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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. ugetwutuask4 - Sep 19, 2010 at 3:34 AM

    From what I’ve seen, our team at times is looking far more impressive than I expected they would if not for critical mistakes being made at crucial, momentum favoring times in the game. We are two plays away from literally being 3-0 and turning a lot of doubters into believers. Now if Coach K is correct in stating that the team has the fight in them, than we will bounce back. But like Coach K said, it’s gonna take more than that to win ball games. We’ll see if we’ve got the horses to finish this race. Still a lot of tough opponents left on that so called, quote-unquote “easy schedule”.
    Go Irish!
    PS, I’m pissed right now. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  2. MarkH - Sep 19, 2010 at 3:46 AM

    Fellow Irish fans: get ready for another 6-6 year. At best. This team just gave away 2 wins to two teams they should have dominated. Sad state of affairs for Irish fans just keeps getting worse.
    Kelly was out coached vs Michigan and MSU. This Irish team is clearly soft. They can’t make a play to put teams away, they can’t make a big play to seal the deal. Worst part about it is, the crucial mistakes come from “leaders” like Floyd, Crist… and even Kelly himself.
    3-9, 6-6, 6-6 and it looks like 6 wins at best this year, despite a decent amount of 4,5 star upperclassmen. Can’t bear to watch this garbage anymore. The days of Irish football glory seem to be over.

  3. relaxarnold - Sep 19, 2010 at 3:53 AM

    Although the play is inconsistent, I see a solid foundation forging. The “spurts” of making big plays are beginning to play out longer than in the previous two games. Yes, defensively we’re leaking out big plays, but on the flip side of that coin, the defense seems to be gelling together more. If anyone thought that ND was going to go undefeated this season was drinking far too much irish-ade.
    BK knows what he’s doing. I like his aggressive play calling. The team will come through, so relax arnold….ease off the irish ade. Our boys will be fine. No one said that the furnace of change was not going to be laden with some burns here and there. When the team turns around….and they will….don’t let the bandwagon door hit your backside as you try to sneak back on board keith.

  4. relaxarnold - Sep 19, 2010 at 4:02 AM

    to MarkH: Jump off the wagon…you’re dead weight! or just turn your tv off. Rome was not built in a day, or even a season! so neither will the Renaiscance of ND football. ND will rise. Go Irish!

  5. Chuckit - Sep 19, 2010 at 4:58 AM

    This loss is appropriate for me at this time. I was getting all gung-ho and missing on real priorities. Now I can safely go back to priorities, and get to see the games whenever there are no priorities.

  6. Allgood - Sep 19, 2010 at 5:40 AM

    It’s pretty sad to hear some of these comments. I pray the players don’t read them? There is just too much talk about what ND used to be and now how it may be over. Such negativity? If we go 6-6 this year, we go 6-6. We have issues in our secondary. A new offense. A new QB. They’re basically grown kids out there. Give them a break? Three games in and many of you are already throwing in the towel? So ND football is only a priority when they are winning? Where’s your loyalty? Like BK said to his players, deal with it for 24hrs, come back Monday ready to work on getting better. My advice to some of you guys is to deal with this loss too, get over it, and support your football team 100% if you call yourself a true member of the ND Nation. GO IRISH!!

  7. Robert London - Sep 19, 2010 at 5:58 AM

    Since last November, Notre Dame is 1-6. ‘Nuff said.
    One could call ND the Chicago Cubs of college football but that would be disrespectful to the Cubs who have won 5 straight.

  8. Terry Wood - Sep 19, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    Same old ND and same old ND fans. Always think you are better than you are. You are still playing should’ve won football. Your not very good, proving it isn’t the coach. At least Charlie Weiss is smiling

  9. djeg07 - Sep 19, 2010 at 6:53 AM

    great game domers, anotther michigan team another loss. blame anything you want when weis took over was the cupboard bare? is it bare now? i say they are very similiar except maybe qb. weis did what his first year? but listen, kelly is killing you bonehead calls, not using the talent. it may take 2 more years.
    5 things we can take away
    1. no bowl game – the moron last week after a loss who said nd was going to a big bowl.. 3 words for you.. are you an idiot.
    2. kelly may take a lot longer to get gelling
    3. you have to find a qb that can make decisions
    4. learn how to get the big time players involve, floyd did what last week, allen did what this week?
    6. stanfors coached by a former uofm player will run all over the domers…good luck.

  10. mrrandolph - Sep 19, 2010 at 7:02 AM

    The Irish just have no speed on defense. There is not a conference in D1 they would win. They are 1-2 in the Big 10 and the two losses are aginst 2 teams with no shot at the BCS. These are outside on Jones on offense, CW recruits. I have said it before either Charlie can’t coach or he can’t recruit. The teams we play we should just out athlete them.

  11. ourlady$ - Sep 19, 2010 at 7:05 AM

    They say we are the same old team, they say we can’t get it done. They say we don’t have what it takes. They say our “gutsy” calls are pure gambling. They say that we cannot get it done and we can’t deal with adversity. What “they” say will NEVER matter, because it’s what we believe.
    We believe we have a great bunch of players who give it everything they have. We believe through adversity we become stronger. We believe in Coach Kelly and the entire coaching staff and we believe in each other. We believe that negativity from our own “fans” just makes us stronger NOT weaker. We believe that every small step we take and fall, we pick ourselves up and keep on going, because failure is NOT an option.

  12. frank b. - Sep 19, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    Just some parting thoughts:
    New coach, new system, new quarterback.
    Give them some credit, most teams would take a much longer time to adjust.
    Still think def coordinator is doing a good job adjusting to game changes.
    No one and I mean no one in their right mind saw the fake coming, and if you say you did you are a liar. (I bet you someone reviews the stats of the opposing kicker for the rest of the season)!
    What we dont want to happen is this talented offensive team to lose the desire.
    Cant figure out which decision was dumber, Kelly not punting, or D’Antonio burning his last challenge.

  13. FightinMad35 - Sep 19, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    What a disappointing loss! Unbelievable. The inconsistency and turnovers are just murdering this team’s chances. I have become that fan that watches the game waiting for my team to blow it. They haven’t let me down in several seasons. I can’t get comfortable, even when we’re up a touchdown. The biggest thing I see is the severe lack of speed on our defense, particularly on the edges. The defense is stout up the middle/between the tackles. Get your offensive weapons outside and on the edge and ND simply can’t play consistent enough defense to stop you. The safeties are fighting for their lives out there and you can see how much Slaughter and McCarthy are missed. Bad tackling in space and poor angles. I’m seeing the same problems that plagues the Irish last year, the year before and several deja vu ND seasons past. Playing competitive football for 3.9 quarters and falling short in the end. I am going back into my mode of no expectation, just hoping the guys compete, catch a few breaks and get a few wins. No more sleepless nights for me. If we win, great. If we lose then there’s always next year. God, these are looooooong work weeks between ND losses. My co-workers can’t wait to tease me and I have to take it.

  14. FightinMad35 - Sep 19, 2010 at 7:57 AM

    oh and another thing. What happened to the run game?? Where is Cierre Wood and why isn’t Armando getting more running chances? Until we can simulate a consistent run game then we will continue playing in shootout games, 3 and outs, inconsistent offensive play. The hurry up offense is great when it’s working but boy does it put a lot of pressure on our defense. Those 22 second offensive 3 and outs are a major reason our defense keeps breaking down in end of game situations. I am still waiting on the coach to go traditional time management in end of game situations, end of half situations, particularly when we’re up on the scoreboard. No hurry up but run play clock down and run the ball type calls. I’m not trying to question BK but those wildman coaching decisions he made at Cinci are only going to be magnified and dissected with intense scrutiny and second guessing at ND. I don’t think he’s fully adjusted to his intense microscope yet either.

  15. upchuck - Sep 19, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    It is of my opinion that Kelly is not getting hard enough on players. He was smiling way too much after the game like he was expecting this kind of season or something. not sure if this isn’t Notre D=ordinary at best.

  16. TLNDMA - Sep 19, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    I thought Cierre Wood looked very tentative running with the football last night. He seemed to be running with less body lean both from scrimmage and on kick returns. I think you might see more of Jonas Gray next week.
    We go into a game as an underdog and when we don’t win, we stink. Could we have won the game? Sure. The players are making too many errors to do so, turnovers are killing this team right now.

  17. YankeeNDfan - Sep 19, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    Can someone please tell me what has happened to Robert Hughes ? It would seem his skills would be helpful in the red zone.

  18. nasty - Sep 19, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    Great game but another heartbreaking loss!! The defense continues to let teams pile up yards on them week after week. Offense continues to play inconsistant due to miscues. If teams force Crist out of the pocket he gets rattled and makes horrible decisions. Floyd needs to hold on to the ball! The penalties continue to increase since week one. On the positive side the defense is fundamentally getting better even though they have missed some tackles. Offensively they are starting to come together and think by the end of year very explosive! Bottom line we need to get a defense and quit trying to out score the other team!! If they don’t score we don’t lose! It all starts on defense! BK hasn’t lost much in his career and it will interesting to see how he handles it. We all know and so does he that the Irish nation isn’t very patient and wants to win now!! It’s going to take time for him to get his own players! Be patient/GO IRISH!

  19. SpankMonkey - Sep 19, 2010 at 9:21 AM

    It was a good game
    Right up to the end
    I though MSU would have won by more
    Should make it a tough year for ND
    How could it get any worse
    Second loss is hard to swallow
    Unless you are just glad it was not a blow out
    Could it get any worse?
    Katrina was worse

  20. brendan_g - Sep 19, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    i’m proud of this team. they made mistakes, sure. but it took a fake field goal on the road in OT to beat them. the previous week it took a single player gaining 500 yards of offense to beat them by 4 points. sure, ND could’ve blown them out. but they also could’ve rolled over and died. they fought hard. i know that’s not enough but this team looks way different than last year.
    if they finish 6-6 (which i’m predicting) certain people will say nothing changed from the previous regime. well, a major difference will be those wins will come in november rather than september. didn’t holtz’s first season produce an identical record to faust’s last season?
    this team will play a complete, error-free game soon enough. when they do the college football world will take notice that Notre Dame is, at long last, back!

  21. Art Vandelay - Sep 19, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    I am part optimistic and part “Here we go again” this morning. I think its all been said in the above posts. This team has got to develop its killer instinct and we’ll be seeing more of the same until they do. Since I am still in limerick mode:
    There once was a team called Notre Dame
    That didn’t know how to finish a game.
    Their coach sometimes doesn’t think
    Causing some calls to really stink
    Creating a 2010 season with much of the same.

  22. Danno27 - Sep 19, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    Well shite.
    Agree with you Vandelay, it’s a different-looking team but the results are turning out much the same as last year. Patience and fortitude are pretty much premium commodities for ND fans right now. By the end of the season I think it will be a really strong team. Right now it is wildly inconsistent.
    One thing – let’s not fret about Kelly not looking upset enough after a game, people. Would you prefer he rant and rave and throw gatorade jugs at reporters? Believe me, if he’s as competitive as we all know he is, he’s like the duck on the pond – calm and collected on the face of it, kicking like hell underneath.

  23. Bill - Sep 19, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    Lets see you replace a 3 year starter at QB with a man who never started. You lose one of the most dangerous weapons in college football in Tate. Replace three olinemen and have a brand new offense installed that is radically different from the one you have worked in the past 2 seasons. Breaking in three olinemen and converted wr. Your offense at times is unstopable and the only way you get stopped is by yourself. Hmmm sounds like growing pains to me. What made you think that the defense would all of sudden become unmovable.Most of the starters were here last year. They gave up yards in bunches. Lack of depth at dline and the secondary and they should be world beaters. I’m sorry but the Irish have a long way to go. Sure they could be undefeated, but their not. They seem to shoot themselves in the foot at inoppurtune times. Yet they have been in every game so far. I see a team that is working its but off to compete. An offense that tries to win every game on every play. A defense that is playing hard even though they don’t have all the pieces. You play 85 or 90% of the snaps and see if you can make a play late in the 4th or ot. Relax ND Nation things get worse before they get better. It takes time and three games in just isn’t enough time to gauge anything. Were not playing 1aa or D2 schools. Were playing legit D1 football teams, have patience!

  24. Tradertrik - Sep 19, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    I’m frustrated on some of the calls that were made during this game. If that Michigan State receiver was forced out of bounds then I did it ’cause there wasn’t a hand laid on him when he went out. That receiver was ineligible the second he came back onto the field of play. Secondly, time had clearly expired on the fake field goal play. Clearly. So……..we’re 1-2. And we get over it, and play Stanford next week and get to break even.
    Remember, we have a junior quarterback with freshman experience; a left tackle with freshman experience at the position, two out of three linebackers that are still learning their positions. What do you naysayers expect? 12-0 and a NC? How stupid! I’d imagine this is like coaching T-ball to Coach Kelly. I didn’t think his going for it was stupid at all. We had some momemtum going and he felt it was makeable.
    What team would you rather have? A Weiss team that likely would have been down by 14 mid-way through the 4th, or this team who, during overtime pushed the opponent back to really an unmakeable field goal. Gimme this team and this coach any day of the week.

  25. goirsish1 - Sep 19, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    Frustrating to watch a game in which officials played a part in the outcome. Sure the defense gave up too many big plays and the offense turned the ball over at critical times. With all of those errors, ND was STILL in the game. But, an officials job is to enforce the rules and what easier rule to enforce than the play clock. If the ball is not snapped before the play clock reaches 00 the play is dead and a penalty is enforced……EXCEPT for overtime at Michigan State? The last play should NOT have happened!

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