For the second week in a row, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish narrowly escaped the clutches of defeat, this time at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans. A defensive slugfest ended in a 17-13 win for Notre Dame (3-1).
Once again, the Irish looked lost on offense. The defense was forced to do the bulk of the work, and performed admirably. Facing the MSU defense is no easy task and 17 points matched a season high for points the Spartans have given up to an opponent.
This was a quality win against a very good opponent. It was very similar to last years game against MSU, albeit a bit more one sided.
Here’s what we took away from this game:
- Offensive Woes. Notre Dame struggled to move the ball effectively. Much of this has to do with the game plan, but the execution wasn’t all that great either. The Irish were just 6-for-17 on third down conversions and managed just 220 yards of offense. Notre Dame was unable to find the end zone until the final minutes of the first half. The protection was good, QB Tommy Rees wasn’t sacked a single time, but even with time the receivers failed to get open. The ground game wasn’t much better, with running backs averaging just 2.4 yards per carry.
- When to Run? Notre Dame has a good stable of running backs. Cam McDaniel is very good in short yardage situations, so why not use him (or any other back) when logic dictates running the ball? Notre Dame managed just 78 yards on the ground. The offensive line is clearly better at pass blocking than run blocking. The backs are clearly struggling to find the space to run and aside from McDaniel are unable to run through tackles. Is this team committed to running the ball or do they honestly believe that Rees can lead them to victory?
- What was up with the game plan? Notre Dame’s offense consisted of Rees chucking the ball as deep as he could over and over. It makes sense that the Irish would want to go over the MSU defense, but at some point you have to realize that it isn’t working. In fairness, the Spartans have a very good defense, but the unwillingness to make adjustments is troubling. The deep, high passes are not something that Rees is particularly adept at, or at least it wasn’t on Saturday. Rees passed up a number of easy throws for first downs in favor of deep passes for bigger gains. This isn’t just his decision making ability, its coaching. Brian Kelly wanted to go deep, but that pass wasn’t there. The answer? Go deep again. It didn’t work and the Irish are lucky some of those passes weren’t picked off.
- Questionable Penalties. Notre Dame’s scoring drives were aided greatly by the officials. MSU was flagged 10 times for 115 yards. Three penalties on third down’s by the Spartans kept Notre Dame drives alive.
- Not so Special Teams. Place kicker Kyle Brindza has been forced into double duty between field goals and punts. On Saturday, Brindza nailed a 41-yard field goal but missed one from 37-yards out. The first punt by Notre Dame was blocked due to a blown assignment. Luckily for the Irish MSU was unable to capitalize on the superb field position. Brindza is 5-for-7 on field goals this season and he wasn’t all that much better last season. Kicking is a big factor for an offense that struggles to finish drives. Brindza has to be better on the shorter kicks, especially over the next three weeks.
The Irish get to stay in South Bend this week, but they don’t have an easy task ahead. Notre Dame faces No. 14 Oklahoma. A week later they will welcome in formerly ranked Arizona State before heading to California to face USC.
This is not the same Irish team from last year, and this four week stretch might be more than this team can handle.
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