On the surface, Quinn had a great game setting the school record for touchdowns in a game and throwing for the 2nd most yards in a single game in Notre Dame history. Quinn completed 33 of 60 passes for 487 yards and 5 touchdowns. Despite the record breaking performance however, Quinn missed open receivers at critical times and threw a costly interception to start the 3rd quarter.
Its hard to find fault in a quarterback who threw for almost 500 yards and 5 touchdowns, but with the way that the Michigan State defense was playing, he could have had 600 yards and more touchdowns. Quinn misfired on multiple plays were he had receivers open that could have scored but misfired. This game showed that Quinn can rally this team, but that he still has a long way to go in the Charlie Weis offense. He has the complete trust of his teammates, but needs to improve his accuracy to elevate his game to the next level.
Darius Walker had no where to run in the first half and barely had 20 yards. Walker however had better results in the 2nd half and finished with his third straight 100 yard rushing game. Walker did a little too much shake and bake at times though and turned plays that missed out on some big play opportunities. Many times his vision and elusiveness allows him to make something out of nothing, but there were times Saturday when he would have been better to just trust his instincts.
Walker did a pretty good job picking up the Michigan State blitz as well. Freshman Asaph Schwapp got a hard dose of reality this weekend with his 3rd quarter fumble at the 1 and his inability to pick up a first down on 4th and 1 in the 4th quarter. Schwapp will be an outstanding fullback for this team in due time, but today he played like, well, a freshman.
Like Quinn, Maurice Stovall had a huge game that looks better in the stat sheet than it did if you watches the game. Stovall had 8 catches for 176 yards and came up with some clutch catches, but he had some very costly drops and got outmuscled on a jump ball in the end zone. Stovall also had a costly holding penalty on a 4th quarter Darius Walker touchdown run. Despite the miscues, Stovall stepped up his game in the absence of Rhema McKnight — he’ll still hear about the drops from Ianello and Weis however.
Jeff Samardjiza had another banner game. Heading into this season, he had no career touchdowns. Through 3 games, he has 5 this year including 3 against Michigan State on Saturday. Samardjiza was sure handed and is developing into a top notch receiver for the Irish. Matt Shelton had his first strong performance of the year with 6 catches for 87 yards.
Tight end Anthony Fassano continues to show why he is one of the best tight ends in the country by catching everything thrown his way. Fassano had 7 catches for 93 yards. Freshman David Grimes saw his first real playing time and caught his first pass for 11 yards. He only had one catch, but I liked what I saw. He showed good quickness and sure hands.
The line gave Quinn all day to pass at times throughout the game, but got outplayed in the first half by the Michigan State defense front. Darius Walker had little room to run and had to most of his damage on his own. I thought the offensive line would be able to control the line of scrimmage against the Spartans, but it took way too long for Notre Dame to establish the running game.
In the 4th quarter however, the offensive line held tough and gave Quinn the time he needed to lead the Irish on 2 scoring drives to tie the game. Notre Dame’s inability to control the line of scrimmage early forced Notre Dame to pass more than they would have liked to. Notre Dame was unable to run effectively until late in the game when they were in catch up mode with Michigan State expecting passes.
The line also had too many procedural penalties that put Notre Dame in some situations they didn’t need to be in.
Notre Dame got very little pressure on Drew Stanton until later in the game and produced no sacks. Victor Abiamiri saw a lot of double teams and was ineffective most of the game. Without the presence of a blitz Michigan State doubled Abiamiri most of the day.
After blocking passes left and right last week, the Irish defensive line didn’t deflect a single pass this week. The push up the middle for the Irish was weak most of the time. Derek Landri made a nice play on Michigan State’s last drive of regulation, but the line was outplayed by Michigan State’s offensive line.
At times the linebackers played very well, and at times they made some bone head plays. Two of the worst came on the same play. On one particular Drew Stanton scramble in the 2nd quarter, Brandon Hoyte came on the blitz. Stanton pumped and Hoyte bit big time and jumped. Stanton ran around the airborne Hoyte and scrambled for a first down only to be tackled out of bounds by Maurice Crum for a 15 yard penalty. Instead of 3rd and long, Michigan State had great field position and went on to score on the drive.
Crum however made some sure tackles to stop drives throughout the game. Hoyte however played below the standard he’s set for himself so far this year and Corey Mays blitzing skills were not seen against the Spartans who picked up the Notre Dame blitz well on the few occasions Notre Dame did blitz.
The Irish secondary had some chances to make big plays. Chinendum N’Dukwe wiffed on an interception that would have been a sure touchdown in the early goings of the first quarter which gave ended up giving Michigan State a first down and eventually led to a touchdown. Mike Richardson also had a chance for an interception that he dropped in the 3rd quarter with the Irish trailing.
Michigan State averaged over 20 yards a completion. Ambrose Wooden played well in coverage with Michigan State testing Mike Richardson more than Wooden. On the Spartans first touchdown, Tom Zbikowski was late in coverage.
Tommy Z has been great so far this year, but he has to improve his deep help to become an elite safety. He has the toughness and speed to become one of the top safeties in the country, but needs to improve his deep cover skills. His forced fumble with 2 minutes to go set up the offense with a chance to win the game.
The Irish special teams were fairly average against Michigan State. There were no big returns for Notre Dame and kick coverage was spotty. The Irish did force a fumble on a kickoff however which set the offense up nicely, but they also had a punt blocked.
DJ Fitzpatrick was 2 of 3 on field goals hitting from 43 and 48 and missing from 48. Can’t fault him for missing on a 48 yarder which is by no means a chip shot. Fitzpatrick did pin 2 punts inside the 20 and averaged 40 yards on his punts. Notre Dame has to improve in the return game however. They haven’t even been close to breaking one for a touchdown yet this year.
Charlie Weis tasted a loss as a head coach for the first time. Weis had some questionable calls such as going for it on 4th and 1 with nearly 8 minutes remaining from the MSU 20 yard line. There will be plenty of second guessing of Weis this week, but he did have his players in position to make plays on offense.
On defense, Rick Minter will see some criticism this week as well after his defense shut down Michigan only to give up 44 points to Michigan State. He and Bill Lewis have a lot of work to do yet with the secondary.
The silver lining here i
s that the staff kept the team’s head in the game and got them to rally. While there are no morale victories as Weis said, it was nice to see the a coaching staff hold the team together instead of seeing them meltdown as they have in the past. The staff still has a lot of work to do, but my confidence in this staff has not been shaken, but for today, they have some issues to deal with.