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The Good, the bad the ugly: Michigan State

Sep 20, 2010, 12:45 PM EDT

It’s hard to envision two endings more painful than the last two Saturdays for Notre Dame. Against two familiar rivals, the Irish came out on the wrong end of two last-minute finishes, and in the process ripped open old wounds and forced plenty of repressed memories to the forefront.

For players and fans alike, there’s suddenly a feeling of “we’ve been here before,” and head coach Brian Kelly is learning that the Notre Dame job is unlike anything he’s experienced before. The Irish loss on Saturday night dropped Notre Dame to 1-2 on the season, and now stare at three of the hardest games on the schedule, and a Saturday date with one of the country’s hottest teams this Saturday afternoon.

There will be plenty of time to talk about Jim Harbaugh and his Stanford Cardinal. For now, let’s close the book on Michigan State and take a look at the good, bad and ugly from Notre Dame’s 34-31 defeat at the hands of the Spartans.

THE GOOD

Any talk of good needs to start with the play of Theo Riddick. Playing in his third game as a wide receiver, Riddick put up monster numbers from the slot, making 10 catches for 128 yards and adding a touchdown. He broke tackles on short throws, showed nuance in his route-running, and gave the Irish a slot presence to balance pressure against Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph.

While I don’t expect him to win the Biletnikoff Award next season, it’s interesting to compare Riddick’s progress at this point in his career to what Golden Tate did through three games of his sophomore season.

      FRESHMAN SEASONS

      Golden Tate: 6 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD
      Highlight: Purdue — 3 catches, 104 yards, 1 TD

      Theo Riddick: 29 carries, 160 yards. 6 catches, 43 yards.
      Highlight: Washington State — 9 carries, 51 yards, 3 catches, 24 yards.

      SOPHOMORE SEASON (Through three games)
    
      Golden Tate: 15 catches, 303 yards, 2 TDs
      Highlight: Michigan — 4 catches, 127 yards, 1 TD

      Theo Riddick: 14 catches, 180 yards, 1 TD
      Highlight: 10 catches, 128 yards, 1 TD.

Consider that Riddick is playing with a first-year quarterback in a completely new system while transitioning to a new position, and Saturday’s breakthrough performance looks even more impressive.

THE BAD

The Irish defense struggled stopping Michigan State’s running attack. If you subtract Kirk Cousins from the running game, Spartan backs ran for 208 yards on 35 carries, a robust 5.9 yards per attempt. Even if you take out Edwin Baker’s 56 yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, the defense gave up 4.5 yards a carry — just too many yards to be successful.

The Irish also struggled in the short passing game, giving up big plays on high-percentage throws like quick screens to wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. While the Irish made half-time adjustments, there were too many times where Zeke Motta had to come up and make a tackle on a short throw at full-speed and he failed to do so. It’s an incredibly daunting task to play any football game with only two healthy scholarship safeties, and both Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta played good football games, considering the circumstances.

The defense gave up 477 yards a week after giving up over 500 to Michigan and quarterback Denard Robinson. While they forced one turnover on a terrible decision by Cousins, the defense needs to do a better job for the Irish to win.

THE UGLY

The aftermath of the game’s final play seems to extend to both teams. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack after the victory, and his timetable to return to the Spartans is unknown.

For the Irish, the fake field goal unleashed ugly torrents of fan backlash — it only took three games for people to call for the resignation of Brian Kelly on popular website NDNation.com — and once again Notre Dame fans are the ones leading the charge against the team they support.

(Just a reminder: It’s far too early to anoint or discredit Brian Kelly, and making any decision after two heartbreaking losses makes you sound foolish.) 

Looking closer at the fake field goal and the circumstances under which it was called make you applaud the guts of Dantonio and also understand why it was the perfect call. Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy had attempted five career field goals, none close to having the amount of pressure as an overtime 46-yarder. Dantonio also knew the Irish were short their special teams coach, with Mike Elston relegated to the role of spectator after being hospitalized with a viral infection. More so, even if the Spartan’s converted the field goal, Notre Dame would be on offense last during the second overtime, and Dantonio wouldn’t get another chance to play for the win.

Linebacker Manti Te’o admitted that the thought of fake went through his head after the game, and the Irish seemed to be ready for it with two of the Spartan’s passing options covered. But Harrison Smith fell after being run over by tight end Charlie Gantt, and the bruising tight end rumbled into the end zone. The rest is history.

 

  1. Bill - Sep 20, 2010 at 3:59 PM

    HArd to believe people want to get rid of Kelly. I hated to see the loss, but I have seen nothing but progress. This guy is going to win a lot of games for the Irish. Don’t forget that he has to erase a long tradition of losing and that will not happen over night. The defense is only going to improve and you have to be excited with Kelly’s future defensive recruits.

  2. ugetwutuask4 - Sep 20, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    Yeah, hopefully while he’s erasing the losses he can erase the loser fans right along with them!
    Go Irish!!!

  3. Luke - Sep 20, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    Quoting Keith Arnold: “(Just a reminder: It’s far too early to anoint or discredit Brian Kelly, and making any decision after two heartbreaking losses makes you sound foolish.)”
    Truer words were never spoken. It’s disappointing to see the so-called “fans” turn on Kelly so quickly. Like Bill above, I see nothing but progress. I’m willing to give him my wholehearted support as long as I see progress. We’re headed the right direction, after literally 10 years of a program without an identity.

  4. ryan - Sep 20, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    i love the tate/riddick comparison, thats good stuff. i hate to look ahead with 9 games still to go, but if floyd and rudy come back next year, thats gonna be a lethal trio.

  5. TLNDMA - Sep 20, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    The difference between Kelly and previous coaches is. One, he knows what needs to be fixed. Two, he knows how to fix it. Three, he’ll work til it gets fixed. I have no doubt.

  6. Adam - Sep 20, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    You are absolutely right TLNDMA. I have faith in Coach Kelly, and the patience to give him the time to do what needs to get done. 3 games is much to early to evaluate a coach. Hell, even a year isn’t enough to get an accurate picture of what you are dealing with. How would anyone have evaluated Charlie Weis after one year, or even two? I’m just gonna strap myself in and enjoy the ride, knowing that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.

  7. Mark - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:03 PM

    I can’t believe there is any Domer calling for the resignation of Brian Kelly after 3 games. That’s not the attitude of a winner, it’s the attitude of a whiner.
    When people berate Domers for an attitude of entitlement, this fits in exactly with what they’re talking about: we don’t have to work for anything and we don’t have to put in our time; we showed up, so winning should be a given.
    That was the attitude that contributed so much to Notre Dame football to getting to where it is. Thankfully, it is being changed with the team. That’s easy to see if you can look two inches past a won/loss record that’s 3 whole weeks old.

  8. Zach - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:05 PM

    I won’t be calling for his job, nor will I be defending him at this point. I think he has to know he has made some fairly big mistakes in the last the couple games as well. We need to execute in short yardage better, be more careful with the ball, and stop blowing assignments on D. We play really well defensively only to give up a couple home runs each game… we need more consistency.

  9. BryanW - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:25 PM

    NDNation.com is the reason people call us arrogant and hate Notre Dame. It used to be on the short list of websites I would visit each time I got online. Unfortunately, I had to quit cold turkey at the end of last season. There were actually some posters and admins that were angry that people were saying how good a guy Charlie was, even if the compliment conceded that he had failed as a head coach. That was too much for me. While I still believe that Tyrone was a terrible coach, I regret how cold and hateful I was during that process. I have since come to understand that even if coaches are getting paid “the big bucks” (a phrase many of our own use to excuse the merciless and hateful berating of our coaches), they are still human beings with families. Beyond that, how can we possibly turn on a coach after 3 games? That not only shows a lack of management experience and human decency, but also a complete misunderstanding of the game of football. ND haters often say that our fans are living in the past. The people calling for Kelly’s head after 2 close losses in his first season are living in a time that never was.

  10. Art Vandelay - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:27 PM

    Yeah, give this guy a break. Let’s at least let the whole season play out before we start calling for his head. I was the last guy to support his hiring but I’m the first one to say now that he’s doing all the right things. Leave him alone.
    Hey Keith:
    Please help to stamp out and abolish redundancy:
    “a Saturday date with one of the country’s hottest teams this Saturday afternoon.”

  11. TLNDMA - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:44 PM

    Bryan your last two sentences may be the best thing I’ve ever seen written on this site.

  12. Taylor - Sep 20, 2010 at 6:52 PM

    DaNation is full of idiots. I wouldn’t take what they say very seriously. But the Riddick/Tate comparisons are spot on KA. Watching Theo spin out of tackles and create space where there was little to be found was exciting and promising for the future.
    Keep up the good work.

  13. Ted Kazmar - Sep 20, 2010 at 8:25 PM

    Your words up front are so true: coaching/winning at ND is harder/unlike any other coaching job. Kelly just didn’t understand, now he does. ND can do one thing to help: get completely neutral officials but ND makes a difficult job (head coach) even harder. I just don’t understand this.

  14. WES HOLTZ - Sep 20, 2010 at 8:56 PM

    Does anybody else besides me wish that robert hughes was part of the offense? Miss seeing him plow thru the o-line to pick up the tough yards.

  15. Patrick - Sep 20, 2010 at 10:09 PM

    While the loss on Saturday was hard to take, seeing how much Dayne Crist and Theo Riddick have matured was enlightening. Progress has definitely been made. As for those who are calling for Coach Kelly to befired, they are complete lunatics. After witnessing firsthand the difference Kelly made with the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, it gives me great hope as a Fighting Irish fan for the future of the program. Having Kelly at the helm will make a difference in the future!

  16. #1irishfan - Sep 20, 2010 at 10:32 PM

    He didn’t understand??

  17. CJW - Sep 20, 2010 at 10:40 PM

    What a riot. Look it hurts but this whole season should have never had any expectation at all tied to accept to exectute better and shot continued improvement.
    We may go 6-6 this year people and it won’t mean a thing. In retrospect it took Holtz until he unseated the then King Miami in his 3rd season before people really jumped on the bandwagon.
    Kelly knows what he is doing and is recruiting great so lets just give the man a bit to work it out. I always thought someone who loved ND as much as Chuck did wouldn’t lose. I was wrong and the difference is Kelly hates losing. You can tell and it is a quality that few players and coaches really posses but I can tell. Kelly hates it, dispises, reviles, and abhores losing.
    He should be able to fix ND football and if he can’t then I am done because they will never return to glory if he can’t do it.

  18. ProteinBarGirl - Sep 20, 2010 at 10:46 PM

    Well said.
    @Mark…I’ll second that, too.

  19. OB Domer - Sep 20, 2010 at 10:56 PM

    Couple things
    1) I dont like the Golden Tate/ Theo Riddick comparison. For as well as Riddick played on Saturday night, he still does not look as comfortable or as natural as a fit as Golden did when he started playing receiver. I think the good was the play of Gary Gray. His above average coverage and run support skills has provided a presense in the secondary ND hasnt seen in quite a few years.
    2) Dayne Crist football IQ needs improvement. His situational decision making is very suspect and he needs to understand when you need to dump off the ball and when you need to find a receiver to get the first down. Irish fans need to buckle up because this year is going to be a bumpy ride. We will need to judge Kelly/Crist on how they end the year and not how they start it to see if things are changing in South Bend.

  20. #1irishfan - Sep 20, 2010 at 11:06 PM

    Well I have finally sat and watched the film for the game and the main concern I have is our secondary! Now I know most everyone has already pointed this out but with one guy knocking down two in a simple procedure block on the fake field goal it’s utterly ridiculous!!! If nobody else is gonna slam Harrison I WILL Harrison Smith needs to ride the pine for as long as possible he is not a DIV. 1 safety that is for damn sure!!! Sorry man but if you don’t get your head out of your ars we’re in more trouble than most think!!

  21. mrrandolph - Sep 21, 2010 at 7:13 AM

    The Golden/Theo comparison is interesting.
    After avg. over 20 yards per catch Golden gets all of 15 catches over 12 games his Soph. season. Do you think based on the performance of Theo Saturday night, that BK would have found a way to get Tate the ball 15 times a game. With Golden, we would be 2-1 maybe 3-0. With, Jimmy, probably the same. This wouldn’t be a system complimentary of Jimmy’s talent.

  22. mrrandolph - Sep 21, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    I see where Golden got 15 catches over 3 games. I still think BK would have found more ways to get Golden the ball. Probably would have used him like Florida used Percy Harvin.

  23. borromini - Sep 21, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    I don’t believe any of the “real” fans are calling for a resignation. In fact, I’m willing to bet that these are trolls who are making such posts on ND Nation.

  24. Dayton - Sep 21, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    I agree wholeheartedly with your last sentence. Brian Kelly has won everywhere he has gone. After Holtz, Notre Dame didn’t have a single coach who had proven he could win in college football. Now, we have a coach with the credentials to back up the hype. So, as you said, if Kelly can’t eventually get it done, then I don’t think anyone can. But you are right. I has been hard for me to watch these close defeats, but we have to give the guy time. He needs a couple of years to get the players to completely understand his system. He also needs at least two recruiting classes (not counting this past year since he only had a short amount of time to do it) before we can see his true impact on Notre Dame. Now that I’ve made peace with the fact that this is truly going to be a transition year, I can watch the rest of the games this year without expectation, and the losses won’t be as tough. To be honest, even though the team has had its moments of excellence, I don’t they’ll play consistently enough to win 6 games. I think five is a more realistic goal. Again, I hope I’m wrong, but I think 5 wins is a realistic goal for this team, considering the schedule (which is no cakewalk by the way).

  25. Jeffrey Hauge - Sep 22, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    Living in the past….. The problem is the past is getting further and further away. Notre Dame hasn’t beaten a ranked team in 4 years. That is simply unforgivable.

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