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Establishing a killer instinct

Sep 22, 2009, 7:30 AM EDT

I spent last night rewatching parts of the Michigan State game, trying to figure out why the score was as close as it was. On the Irish’s first drive of the second quarter, they had a chance to bury the Spartans and put them in a hole that could’ve changed their entire offensive identity.

To Weis’ credit, he sensed the opportunity. On 3rd and 4, just on the Spartans side of midfield, he played conservatively, calling an Armando Allen run from the Wildcat instead of passing for the conversion. You got the feel that Weis knew it was a two-down situation, because he didn’t hesitate to keep his offense on the field, and narrowly converted the 4th and 2 the very next play.

From there on, things unraveled for the offense. Allen handed the ball to Golden Tate in the Wildcat, where Tate had the option to pass, but tucked it away before being tackled for a one-yard loss. Sam Young forgot the snap count on 2nd down, backing the Irish up to midfield for a 2nd and 16. Weis set up a screen to Allen on the next snap, but Trevor Robinson drove his man into the ground, picking up an easy holding call that caught the eye of two officials, backing the Irish all the way back to their own 42. 2nd and 25 saw Jonas Gray completely whiff on blitz pickup in the middle of the field, giving up the Irish’s first sack off the season. It was all the more painful when Jimmy Clausen didn’t get off the turf. With Clausen hobbled, Dayne Crist came in on 3rd and 35, settling for a everybody-in-the-stadium-knows-it’s-coming screen pass that got snuffed out for a loss of one.

Sloppy plays and mental mistakes cost the Irish 26 yards of field position, and a chance to push the game out of the Spartan’s comfort zone. Adding insult to injury (you could almost say quite literally) the Irish defense got in the act with two personal fouls on three plays. Robert Blanton made a boneheaded play finishing his tackle five yards out of bounds, while Harrison Smith was caught pile-hunting when he took a run at an unsuspecting Spartan lineman. (Meanwhile, a play earlier, a Spartan offensive lineman mugged a helmetless Kapron Lewis-Moore, but I digress…)

Again, to Weis’ credit, he made a smart decision, burning a timeout to help the defense get their composure. But the Spartans countered with a perfect play-call, an end-around pass from Keshawn Martin to a wide-open Blair White for a 30-yard touchdown. Both Jamoris Slaughter and Harrison Smith were completely beat on the play.

From there, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio smelled blood, and the Spartans executed a perfect 9-yard onside kick. The drive stalled when Toryan Smith forced Caulton Ray to fumbled around midfield, but in span of under four minutes, the Irish went from nearly putting the contest out of reach to completely losing the game’s momentum.

Watch the sequence for yourself, and see the Irish shoot themselves in the foot on both offense and defense. While people continue to bang the drum that Weis was outcoached, he did everything he could to minimize the swings, but ultimately the Irish players have to stop making mental mistakes. To Dantonio’s credit, he knew he’d have to steal a possession or two from the mighty Irish offense, and he did that with a successful trick play and a perfect onside kick.

For Weis, coaching with the lead brings about a different set of challenges, and those situations are unfamiliar to most of the current Irish roster. It’ll be up to the coaching staff and the players to learn how to put teams away.
  1. robertg - Sep 22, 2009 at 5:24 PM

    thanks for the excellent article.
    with 3 full games under their belts, notre dame’s death stars are fully operational.
    the killer instincts have been there all along, but the chemistry had to develop on the team level in those 1st 3 games, both on offense and defense.
    while we will miss michael floyd on the playing field, floyd has taken on a coaching role for his backups who are as deadly as floyd has been and will be.
    kamara has fully recovered from his sophomore funk and parris has fully recovered from his junior injuries. both were workout warriors all summer.
    floyd and tate have been coaching kamara and all of nd’s wrs and tes all along(never forget about ragone as other teams will). notre dame really is a true team, not a mere collection of talented student athletes whose sole intersets are personal stats or glory.
    evans is faster than tate and, unlike tate, played wr extensively in high school and already knows how to ru8n routes and spent the whole summer at nd taking some courses and working on chemistry with jimmy and the rest of the notre dame team.
    we certainly hope that opponents are foolish enough to double cover tate.
    GO IRISH!!!

  2. Lawrence Fahey - Sep 22, 2009 at 6:40 PM

    A year ago Notre Dame received a commitment from Darren Walker
    ( I MAY OF MISPELLED HIS NAME ]Is he eligable to play on Saturday against Purdue. I believe he was heavely recruited player.

  3. eric - Sep 22, 2009 at 7:29 PM

    Lawrence, its Deion Walker, and he has already seen the field this year i believe. His number is 1. He looks like a randy moss type, tall (6′ 4″ i think), lanky, with burning speed (4.34). I heard they redshirted him last year though because his route running needed work. Where he is at now im not sure, but that could be why S. Evans has been in more instead of him as ive heard Evans is a great route runner..

  4. maestro - Sep 23, 2009 at 1:25 AM

    Good article. The Irish shot themselves in the foot so many times I want to rename them all Plaxico. On another note, am i crazy or did the ref say “upon further review, the ruling on the field stands, there was a catch,” on the Floyd clavicle play? I think he also makes the signal for a catch, not for an incomplete pass. Not to mention that he looks extremely confused right before he makes that announcement. See the above video clip from 10:28 to 11:00 and judge for yourself. In any event, those Big Ten refs are quality through and through. Also, how can Clausen have turf toe? He got the injury after Jonas blatantly failed to pick up the blitz and he got clobbered. Turf toe doesn’t usually come from a trauma like that. Hope its not something worse and that he’s full speed for next Sat. at Purdue. Losing Floyd is already too much.

  5. Tim - Sep 23, 2009 at 6:15 AM

    I have watched this 10 times.. the ref does say”the ruling on the field stands was a catch.” What gives???

  6. M - Sep 23, 2009 at 12:07 PM

    On the Harrison Smith personal foul: go back and watch it, you can hear the whistle blowing as he makes contact with the MSU offensive lineman. How that can be considered a late hit I do not know.

  7. DB - Sep 23, 2009 at 2:28 PM

    This is a great analysis. Once the Irish can realize the opportunity when they have to put someone away and do it, then they can become a very good team. They had trouble with it last year and they are having trouble with it this year. It sure is taking them a long time to learn!

  8. Toof - Sep 23, 2009 at 3:39 PM

    As long as the defense keeps playing at a low level I can’t see them winning more than 9 game likely 8 games.

  9. Toof - Sep 23, 2009 at 3:40 PM

    As long as the defense keeps playing at a low level I can’t see them winning more than 9 game likely 8 games.

  10. Jeff Majerek - Sep 23, 2009 at 5:25 PM

    ND is a year away before there defense will dominate. When all things are rebalanced in the universe, and they soon will be: We will win again! We will dominate again! Because? WE ARE ND… and they’re not!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. OURLADY 4 - Sep 23, 2009 at 5:54 PM

    It wasn’t the actual hit that hurt Clausen, If you watch( I believe his left foot) it get’s jammed into an awkward position in the dirt while he is going down, ( you can see the dirt fly from his cleat).I’ve had that happen before and it is painful. He shook it off well and did a great job the rest of the game. I am actually surprised his ankle was injured in that pile on.

  12. Maestro - Sep 23, 2009 at 10:07 PM

    Our lady 4……thanks for pointing that out about turf toe. I did re-watch the clip and see what you mean about the awkward way his foot got caught. One other thing I realized while looking back at that is that when Jimmy saw the defender coming, he takes a knee. Play should be whistled dead and State called for roughing the passer. Way too much to ask for when you have bums for refs though. I still think the head ref should be fired if their conf had any spine.

  13. jonn - Sep 23, 2009 at 11:42 PM

    Big ten refs do not know how to ref as you can clearly see with michigan and michigan state. what are they going to do since its a purdue and they are big ten. charlie of course kinda screwed himself when talking about the big ten refs and it showed against michigan state lets just hope we dont have the same refs. kudos on the notre dame offense against michigan state i think charlie made the right decision of being the off. cord. the defense needs to pick up their A game what happened to the ND defense against Nevada and look how they are playing. they need to step it up if they want to contend on playing a BCS game. I have to say im happy with what charlie is doing at notre dame and they are gonna be good this year and wait till next year holy cow they are gonna murder some teams. They way he has the team running right now i honestly think that they can be every single team this year the only bump is of course is USC which if we beat washington i dont see why we can beat USC they are not gonna be good this year i honestly think they will lose two more games one coming from the Fighting Irish. I give kudos to charlie i have strong faith in his job at notre dame. GO IRISH!!!

  14. Al - Sep 25, 2009 at 2:54 PM

    Does anyone know what is up with Manti Te’O? He made a great read and blew up a screen play early in the Nevada game. I have seen him in all 3 games early, but then seems to disappear from action. Per then ND Athletics website, 3 tackles in 3 games. Not much action from a widely regarded lineback prospect…

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