Turnovers, Mistakes Plague Irish Offense in Loss

(UHND.com) – Notre Dame lost its first game of the season on Saturday when they traveled to East Lansing for their yearly matchup with Michigan State.  The Spartans held the Irish to just 7 points in a 23-7 Irish loss while their star running back Javon Ringer rang up 201 yards on the ground.  The Irish, however, were not without plenty of chances to put more points on the scoreboard.  Turnovers and mistakes in and around the red zone left the Irish wondering what could have been.

“I think when they watch the tape tomorrow morning they’re going to see evidence of how many plays, that if one guy, one guy would have done his job better, the chance for success might have been that much better,” head coach Charlie Weis said when he met with the media on Sunday.

Finding that evidence in the film review won’t be hard for Weis and the Irish coaches – there were plenty of instances of Notre Dame not capitalizing on opportunities given to them from start to finish.

Notre Dame 2008 Red Zone Chances

Drive Opponent Results
1. SDSU Fumble
2. SDSU Missed FG (Snap)
3. SDSU Interception
4. SDSU Touchdown
5. SDSU Downs (end of game)
6. Mich Touchdown
7. Mich Touchdown
8. Mich Touchdown
9. Mich Interception
10. MSU Fumble
11. MSU Missed FG (Kick)

*Read the full blog post Notre Dame’s Red Zone Woes over on the UHND.com Blog

After sophomore linebacker Brian Smith forced a Javon Ringer fumble giving the Irish offense the ball near mid-field, Notre Dame found itself on the doorsteps of the red zone at the Michigan State red zone.  On first and 10 from the 24 Jimmy Clausen dropped back and threw a fade into double coverage to Duval Kamara in the end zone with Michigan State’s Otis Wiley coming down with the ball.

It could be argued that Kamara at 6’5” should have been able to at least prevent the interception, but it could also be argued that the throw should never had been made.  Kamara was facing double coverage and Clausen should have most likely checked down and hit a secondary receiver or threw the ball out of the end zone and lived to play another down.

Clausen’s interception was the only costly turnover for the Irish on Saturday though.  With Notre Dame driving down the field with a goose egg still on the scoreboard in the late third quarter, the Irish entered the red zone for the first time in the game only to fumble the ball away on a completed pass to freshman Michael Floyd.

Add in a third turnover in the form of another Clausen interception inside his own 20 earlier in the game and you have a recipe for offensive struggles.

“You turn the ball over three times. Twice it’s going in. Once in your own territory,” Weis said Sunday.  “You’re keeping you from scoring points or you’re giving them points. “

Turnovers weren’t the only miscues which haunted the Irish on Saturday though.  A few costly, easily avoidable penalties either stalled drives before they got going or threw the breaks drives that were looking promising.

One the very first drive of the game, Notre Dame was looking at a 3rd and 12 from their own 24 before a personal foul penalty on Sam Young cost the Irish another 12 yards and pretty much ended any hope for the drive.  When you are playing on the road and are already facing a difficult third down, you can’t make matters worse on yourself by losing your cool and giving the defense another 12 yards.

The most costly penalty for the Irish, however, stalled a much more promising drive.  With Notre Dame trailing 16-7 midway through the fourth quarter the Irish were knocking on the doorsteps again.  On a 2nd and 10 from the Michigan State 18 yard line, Clausen connected with Kamara for what would have been a first and goal, but the play was negated by a James Aldridge false start.  Aldridge, who wasn’t even a receiver in the play, drew the flag and push the Irish back to the 23 where the drive would die.

“I’m more concerned with James’ false start, because James’s false start on that play, if you recall, we completed a pass to us first and goal on the 6 or 7 yard line, because the play actually took place,” Weis said of the false start on Sunday.

That drive would be the last time the Irish would reach the red zone on Saturday making Notre Dame 0 for 2 in red zone scoring attempts in the game.  Michigan State meanwhile converted their trips to the red zone.  The Spartans were 4 for 4 in the red zone with two touchdowns and 2 field goals – 20 of their 23 points all came from within the red zone.

Does anyone think it is a coincidence that the team which scored points every time they reached the red zone won the game and the team that didn’t score any points when they reached the red zone?
This wasn’t the first time the Irish failed to score when they reached the red zone this season.  It was just the first time it came back to haunt them.  In the season opener against San Diego State, Notre Dame converted on just 1 of 5 trips inside their opponent’s 20 yard line.

The reason these mistakes were as devastating as they were for the Irish offense on Saturday is because this is still a young team that really isn’t capable of overcoming these kind of errors and beating a fundamentally sound football team like Michigan State.  “When you’re a team that’s learning, that’s learning and growing and getting better, those are the types of mistakes that you can’t afford to make if you intend to win,” said Weis Sunday.

Against San Diego State Notre Dame was able to overcome their red zone woes because of the talent differential.  Michigan State might not be a top 10 team, but they certainly no San Diego State and showed they were more than capable of making Notre Dame pay for their mistakes.

Because this is still a young team, especially on offense, it will be interesting to see how they respond to the loss and watching the mistakes they made when they review the film on Monday.  “In the morning I want to see them disappointed,” said Weis.   “Because when they watch the tape I want them to see evidence on the tape that that one play at a time mentality that I was talking about before, there were plenty of single plays that could have changed the complexion of that game,” he would add.

A week ago it was Notre Dame capitalizing on its opponents mistakes and scoring when they got down in the red zone.  Against Michigan Notre Dame was 3 for 4 inside the Wolverines 20 yard line during their 35-17 win in South Bend so the Irish have shown that they are capable of putting points on the board once they get down the field.

Such was not the case for Notre Dame this past weekend though and right now the Irish, as Charlie Weis said Sunday, are just not capable of being able to overcome those kind of mistakes.

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