September 25, 2006 // Michigan State

Post Game Report Card: Michigan State

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Based on some feedback from last week, we’ll try doing the post game report card a little different this week. Instead of assigning alphabetical grades to each unit, we’re going to analyze the different matchups and simply say which unit had the advantage. The reason being that assigning grades is very subjective, so we’ll give this a try this week and see how it goes.

Quarterbacks

This was a matchup of two very good quarterbacks in Drew Stanton and Brady Quinn. For three quarters, Stanton held the advantage in this one after leading his team to a 37-21 lead heading into the final period of play. Early on Quinn had the “deer in the headlights” look again and struggled mightily with accuracy early on. Stanton on the other hand was hitting his receivers in stride, escaped any pressure the Irish applied, and hurt the Irish with his arm and his feet. Quinn also tossed a horrible interception in the second quarter just as the Irish were gaining momentum which the Spartans returned for a touchdown giving them a 24-7 lead.

The fourth quarter, however, belonged to Brady and the Irish. Quinn tossed two of his five touchdown one to Jeff Samardzjia and the other to Rhema McKnight to bring the Irish within four. Stanton meanwhile completely collapsed in the fourth quarter. His fumble with just over six minutes remaining gave the Irish a short field and allowed them to make it a one possession game. Stanton then tossed two interceptions to Terrail Lambert in the final three minutes, one which was returned for a touchdown and other coming with less than 30 seconds remaining.

Brady might not have looked great early, but he finished with five touchdown passes and engineered a rather improbable fourth quarter comeback while Stanton had a chance to put the Irish away and couldn’t.
Advantage: Notre Dame

Running Backs
Javon Ringer and Jason Caulcrick combined for 187 yards on 20 carries and nearly put the game away in the third quarter when the Irish were gaining some momentum. Until the fourth quarter, the Notre Dame defense had major troubles trying to bring down both backs. The duo was especially effective in the third quarter when the rains came pouring down on Spartan Stadium.

The Irish unfortunately could not generate such a running game. Darius Walker was the only back to get any carries for Notre Dame and the junior managed just 47 yards on 11 carries. While Walker’s average wasn’t too bad, his ineffectiveness on first down put the Irish in multiple second and long situations.

The problem for Notre Dame here is really a lack of depth at the position. While Munir Prince is listed as the second half back, Weis is mostly likely leary of using his 165 pound freshman, at least in the running game, until he adds some size. In essnese, the Irish have just one back and having one back play the entire game is a lot to ask of any one player. Hopefully the return of freshman James Aldridge this week can take some of the load off Walker and give the Irish a more effective running game.
Advantage: Michigan State

Wide Receivers
Jeff Samardzija had his first 100 yard game of the season and added his 3rd and 4th touchdowns of the season from 17 and 43 yards out. For the first time this year, Samardzija, looked like the All American we saw last year. He held onto the ball for the most part and made some tough moves with the ball in his hands after the catch. Samardzija ended up with seven catches for 113 yards. His running mate, Rhema McKnight, made up for his poor performance a week ago with four catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Both of McKnight’s touchdowns were excellent catches in the corner of the endzone with the fifth year senior getting his foot down in bounds both times.

Notre Dame tight end John Carlson continued to impress this week as well with his first career 100 yard game with a four catch 121 yards performance which included a 62 yard touchdown on a fourth down in the third quarter.

After last week’s performance, the Irish wideouts stepped up their game and rebounded nicely.

Across the field, the Michigan State receivers did fairly well, when give a chance. Drew Stanton ended the game with only 114 yards through the air so the receivers didn’t get much work other than blocking. Kerry Reed got lined up against Maurice Crum in the first quarter and did exactly what a wide receiver lined up on a linebacker should do – he scored. After that however, the biggest play from a Spartan receiver was a touchdown pass from Matt Trannon to Javon Ringer on a trick play. Speaking of Trannon, his presence on the Notre Dame sideline which sparked a scuffle, gave the Irish life for the first time all game.
Advantage: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Michigan State Defensive Line
For the fourth week in a row, the Notre Dame offensive line failed to control the line of scrimmage early and the Irish could not establish the running game. Brady Quinn got sacked twice, but was pressured often during the first three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, the line anchored down and gave Quinn plenty of time to find his receivers. Once he had time, Quinn was locked in and the Irish offense marched down the field for two fourth quarter touchdown drives. The problems with the line, however, are a bit troubling considering the experience this line has. The mental problems and penalties continue.
Advantage: Michigan State

Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. Michigan State Offensive Line
Despite the gaudy rushing average, I think the Notre Dame defensive line played fairly well. For the second week in a row, the problems stopping the run did not lye with the defensive line. Caulcrick ran over, literally, Notre Dame defenders multiple times and shoddy tackling in the linebacking corps and secondary led to bigger gains than necessary.

When the Irish needed stops in the second half, the defensive line rose to the occasion the entire second half. Chris Frome left everything on the field and turned in a great game. He played with a ton of heart out there and his impact was felt. Derek Landri, Trevor Laws, and Victor Abiamiri also turned in some tough, gritty performances in the second half as well. Laws, Landri, and Abiamiri each registered a sack for the Irish.

For the first three quarters, the defensive line was one of the few bright spots for the Irish.
Advantage: Notre Dame

Linebackers
Notre Dame continues to play a lot of nickel packages which is in part due to the poor performance from the linebackers. Travis Thomas got run over a couple of times by Caulcrick and the linebackers in general had a lot of trouble containing Drew Stanton. One play in particular stood out to me. Early in the first quarter, the Spartans were facing a third and five near mid field. It appeared as Crum was in a “qb spy” position, but Stanton ran right by him and gained 27 yards for the first down.

The linebacking corps is definitely an area of concern over the final eight games of the season. There is more speed this year from the linebackers, but the overall lack of size has made the Irish much more susceptible to the run this year.
Advantage: Michigan State

Secondary
The Notre Dame secondary played much better this week than they did a week ago. The first touchdown to Reed was just a bad matchup. Reed got lined up one on one with Maurice Crum and took advantage. In coverage, the secondary played a good game. Michigan State receivers didn’t run wild like the Wolverine receivers did last week.

Terrail Lambert was blasted on every message board around the past week, but the junior turned in a career game. He had two picks, one of which he returned for the game winning touchdown. His other pick ended the Michigan State comeback attempt, sealing the Irish win.

Freshman Darrin Walls played a lot with Ambrose Wooden nicked up and the best thing I can say is I didn’t notice him. When you don’t notice a cornerback, he is doing his job well. Minter even had Walls lined up one on one with Matt Trannon at times. Mike Richardson turned in a whale of a game as well. He made a great play to tip Stanton’s final pass and made two tackles for loss in run support.

The Irish safeties had a lot of trouble stopping the run, something that is normally a strength for them. Tommy Zbikowski and Chinedum N’Dukwe both were flattened on a couple of plays and had trouble with tackling on other occasions as well. N’Dukwe, however, would come up with a huge forced fumble in the fourth quarter setting up an Irish touchdown.
Advantage: Even

Special Teams
Notre Dame missed an extra point, fumbled a punt, and couldn’t get much going on the kick return despite some promising looks. Weather played a role in some of the special teams woes this week as the Spartans missed an extra point as well in the driving rain. Geoff Price continued to be impressive this week with a 43.3 punting average. That average would have been much higher had it not been for some crazy wind knocking down a couple of his punts.
Advantage: Even

Coaching
For three quarters it looked like John L Smith was about to be 2-0 against Charlie Weis, and then, as he did a year ago in South Bend, Smith got conservative and called off the dogs. Weis and Notre Dame would take advantage with the improbable comeback. I was very surprised that the Irish did not come out fired up and failed to match the intensity the Spartans brought to the table. It shouldn’t take an opposing receiver coming to your sideline to get you fired up.

The Weis’s credit, he kept his player’s heads in the game when it looked bleak at best. It would have been very easy for Weis to lose the team when they were down 37-21 in the fourth quarter, but unlike previous regimes, Weis didn’t lose his team and they came back and stole one.
Advantage: Notre Dame

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