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IBG: Welcome to Spartyville — UPDATED

Sep 15, 2010, 3:00 PM EST

I’m new to this Irish Blogger Gathering thing, but I was asked to host this week’s party. My job — DJ the evening, select the questions, and make sure everybody behaves.

(All while people probably crack jokes behind my back and make fun of the corporate blogger, an oxymoron if there ever was one…)

As the Irish prepare to take on Michigan State, I had an incredibly difficult time putting together questions that stayed on point for this week’s game, and also took stock of where the Irish are after the honeymoon officially ended last Saturday.

I’ll be updating this link as the answers from around the blogosphere come rolling in, but feel free to use the comments to chime in as well, what with this being the internet and all.

I’ll update and repost this on Friday with my answers, as well, and pick out some of the best points from the comments section.

THE QUESTIONS: (UPDATED WITH MY ANSWERS)

1. Status check: How deflating was the loss to Michigan I could argue that Crist’s injury makes this loss both easier to swallow and even more maddening for Irish fans?

It’s the hypotheticals that kill me. In a transition year, you’re going to expect a few bumps in the road, but I’d have really liked to see the Irish play a complete game against the Wolverines — with Dayne Crist — and then let the chips fall where they fall. It’s also got to be old for Notre Dame fans to watch another Michigan quarterback coronation after a last second victory.  

2. How critical is this Saturday’s game? Walk away 2-1 and the Irish can feel good about taking on a very able Stanford squad at home next weekend.Walk out of East Lansing with a loss..?

I’m in the uber-critical camp. I’ve seen the way the tide shifts with ND Nation, and all the goodwill in the world will be gone and negativity will invade the masses if the Irish lose this one and start struggling against three pretty solid teams in Stanford, Boston College and Pitt. A loss here could get an ugly boulder rolling, so the Irish need to play a clean football game and seize back the momentum. 

3. Why does the rivalry with Michigan State seem to get so little respect?

Probably a mix between its place in the schedule and the lack of national following for the Spartans. This is one of those games that Notre Dame doesn’t seem to get much out of — a win against Michigan State is met with apathy, but a loss is usually season-crushing. Unfortunately for the Irish, it seems there have been more than a few seasons getting crushed lately at the hands of MSU, though some of the Irish victories had to have felt just as painful for the Sparty faithful.

4. It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from victories over Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic, but what do you expect this Saturday night in Spartan Stadium?

One of those classic boring Michigan State football teams that have guys most people haven’t heard of that just so happen to be bigger, stronger, and faster than the guys wearing Notre Dame uniforms. The potential three-headed monster at running back could cause the Irish problems, but it’s the potential for playaction passing that has me worried after the secondary showed some cracks last weekend. One of the benefits of scheduling cupcakes in your first two weeks is that you’re able to get your team ready to play, and Kirk Cousins has had his chance to work out a few kinks against Western and FAU before taking on a team that stole a victory from him.

5. Best case, worst case, most likely: The Irish’s record after the first six games.

Best case: 5-1
Worst Case: 1-5
Most likely: 4-2 (though a dark part of me is saying 3-3)

6. Let’s leave Michael Floyd out of this for a second. What Irish player needs to step up and play better football?

I’m looking at Darius Fleming. He’s a guy that impressed during spring practice and fall camp, fits the mold of a guy that can play that swing linebacker perfectly in Bob Diaco’s defense, and should be in a position to make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Well, we’re two games into the season and he’s made zero plays behind the line, missed most of the opener with cramping, and has only made three solo tackles so far. There’s plenty of time for him to become the guy many of us thought he’d be this year, but tonight’s the night for Darius.

THE ANSWERS:
(With my favorite highlighted…)

Her Loyal Sons: What Irish player needs to step up and play better football?

Anyone assigned to a position typically referred to as “Outside
Linebacker.” There have already been far too many moments where an
Irish OLB looks like they just might get some pressure on the QB, and
yet none of the OLB have registered a sack. Brian Smith played an entire game last weekend without registering a single tackle.

Subway Domer: How deflating was the loss to Michigan?

Deflating? It was soul-crushing. Nothing- NOTHING made this loss any
easier on me. Maddening… maddening, you say? After a lifelong pledge
of loyalty to Notre Dame, I have grown used to the maddening nature of
Fighting Irish football. But, I guess that is the nature of college
football in general. Expect the unexpected and bask in the glory when
you are lucky enough to have that sun shine upon your wrinkly old [redacted].

We Never Graduate: How critical is this Saturday’s game?

If the Irish can go to East Lansing and win it’ll be an enormous
confidence boost and set the stage for what should be a slugfest with
Stanford. If Notre Dame sweeps the next two games it will most likely
re-enter the Top 25 and set the stage for serious progress and maybe a
BCS run. If they lose then doubt will creep into the minds of both fans and the
team. Remember, this is a group that has collapsed each of the last two
seasons so you can’t help but think that their confidence is at least
somewhat fragile. While you have to think Kelly can handle the psyche
of the players better than Weis did, you’d much rather maintain the
positive momentum and mojo that’s surrounded the program since BK’s
hiring.

Irish Round Table: Why does the Michigan State rivalry get so little respect?

Pre-Davie the Irish held a .657 winning percentage against Michigan State
Post-Davie the Irish own a .307 winning percentage.

Maybe it is time for Notre Dame fans to show this rivalry a little more respect. Problem is respect is a two way street.*

*Bonus points to the Round Table for an excellent reminder.

One Foot Down: What do you expect this Saturday night in Spartan Stadium?

I’m constantly expecting Michigan State to be good every year. I don’t
know if it’s because I like the color green or that I kind of feel bad
for them because of their lack of success in the past and wanting them
to do well, but I’m always talking up their talent…

The Irish offense has been very conservative and vanilla and I think
this is the game where Brian Kelly starts calling more bubble screens,
reverses and misdirection plays to keep the Spartan linebackers on their
toes.  Notre Dame 35, MSU 24.

  1. ryan - Sep 15, 2010 at 5:55 PM

    How critical is this Saturday’s game? Walk away 2-1 and the Irish can feel good about taking on a very able Stanford squad at home next weekend.Walk out of East Lansing with a loss..?
    A win this weekend for the Irish is pivitol. Two losses in a row, each to a traditional rival, would, fair or not, put increasing pressure on Kelly. ND football has really become a “what have you done for me lately?” thing amongst fans, based on the comments here after the loss Saturday, and starting this era 1-2 would really bring out the haters. With Stanford coming to town the following week, that game isn’t a sure thing either. A loss to Sparty will have all of the pundits predicting a 1-3 start to the Brian Kelly era, which is really the last thing we need at this point.
    However, a win against a quality opponent will build positive momentum going forward, and will keep everyone quiet for the week.

  2. TLNDMA - Sep 15, 2010 at 7:34 PM

    The sky is falling mentality from last week is a little over the top. If Crist had played the whole game, I think it is fair to assume ND would have won the game(in my opinion easily).
    Some of us have questioned some of Kelly’s decisions, isn’t that what football fans do? That’s how sports radio exists. Kelly and ND with him, will be fine, hopefully sooner than later. We shall see.

  3. Dayton - Sep 15, 2010 at 9:21 PM

    Response to question 5: This is something that I have been thinking about a lot since the Michigan game. First of all, I think that a best case scenario after 6 games is a 5-1 record, and I mean that in all seriousness. I think that this Irish team could, conceivably, win every one of their next four games, leading them into the Western Michigan game with, most likely, a top-25 ranking and a boat-load of confidence.
    As far as a worst case scenario goes, truthfully, I think that the Irish could find themselves at 1-5 going into the Western Michigan game. Only one of Notre Dame’s next four opponents has even lost a game. Now, if you look at who the Irish opponents have faced in the first two weeks, they should all be undefeated. Only Stanford has played a team that belongs in a BCS conference, and they played UCLA (definitely not the same team that came into Notre Dame Stadium in Brady Quinn’s last year and forced the Irish to come with a last-minute victory). So who knows just how good Notre Dame’s next four opponents really are? I think we’ll find out more about them after this week. However, that being said, the Irish could lose to all four of them. But, as I said before, they have the potential to beat all four of them. None of these next four opponents are sure victories or sure defeats. That’s why mental toughness and confidence are going to be incredibly important for our favorite football team.
    The record the Irish will most likely have after these first six games is 3-3, but I have become incredibly cautious and, dare I say, pessimistic over the last three years, so I think the Irish could find themselves at 2-4. I really, really, really hope that the Irish prove my negative/cautious feelings to be overblown. I really hope that Coach Kelly can get these guys to win a lot of games this year. I guess I’ll just wait until I see the changes/improvements on the field before my outlook changes from pessimistic to optimistic.

  4. Michael Maisonneuve - Sep 15, 2010 at 10:04 PM

    Notre Dame was missing two starting safety’s, one sick coach, could not us certain packages as a result and had to play two quarterbacks with no experience for nearly half a game, unable to use their starting quarterback for most of the first half and Michigan could only beat us by 4 points. If we would have had a couple of more plays at the end… say 15 seconds we would have won. The season is a long one. One game at a time. Go Irish

  5. jan - Sep 18, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    Oh ye of little faith! Yeow with fans like this, ND may just as well forfeit the rest of the games. Come on Irish FAITHful let’s see some more positive thinking. Did all the players lose their talent? Did the coaches suddenly lose all their coaching skills? MSU isn’t a pushover, AND our players are damn good, well coached, and are not as fragile as have have posted. And the sky is NOT falling. Let’s all enjoy a sweet victory tonight.

  6. thinkirish - Sep 18, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    As we all know, Notre Dame has to start winning games like the game last week, period. No facts to ponder and no excuses. That’s why they play the game.
    Play a complete game for four quarters, we’ll be fine and now were 2-1.
    Go Irish

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