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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State

Sep 19, 2010, 12:19 AM EDT

Very rarely can you summarize a football game in one sentence, but head coach Brian Kelly did in his post-game press conference, just minutes after a fake field goal attempt in overtime won the football game for Michigan State 34-31:

“It came down to one play,” Kelly said. “Michigan State executed the play. We did not.”

While many will argue a picture is worth a thousand words, the shocking conclusion to another classic Notre Dame-Michigan State game underscores the things that took place the other 63 minutes on the football field. There will be years to debate the clipping call on Lo Wood at the end of regulation and the expired play-clock before the Spartans pulled their miraculous “Little Giants” fake field goal. Until then, let’s take a look at the five things we learned during Notre Dame’s 34-31 overtime loss to Michigan State in East Lansing.

1. Championship football teams play consistent football. Notre Dame does not.

Dayne Crist completed 60 percent of his passes for 369 yards and four touchdown passes. Those numbers are good enough to win for most football teams, but the Irish’s offensive miscues are what cost Notre Dame the game. In year one of both the Brian Kelly spread offense and the Dayne Crist era, the no-huddle, hurry-up offense is going through phases of boom and bust, capable of looking other-worldly on some drives and incompetent on others. With thirty-three seconds on the clock and Dayne Crist already sailing a pass dangerously high through the secondary, Brian Kelly decided to play for overtime. While a clipping call nullified the great field position the Irish had, Kelly’s decision to play for OT said all that was needed about Notre Dame’s offense. They’re too dangerous to trust right now.

Defensively, the Irish stop the run and cover the pass wonderfully on some series, and on others they look like they’re wearing roller skates. Manti Te’o’s play personified the Irish’s struggles with consistency. Even though he made double-digit tackles for the second consecutive game, Te’o’s missed tackle in the Spartans’ backfield on a screen pass to Le’Veon Bell crushed the Irish, turning a 3rd and long into a touchdown on the very next play. There are moments when the Irish play BCS caliber football. Unfortunately, the moments when they don’t have cost the Irish two football games.

2. Brian Kelly is a riverboat gambler.

Many expected Brian Kelly to coach football games the way he handles himself with the media — measured, politically savvy, and deftly able to steer clear of anything that’d be examined or second-guessed. But on the sidelines, Kelly operates on the other end of the spectrum, playing his gut and taking chances that make him an easy-target for those looking to question his coaching choices. The decision to play for the touchdown at the end of the first half against Michigan was just the first hint that Kelly’s a different man roaming the sidelines than he is in front of a microphone.

Staring at a 4th and 1 with just over six minutes remaining, Kelly opened himself up for ridicule, opting to go for it from the Irish 42-yard line, instead of playing safe and punting the ball away. Dayne Crist didn’t get it — he fumbled the ball off his own blocker as he cut north for first down yardage — and the Spartans recovered, taking over at the Notre Dame 44. The Irish defense picked up the slack and forced a punt, but Kelly’s shown in the first three games of his tenure that he’s willing to take risks that leave him open to questioning.

3. The lack of depth in the secondary is killing the Irish defense.

With Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy still hobbled, the Irish are forced to play Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta as deep-cover safeties. This is not a winning combination for the Irish. While Smith made a nice play on a deep-out, Motta just isn’t the type of guy that is comfortable in open space yet, and the long pass interference call is a perfect example of what can happen when you have an in-the-box strong safety type playing sky coverage over the top.

Darrin Walls and Gary Gray might be the most talented cornerbacking duo the Irish have had since Shane Walton and Vontez Duff, but taking 95-percent of the defensive snaps for an Irish team that has no desire to possess the football is a recipe for disaster. To his credit, Kelly understands the predicament he’s putting his defensive backs in.

“Those kids are warriors. We had three defensive backs that played through some significant injuries,” Kelly said after the game. “We’re so thin back there, with out being able to get Slaughter on the field. That put Blanton in a lot more of the corner position which took a little gas out of his tank. We’re just really thin there. They’re battling. I’m proud of the way they battled, and they were banged up pretty good.”

Newsflash to the Irish secondary: it doesn’t get any easier next week. The best quarterback on Notre Dame’s schedule, Andrew Luck of Stanford, is coming to South Bend.

4. Theo Riddick and Darius Fleming answered the bell.

If the Irish are going to play winning football, they’ll need Theo Riddick on offense and Darius Fleming on defense. For two weeks, neither player did much, failing to make an impact on the field or in the stat ledger. But that all changed today. While the Irish didn’t win, two essential playmakers found their stride, and for the Irish’s sake, it better be here to stay.

With the spotlight on him all week, Theo Riddick stepped up big, catching 10 balls for 128 yards and a touchdown. He was elusive in the open field, turning multiple short passes into big gains.
“He broke out. He’s an exciting player,” Kelly said. “We knew that he was going to be
able to add to our offense, it was just a matter of time. And now he
gives us that third weapon that we had been looking for to balance off Rudolph and Floyd.”

It’ll likely be forgotten because of the fake field goal, but Fleming’s sack in overtime, to go along with his fourth quarter sack, where gigantic plays for an Irish defense that held its ground late. Fleming was one of the only pass-rushers to get consistent pressure on Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins, and while it’s in a losing effort, he got pressure from the Cat linebacker position, something critical for a Bob Diaco defense.

5. Different coach, same team.

For those that say the Irish can’t get it done at the end of the ballgame, rewind your DVRs and watch the first half of the football game. The Irish lost to Michigan State not because of a fake field goal, but because they failed to capitalize when they had the other team on the ropes. Two costly red zone turnovers (by two of Notre Dame’s best offensive players) stalled out drives when the Irish needed to get points on the board.

Even though it’s only three games into the Brian Kelly era, the vultures are once again circling the Irish football program. Staring at a home-date against Jim Harbaugh’s high-powered Stanford team, there’s a realistic chance the Irish are looking at a 1-3 record, with games against Boston College and Pitt still ahead. All in all, if you’re looking for negativity, there’s plenty to be found. (Just take a look at the comments around here.) After the game, Kelly said there’s a simply way to combat that.

“This is about belief. What do you believe in, after a loss as difficult
as this, what do you believe in?” Kelly said. “Do you believe in your teammates? Do
you believe in your coaches? Do you believe in the preparation? If you
do, you’ll come back and we’ll work harder and we’ll continue to work to
get better. If you don’t believe, then these are times when you start
to see teams pull apart. It’s all about belief at this point.”

While Kelly used a Van Halen reference earlier this week to talk about how important Mike Elston’s return to the football team is, he’d be better off referencing another 80s hair-band to get his point across this week.

To quote the ubiquitous Journey anthem: “Don’t Stop Believing.”

100 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. YankeeNDfan - Sep 20, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    Many interesting and well constructed comments and opinions. Still looking for information on the status of Robert Hughes, anyone know ?

  2. Dayton - Sep 20, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    I think it’s funny when supporters of other football programs come onto a Notre Dame blog and spew venomous insults at us and the Fighting Irish football program. I would love to hear from the rest of you. Who here goes on Michigan blogs, MSU blogs, or any college football blog other than ones that pertain to your favorite team? I don’t go onto Michigan blogs, State blogs, OSU blogs, or any Big Ten blogs for that matter because I just don’t care. These guys (or girls, I don’t know…I don’t want to discriminate) are coming onto a Notre Dame blog to trash the university, the football program, or anything related to Notre Dame. And, they ramble on about the greatness of the Big Ten. Here’s the facts. Notre Dame fans don’t care about your teams or your conference. We don’t go on your blogs to insult your team because it’s classless. Indeed, we gripe and complain to each other about our team, the Fighting Irish. But we don’t waste our time with insulting other teams or the fans of other teams without provocation. Coming to a Notre Dame blog and insulting Notre Dame is like a non-American coming to the United States for vacation just to insult the country before going back home. If you hate us so much, then why are you here? Reality check: Notre Dame doesn’t need to join the Big Ten. Their first two games on NBC this year had incredibly high TV ratings. We’re fine. NBC is fine. And the fact that we are recruiting four-star talent in California, Florida, Georgia, etc. shows that, as an independent, we’re just fine. Anything else? No? Then get outta here.

  3. Bill - Sep 20, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    For those of you Irish haters, yes we are 1-2 but we are 2 plays from being 3-0. While I think a few decisions that Coack K made were bad decisions (end of 1st half in Michigan game & why didn’t we call a TO in overtime before the kick to get our def set) I also see the fight coming back. We are a young team and Coach K may have an upset in store next weekend but if not, lets continue to build and support this team and Coach K. I know I am not the coach so those bad decisions we look at now and say why, well if they would have scored a TD at half with Michigan or if someone would have covered the TE on the fake, what would you all be saying about a 3-0 ND in the rankings?? OVERRATED like always.. Stop complaining and remember, a winner never quits!

  4. thinkirish - Sep 20, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    The only time I noticed Hughes was when Allen ran into him for a loss I think.

  5. relaxarnold - Sep 20, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    Why can’t you just accept that this season is going to be one of transition? Well, since we’re in the mood of exchanging pleasantries, let me return the favor. If you want to compare this year to 1988, let’s do it! How did that team do in 1987? or 1986? Let me refresh your memory, In 1986 we loss 4 out of the first 5 games!!! Did you see a National Championship in the making 2 years after that? How about 1987? Great start, Just lost 1 in the first 5, but lost 3 straight at the end of the season!!! Did you see a National Championship in for the following year? Hmmm, maybe you were saying “the defense is mediocre and gutless” maybe? It’s always been known that its going to get worse before it gets better…worse was last year, I see upside this year….and it’s with the same kids! Do I believe we’ll make it to a BCS bowl game this year? No, but do I believe they will be in contention for one in the next year or two? Hell yeah!
    You are right, Defensive wins championships, and from what I’ve seen, the foundation of a great defense is being set as we speak. I’m not drinking the kool-aid, but there is something peculiar about this younger group of kids, and I’m going to stand by them 100%. If you’re going to stay on the bandwagon with us, sit in the back! Because a lot of us don’t want to hear your “I will support you only if you win – if you lose you are gutless” whining! Go Irish!

  6. frank b. - Sep 20, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    Bill, this is one of the most lucid posts I have ever read on this site.
    You are right on the money
    The only thing I worry about is that the “new kids” coming in still hunger for a chance to earn a fantastic education and play for this team, even though they live through some tough times right now.
    Would love to know the “network share” from ABC for this game!

  7. Dave B - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:23 PM

    POINT #2. I am very glad Kelly made that call. His defense could not stop the run. The chances, if he ordered a punt, of MSU eating up all the clock and scoring the winning points in regulation were pretty good. By going for it on fourth down, he at least gave his team a shot to get the ball back and answer if MSU had scored. Given that his offense can score quickly, it made all the sense in the world.
    A real gamble would have been if he ordered the ball to be punted.
    Think about it…

  8. ndhelf - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    I hate to say this; but I wish ND would change up their schedule.
    I always make fun of OSU and Neb; but I am starting to realize maybe they have a point.
    Why can’t ND start with maybe a Idaho or Iowa State..
    Look at Neb they have a Freshman QB and that also probably could be said for Crist..No playing experience coming off an ACL injury.
    We have a new system and new coaching staff why don’t we schedule just like Neb– W Kentucky, Idaho, WA and now next week they play a flippin South Dakota State..
    OSU played Marshall, Miami, Ohio and this week they play E. Michigan. What a Joke but maybe not…
    We should drop flippin MI to the third game of the season. Let our players gain some confidence and maybe some much needed game experience..
    No what does ND do..Open with 3 Big Ten teams and now we sit here asking ourselves are we the same old ND of the past??? 1-2 and a good chance of being 1-3..

  9. james - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    one of the 5 things we learned in the loss to sparty. im going to say what everyone is scared to say.
    1. nd is not that good.
    2. brian kelley is overmatched.
    3. brian kelley is overrated.
    4. playoffs? were talking about defending an effin fake feild goal.
    5. wheres the D!! i know its in florida alabama and michigan st for that matter not to mention michigan.
    5a. just how many of you thought about the name your number the cards are gonna put on us next weekend.
    5b. didnt we pass on jim harbough as a head coach.
    5c. another thing we learned, shows how great those star ratings can be, everyone thought charlie could recruit, i even saw teo running away on a couple of plays, and i think he has as many missed tackles this season as terrail lambert did his entire carrer.

  10. Sgt. Moon - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    I don’t believe some of the comments that are being posted on this site. Mark H and Robert London. What did you expect? This is a team with a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive systems and a new starting QB. Anyone who thought that ND was going to a BCS bowl game this year or have a 9-3 or 10-2 record hasn’t got a clue. I have said for years that ND does not have the easy schedule that critics always complain about. Everyone gets up for the Notre Dame game. Teams such as Michigan, Michigan State, Navy, Air Force and just about every other team on the schedule consider the ND game one of the biggest games (if not the biggest game) on their schedule.
    ND fans have to be patient. ND has been a mediocre to inferior team for several years. Don’t expect them to turn it around in one season.
    As a rule, I don’t like to call out people who make mistakes on this site. I would like to point out to the USC graduate Djeg07. Are you an idiot? is FOUR words.
    And to Irishfan. Are priests the only ones who have molested children? Your comment might be the most ignorant comment I have read in years.

  11. terry - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:56 PM

    IMO the reason that fans of other schools come on ND blogs and razz ND fans, especially after a loss, is that ND fans – for the most part – are arrogant.
    They think that their having attended Notre Dame makes them better than others, they think their shit doesn’t stink, they think that the sun rises and sets on the golden dome, and so when ND loses people LOVE to give them a hard time.
    I went to Notre Dame, my shit DOES stink, and as long as Notre Dame refuses to learn humble, and a so-called “Catholic” college should already KNOW humble, this will continue.
    That having been said I hurt when they lose. Losing to Navy was ok because I spent 3 1/2 years in the Navy, but enough is enough.

  12. Gary - Sep 20, 2010 at 7:26 PM

    All you naysayers as Coach BK said…there’ll be plenty of room on the band wagon…So grow up !!…Whiners…sheesh…

  13. larry - Sep 20, 2010 at 7:35 PM

    Did Kelly mention anything about the Floyd fumble that was blown dead with no one on the ball, and the refs gave it to MSU?

  14. Dayton - Sep 20, 2010 at 8:06 PM

    I was talking about this issue to my wife over the weekend. There are so many big-name college football programs that open the season with some cupcake games. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I am starting to agree with you. Maybe Notre Dame should take this route. Would anyone on here look down on them for starting the season with a couple games against teams like Northeastern, Samford, or Minnesota? I hate succumbing to peer pressure, but if everyone else is doing it, why can’t we? Let ’em get their feet wet.

  15. TJ - Sep 20, 2010 at 8:48 PM

    TLNDMA: Sorry for the delay in replying to your reply. And, sorry for the poor set up of my post. My disagreement with you is primarily in the talent level BK inherited. I feel he does think the talent is there, just not the proper work habits. The ‘your deal’ comment….I meant that as it is a player’s responsibility to commit to proper work habits. The coaching staff is to show them how to develop those habits, it’s then up to the player to work those habits (your deal…. got it….sorry). The rest of your reply is 100% right on. One other thing I would like to add is they need to develop some interior linemen, both OL and DL. I don’t care how many stars your recruiting status had, if you don’t have the outstanding big grunts up front (which we haven’t had consistently since Lou), you won’t do much in D-I.

  16. Ted Kazmar - Sep 20, 2010 at 10:35 PM

    This is a brand new offense and defense, that is the reason for the poor consistency. It took Michigan three years to get as far as ND had done in 2 games. I don’t believe Kelly is a gambler but he is too optimistic that his team can perform with only a couple of games under their belt with the new offense. Plus they have a very tough schedule that is front loaded. Give the new coach and players some time. Of course ND could help their own cause if they would get some neutral officials on the field. Why doesn’t NBC help ND get some neutral officials?

  17. mrrandolph - Sep 21, 2010 at 7:33 AM

    Reply to Dayton and ndhelf:
    Does perception equal reality? The rest of the college football world, especially folks from the SEC, think ND does open up with a cupcake schedule. I hear all the time “You guys never play anybody.”

  18. Noter Dame Fan - Sep 21, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Here is what I learned about the MSU loss.
    God hates us for the priest sexual scandal and is taking it out on our football team.
    We will probably never win another game.

  19. Irish Suck Big Time - Sep 21, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    So…you support the Church’s position and actions then?
    You must be for child rape.
    How enlightened….
    Sit down and take your medicine, ND fans.
    Your are about to suffer for your years of holier-than-thou, sanctimonious preaching…Touchdown Jesus and all that crap…like somehow God had blessed your football program.
    Where is your divine intervention now? Maybe you should pray for a defense…you overly pious, self-righteous losers….

  20. #1irishfan - Sep 21, 2010 at 8:49 PM

    The whole subject is something that has affected me as a human being and if you could sit back and look at the HUMAN you are maybe it might affect you also you NARCISSISTIC, JUVENILE, fear mongering Hmmmmm is BIGOT the right adjective??? I love Notre Dame. I am a Catholic. I do not condone any violence, hate, cruelty, or hypocritical acts committed by members of any religion! In reality I pray for all of those selfish People and I will pray for you! GO IRISH!!! And I will not reply to hopelessness again!

  21. #1irishfan - Sep 21, 2010 at 8:56 PM

    I think if you read the 10th commandment it might help you with your issue of trolling your neighbors blog and passing judgment. Wish you well!! GO IRISH!!!!

  22. Calir - Sep 21, 2010 at 9:42 PM

    Same team, different coach about sums it up. We can only hope that Kelly can bring in kids who believe they can win. Don’t tell me Cincy had better athletes from top to bottom. I do believe that the ND coaches were to blame for not being more focused on a fake then a kid trying to kick an almost un-makeble field goal for his skills. Worst thing that happens is another over time.

  23. Get some perspective people! - Sep 22, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    The world is not ending, ND football is not dead, trolls only prove ND football’s worth (why else do you care to come here?).
    Keep in mind that this is a new coaching staff, a new system, a first-time starting QB with very little experience and a very thin defense (thanks Weis and company). What do you expect when ND plays Big 10, Big East & PAC 10 teams to start the season under these circumstances? Michigan is top 25, MSU is now top 25, Stanford is top 25… Not too many schools start a season like that. Wait for the season to play out before you cast your stones. If they are bad, start casting. If they finish strong and show improvement throughout the year, give them praise.

  24. Dale Doelling - Sep 22, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    Why is no one talking about the huge error made by the officials in this game? The play clock had EXPIRED nearly 3 seconds before the last play of the game began. How do you miss such an obvious penalty? This just seems to happen far too frequently against the Irish.

  25. sweetpete - Sep 24, 2010 at 7:34 PM

    easy peeps. it will be o.k. this coach will get it done, the players will get it done and will be very competitive this year.We will win our fare share of games, give it a second or two. The last 3 coaches we had, had one thing in common from week 2 week i never saw improvement or cohesion. with this staff and players there will be improvement and cohesion. Just want to see more toughness from these guys on the field and enthusiasm. Can I get amen!!!

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