well below average. Blocked punt, missed field goal, muffed punt, mediocre returns, and several poor punts. I just don’t understand this. ND seems to continue to be cursed by this…fortunate to come out with the win despite the special teams play. This aspect of the game should generate tons of positive energy from the team and the crowd, as well as giving hungry, young players the chance to make an impact. Instead, it has been an excercise in frustration. We’re going to need a huge effort next week to beat OU. Hopefully, it will all come together for a win to propel the team through the rest of the season.

    15. Am I the only one that has noticed that the “o” line splits are tiny? Yes, it helps to build a wall that protects the QB, but puts so many defenders into a very small space that to develop a running lane requires us to win well beyond the point of attack. I think Kelly believes we are physical enough to do this, but obviously haven’t shown it. Part of the theory of the spread offense it to create running lanes by increased line splits and angles that allow for cut backs if the blocker does get beat. The pistol was a “bit” of a solution, but if you are going to line up this way, why not put Tommy under center and feed the rock to McDaniel 10-12 times from this set? Seemed to work well with Riddick late last year……..

    16. My concern is the fact that we have been out coached in every game this year. Offense is boring and predictable and defense cannot put enough pressure on opposing QB – did you see what the Connecticut defense was able to do against Michigan? The only reason we walk away from MSU with a win is the ineptitude of the Spartan QB. He had plenty of time to throw, he just could not hit receivers, or they dropped the ball. Against a competent offense (which we have not seen yet, except maybe Temple…?), we are in trouble. There is not near enough push up front on either line and while Rees was protected in the passing game, he throws every pass over the head of open receivers. The offensive play calling really baffles me and agree with comments above that it is very predictable. Throw a slant or crossing route on first down when they have 8 in the box, not on third when everyone knows it is coming.

      We’re in trouble – sorry for the negative views, but see a lot of frustration coming starting with Oklahoma revenge game.

      • Dantonio’s call of the wide receiver pass was the dumbest call I have ever seen. Poorly executed and not necessary on 1st and 10. Second and short, maybe. I still say being a college head football coach is one of the most vastly over compensated positions in the country. Sometimes, I think Kelly’s strategy is “I’ll let the guy across the sidelines shoot himself in the foot first.”

    17. IndianaIrish says:

      Remember when Weiss would say the the Irish were schematically superior to other teams and then run the ball straight up the middle with nine men in the box and then would often throw the fade down the sidelines? This offense really reminds of that coaching scheme. It seems the staff is way over thinking this. I too believe that this offense is made for a Golson type quarterback, and apparently we don’t have one. So a little bit of making do will have to fit the bill. Rees will lose several games this year for the Irish. Maybe we’ll get to see Hendrix or Zaire take the field and my hope is for Zaire. It’s definitely a rebuilding year.

    18. brendenomalley says:

      All we need to know is that in three occasions we had 3rd or 4th and 1 and passed every time. Why would you go empty on those plays is beyond me. I have tried to give the coaches the benefit of the doubt because they certainly know more football than any of us, but…

      A number of long Saturdays are on the horizon.


    20. Hey there, Mr. Vannie — That monkey, even equipped with a Ouija board, would have to be a really great writer to replace you. Your previews and wrap-ups are must reads for me each season.

    21. Kelley was not outcoached in this game. Some may not like what he called, but he handled what he had to work far better than that dummy Dantonio did. If we were Spartan fans we would be going berserk about their coverage – they choose to go man all day against what is clearly our strongest unit, our corps of receivers? Anyone would have predicted exactly what happened, lots of holds and interference. He puts in the back-up qb with the game on the line in the fourth? Anyone would have predicted exactly what happened. Kelley has faults, but it is wrong to say we were outcoached in this one.

    22. There is so much wrong. There is to much talent to play like this.

    23. it seems like they put themselves in the same situatons all the time rather it be 3rd and long or 3rd and 1. then the played called has about a 10% chance of getting positive results.

    24. Reason he put in his backup QB (Maxwell) was because the starter got hurt on a sack I believe, he hurt his hand, wrist or arm as I recall.

      • The starter was not hurt and complained in the local paper about being benched. MSU was better prepared for the game, but the State coach made critical mistakes during the game. Have to agree that these were two ordinary teams, much as it hurts to admit it. Sideways passes and fade routes rarely work for us, and running laterally on third and one is a mistake. Yes, the play calling is predictable (I think most of us new what was coming on each play).

    25. Again, the Irish come out lethargic and uninspired for the first quarter and a half. I’m as happy as the next fan that ND won, but there are problems that if not corrected will quickly lead to 4-5 losses. The offense simply isn’t very good and is plagued by stalled drives, an anemic rushing attack and inconsistency. If we get into a game where we need to trade scores like with AZ St. then I’m not very optimistic.

      Before we conclude the D has vastly improved let’s not forget that Michigan St. has a pretty low octane offense and have been average at best since Kirk Cousins departed.

    26. ElkhartIrish says:

      Cheer up men, it could be worse. Possibly Zaire is inserted sometime this year and kick starts the offense and we hire a special teams coach who knows what he’s doing.

    27. BeveragePavilion_69 says:

      3-0 since Little Giants. I believe that was a “we’re never losing to these guys again” type of moment for coach Kelly.

      • It was a bittersweet weekend for us. Probably the last game I will get to go to with my disabled dad (only 64). The fans were very considerate helping us up the stairs over and over, which was nice. I’m sure a lot of ND fans have similar stories…

        A couple quick things on the game. Although the stadium is still much too quiet when we are on defense most of the game, the new “Take a StaND” theme with the piped-in music really has helped that cause. The place came alive in the 4th quarter, and I kept helping my dad up to make noise, which he did. (he had season tickets to the Chiefs at Arrowhead for 40 years, if that gives you an idea). MSU had a couple penalties on late drives (a delay of game and false start) that I credit the stadium with helping to cause.

        Secondly, it seems we run the ball better in two tight end sets. Mike, or anybody: do the numbers show this to be true?

    28. sone thoughts about the game:
      Kelly was out coached and has been in every big game he has coached in at ND with one or two exceptions.
      Play calling was dull,predictable and nonsensical. I like stretching the D but every single pass in the 2, 3 and 4th quarter was a home run deep out pass—
      Why not try the both freshman running backs more than a token play. by playing them of a single play in a game, kelly has burned their red shirt option. they are the most talented running baks we have–let them play a bit
      TR is a terrible QB–plain and simple. at his best he stares down his receiver, never looks to the second option, is inaccurate, has a weak arm and has concrete on his feet. the o line has given him a lot of time and that has saved him to date
      Why does ND with a coach who now has been there four years and a senior QB constantly seem to be running out of time between plays. we are completely out of sorts when the play clock runs down which is often
      The team has hung in there and won but we really are not better prepared for any game this season than we were with CW as coach. the teams seem remarkably similar with missed tackles, blown coverages and no running game. Difference was CW had recruited a lot more offensive talent than we have now
      Kelly needs to fix the team quickly –like before this saturday.

    29. I think most would admit if someone like Saban came to ND (not that he would, but if), this team would turn look totally different in 2 years. I’ve always wondered…just what can one coach teach that others can’t? To me, no matter what you say, in the end, it is the coaching.

      • The problem with complaining about the coaching is that the coach is 15-1 in his last sixteen regular season games. What are you guys thinking?

    30. A win is a win but 4 questions I would love answers too:

      -Why do we not have a package of plays for Hendrix? I understand Zaire was sick so that explains not using him thus far. Hendrix or Zaire should be on the field on short yardage downs and on the goal line. Only thing I can assume— BK hates what he sees from Hendrix in practice because ND cannot convert a short yardage run (as defenses do not have to honor Rees keeping the ball) and we suck on the goal line because as the field shrinks, so does the window to pass, which doesnt play into Rees’ arm strenght and indecisiveness.

      – Why in four+ years do we not have a threat on punt and kick off returns?? You typically only notice a really good unit or bad one and ours has been bad in the BK era.

      – Can someone please explain the offensive play calling this year? We have totally under utilized our tight end position. I understand Eifert is gone but Niklas is a huge target and I am not sure we attempted a pass over the middle the entire game. We seem to run on predictable downs and put Rees in a tough situation on 3rd downs. I hope BK sees that Atkinson is not an every down back—you need to be able to run out of arm tackles and he cannot. He is a change of passer runner with an ability to hit the homerun but Cam, and one of the two freshmen should be getting a bulk of the carries. Yes, I left out Carlisle because I am still not sure what to make of him yet.

      – If Zaire was healthy, would BK have considered benching Rees by now? It is unfortunate but true that Rees is almost the same player as the last two years. You cannot “coach up” athleticism, arm strength, and big game ability and he lacks in all 3 areas. I do not even think he is as smart as people give him credit for. He has thrown his share of interceptions and has too often been the reason for failure in the redzone with his lack of quick decision making. I hope BK at least incorporates Zaire or Hendrix before a BCS berth slips away.

      • I don’t agree with benching Rees, but I would really like to see some Hendrix packages to help the running game. (Maybe BK will pull that rabbit out of the hat for Oklahoma…) I am also perplexed as to why we can’t do anything on punt and kickoff returns. I realize it is more difficult to be effective nowadays on p/kr returns, but it can’t be this hard! Also, where the hell was Niklas last week in the passing game??