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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. TJ - Sep 19, 2010 at 6:30 PM

    TLNDMA: I somewhat agree with your reply. I do believe, however, the team has talent (and more speed than what Blackledge implied last nite on broadcast). What I think this staff found once here was how poorly developed in almost every facet of college football this team was, except for maybe the stars i talked about (i.e. Clausen, Tate, Teo, Quinn). Too little developmental attention was given to the so-called 3-star recruits that this is the process BK is talking about. Plus, I don’t think really that some of the stars that CW did leave (Floyd, Allen) impressed BK with not only work habits (which are your deal) but how poorly prepared for football overall they were. And, right now, the “process” he has been talking about is learning how to win these close games. That definitely was a missing attribute in the previous regime.

  2. NDFANFOREVER - Sep 19, 2010 at 6:43 PM

    Oh good one. I would give you a gold star for creativity on that one, but something tells me your mom came down to the basement with some cookies and milk for your afternoon snack and give you that “comeback.”
    I can see it now. Right now …Mom’s fuming as she washes your tidy whites. Can’t let the big, bad mean Internet get away with insulting her baby’s little, old “fanhood.”
    But please, try, again…this stuff totally makes an otherwise boring afternoon slightly more entertaining as I sleep off my hangover.
    Guys like you and FightinMad35 seem to think ND is somehow entitled to a winning season after the simple act of changing head coaches. ND has been average for awhile and we lost the right to demand perfection in a single season a long time ago. (Tho since Michigan is back in the top 25 I wouldn’t call them average.) There’s a big picture which the two of you are missing and every other so-called fan (oh no I said it again!!!!!) who wants to bemoan the start of this season and throw an entire team under the bus…a team by the way is playing it’s heart out.
    Here’s another cliche to throw out there…Rome wasn’t built in a day. ND needs a lot of hard work and that wasn’t going to be fixed in one preseason with BK. Talent is one thing. Having the right coach putting you through the paces and the right mind set is another. Weis had visions he was running a NFL factory not a team that wanted to win for Notre Dame. If Weis gets four seasons there’s no reason BK shouldn’t at least get one before we all call for his head on a silver platter.
    Talent means nothing when you had veteran ND players this spring barely making it through Camp Kelly’s warm-up and stretching.Fans should be embracing what will be a long, but ultimately successful journey.

  3. Tim - Sep 19, 2010 at 7:58 PM

    Look plain and simple you are a loser. You are a pathetic soul and are used to losing. I know you grew up in that generation where your mom told you that you are just as good as everyone else,but your not. Your a sorry ass who has never accomplished anything in life or ever will because you are used to losing. Sorry but the real fans are the ones who care enough to tell it like it is. Your just a gutless ass who’s had his testicules taken by your wife who probably scrubs toilets for a living, but i guess in your world she’s a success.

  4. TLNDMA - Sep 19, 2010 at 9:01 PM

    I think Blackledge over played the speed thing too. But, with the lack of depth in the secondary, this team slows down at times. This has been the case at ND for some time. Track speed, we got it, football speed not so much.
    Not to get in a brawl hear but some of your reply I don’t get. You somewhat agree about what? Work habits(which are your deal) huh?
    I made two points 1, Kelly was not as impressed by ND’s talent as we thought he would be. 2, a lack of depth at a couple positions is hurting this team. Not much to disagree with there. Is there?

  5. State of Michigan - Sep 19, 2010 at 9:06 PM

    Notre Dame…enough with the arrogance! Enough with the “Luck of the Irish” Bullshit!! All of it!! Rudy is as much a fraud as your football schedule. JOIN THE BIG TEN!!! Hope you beat Pitt! Hope you beat Navy! Hope you beat Tulsa! Hope you beat Utah! Hope you beat Army! What a frickin joke!! JOIN THE BIG TEN you gutless punks!! Sorry K.F. Had to do it!

  6. TLNDMA - Sep 19, 2010 at 9:31 PM

    You can’t even count. It’s Eleven, DOPE.

  7. GoldenDomer - Sep 19, 2010 at 9:46 PM

    SOME of us are still with you boys. Does that game hurt? You bet your golden dome it does, but you learn more from a loss then you will ever from a win. This offense is starting to click and thats a scary thing for defenses. You have to believe the funbles will stop. Its just something that sometimes happens. You can’t do anything about those except hold that ball a little tighter. This offense will continue to score points though, that much I am sure of…..will they be enough? Who knows???
    Defensive secondary lack of depth is killing these guys. You need to be able to rotate guys in and out, especially when your offense has no time of possession to hang its hat on. Notre Dame doesn’t have that right now and the team seems to fade late. They had Michigan State where they wanted to late in the game, and its hard to believe that fake fg worked. This team needs more athletes on defense. Guys who can fly to the ball. I see guys on this d who just don’t seem to belong. Poor angles, poor speed. We have to wait for Coach Kelly to recruit some guys in his own mold and see how he does. Weren’t winning a National Championship this year, so lets just see who can play and how it goes from this point.

  8. NDFANFOREVER - Sep 19, 2010 at 10:00 PM

    Oh no I’m a loser! Gasp. Sniff. Oh, now the tears are start to well up in my eyes. I can barely type. What am I ever going to do? … Excuse me… big yawn there. Sorry, please keep telling me why I suck at life. I’m all ears. With your help I think I can start to see what my life has been missing all these years. I bet that just 15 more posts from you and my life will be better for it.
    Sorry, I can’t stop laughing.
    I welcome trash talk on a sports blog as it’s part of the fun. But that last post kind of sucked all the fun out it. Total buzz kill. And maybe at this point I should say…my apologies for not doing sooner…that I’m not a middle-aged guy unhappy with his state in life as your post implied. I’m actually a 27-year-old female. I’m a blonde with big blue eyes if you were wondering. Guys always seem to love big, blue eyes. But I digress… Now I can only imagine what inventive comeback a next post might take with that information. In fact I can come up with several crude versions in my head so chances are I won’t be shocked. But here’s the thing…tomorrow I won’t care. Between the gym, the long hours at work, and after work drinks with my friends and that cute guy in accounting I have a crush on…I won’t even recall all the helpful insight that’s been offered tonight.

  9. State of Michigan - Sep 19, 2010 at 10:24 PM

    “You can’t even count. It’s Eleven, DOPE.” Says TLNDMA. Wow!! Put me in my place. Good luck with the “MEAT” of your schedule. The Irish sure are amazing! What a schedule. Join the Big Ten. Replace Tulsa with Ohio State. Replace Pitt with Penn Sate. Replace Navy with Wisconsin. Replace Utah with Iowa.
    Thought so, Gutless punks. All you Irish phonies!!!

  10. Tradertrik - Sep 19, 2010 at 11:10 PM

    @State of Michigan: perhaps you noticed in out gutless wonder plays during both the Michigan and Michigan State games that we left one of each of your guys either out cold on the field or hurt to the point of no return (linebacker.) No dirt, just good, clean, hard hits. Never saw that during the Weiss years.
    Joining the Big Ten would be stupid. If The Irish did that they wouldn’t be able to schedule Miami (Fl) or Texas as they have. Dig this; we don’t NEED the Big Ten. Obviously the Big Ten WANTS us. BYW, was Michigan on national TV this week? Playing UMASS? How much revenue did that teriffic match up generate? Michigan looked a little tired, too. Kinda beat up, at least during the replays I saw. We’ll see you guys next year – hahahahahahahahahaha!

  11. ND422 - Sep 20, 2010 at 1:35 AM

    A few quick points:
    1. Although there is defensive improvement, its ND’s biggest problem in my opinion. D line and secondary especially.
    2. No reason to trash the offense in any way. New QB, new system. It happens. Their inconsistency is due to lack of experience in my opinion. They are improving. Although, I still think the running game needs to be established and used more frequently.
    3. In my opinion, the offense line is only going to get better. They have alot of inexperience there but are already playing well. In recent years the offensive lines sucked in my opinion even with several players having playing experience. Coaching has done a fantastic and much improved job with the O Line so far (eventhough they are young).
    4. To all ND fans: Haters of ND will always exist for various reasons. Ignore them and don’t waste your time. They hate when ND wins, and they hate when they lose. If they were ranked #1 in the country and won every game by three TD’s they would still find some way to hate. If they were the worst team in the country, they would find a way to hate. Like I said, ignore that kind.
    5. B Kelly seems like a good aggressive coach so far and he will improve as well. It will be tough to keep the spirits up after two gut wrenching losses, but that is his job as well.
    6. Remember this point. Holtz was 5-6 or 6-5 (I can’t remember exactly anymore) in his first season with good YOUNG players (as with this team) as well. They will improve.
    Now that this team under Kelly is 1-2 I can finally openly say that I was NEVER a fan of Weiss as the ND head coach. It seemed like he had a good football mind and seemed dedicated to ND, but not a college head coach. Kelly is a huge improvement even with a 1-2 record. Be patient.
    One last point: I guess its easy to say because of lack of success, but I didn’t care for Davies or Willingham. Willingham in my opinion was the worst, then Davies, then Faust in my opinion. And that is saying alot of Faust because he was terrible. Although he reminded me of Weiss….he recruited talent but couldn’t coach them to win. Kelly is a work in progress, but I like the approach so far. Enjoy the rest of the season….and sorry for the long post.

  12. Chuckit - Sep 20, 2010 at 3:18 AM

    Obvious: the entire team is performing better than last year! No doubt about it! But, all things considered, this will be a 7-5 year…just about the same as the first Holtz year. Belief is safely upheld, the team is good, but needs to take the medicine of Recruiting! It’s the only cure for better future success. The coaching is fine.

  13. Irish Fan - Sep 20, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    I think that the MSU loss is God’s revenge for all the rampant child sexual abuse committed by Church priests for counntless decades all over the world. If there truly is a God, we won’t win another game — ever.
    Boo Hoo!!!

  14. Chiguy53 - Sep 20, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    The proof of any coaching regime is manifest typically during the third year and not the third game. Coach Kelly is saying and more importantly doing the right things. To ignore both the challenges and the progress of this team is simply foolish. Better days are coming because of better toughness, better coaching and better defensive recruits. Go Irish.

  15. #1irishfan - Sep 20, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    And may you rot in hell! It’s people like you the correlate all people and all religions the same! Your clearly unintelligent and please save us the time!!

  16. #1irishfan - Sep 20, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    Well put, my friend! Your posts are always welcome (long or short)!!

  17. State of Michigan - Sep 20, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    Good luck with your moral victories! Michigan and Michigan State aren’t very good this year. Keep living under your little green mushroom!

  18. Irish Fan Forever - Sep 20, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    What is apparent to me is we are looking at the same team as last year. Potent offense at times and no defense that can make a play when needed. mich 80 yard drive to win. Mich st 3 linebackers in the end zone let a recevier get between them and the end line for a touchdown. Offense Crist looks likes his learning how to throw with touch like Jimmy last year he is not there yet but better. With a 28- 21 lead why can’t we run more time off the clock? Its the same thing differnet year. We could be 3-0 last year was the same thing I only hope we not 3-9 at the end of the year saying we should have been 9-3. We didn’t get man breaks in the mich st game the block in the back call was terrible and might have cost us the game. Also the little giant play should have been a penelty for delay of game the play clock had expired along with and inelligable lineman down field. Our d-backs and safties are a step behind always. the pass interference call was because the safty didn’t turn around and pick off that lame duck pass. the long out pass that was knocked down should have been picked off. We need the defense to make some plays and cause turnovers period.

  19. Shawman65 - Sep 20, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    I think Arnold’s comments are right on. I am so use to seeing Notre Dame find a way to lose games, this loss doesn’t bother me. What big balls by the MSU coaching staff! I remember there was a time Notre dame had that. I keep telling my 17 year old son that believe or not, there was a time when Notre Dame football meant something.Those days no longer exist. We can make all the excuses we want. Tougher academics,harder to recruit, blah blah blah But it’s all crap. Nothing has changed in those regards. What has changed is that a once proud football institution who took on all comers and WAS ncaa football has become nothing more than a average team with an average future. Sooner or later NBC will drop their contract ( why would you want to broadcast losses), ND will join a conference, and we can get back to it..

  20. DadOfRob3 - Sep 20, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    ND football is a joke. Join a league and stop thinking the sun rises and falls on ND, please.

  21. ljmcm - Sep 20, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    How good was the cool aid I started drinking sometime around November. I followed every word coach Kelly preached. He has what it takes to pull this thing off I thought. Camp Kelly, the harsh work outs, a new work ethic, the strength and conditioning, the new team nutritionist, the whole nine yards. “We’re gonna score a lot of points,” coach told us. “You’re gonna love this team.” I was flying high. They’re gonna start fast and pour it on. I expected an average of forty points per game. I saw the improvement in the defense. I saw a new aggressive attitude. This year would be different. Well, turns out it is different, the team has a different coaching staff. But so far the results haven’t been too different. Even Mark May, think that’s his name looked for a possible ten wins out of this team. Now I’m wondering if we might not be looking at another six and six season. But I still hold out hope. I still think this coach could pull it off. But I still have that same old feeling that this team knows one thing too too well, and that is how to snatch defeat out of jaws of victory.

  22. State of Michigan - Sep 20, 2010 at 12:16 PM

    Sorry Domers! Knute is dead. Rudy is a fraud! Your football team is exceptionally average. Live in the past if you want or join the Big Ten and MAN-UP!!

  23. YankeeNDfan - Sep 20, 2010 at 12:37 PM

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

  24. YankeeNDfan - Sep 20, 2010 at 12:38 PM

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

  25. JCPH3 - Sep 20, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    From Mark H
    “This team just gave away 2 wins to two teams they should have dominated.” (look up your record against MSU & UM)
    Now you know why you need to stay out of the Big 10!!! Don’t worry after 2015 you’ll only have to play Purdue or Indiana.
    0 for Michigan and next week you can start on 9 for California!!

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