Irish Keys to Victory: Michigan State ’12

stephon tuitt keys
Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7) in game action. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Purdue Boilermakers by the score of 20-17, at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN. (Photo – Robin Alam / Icon Sports Media)

Notre Dame faces a daunting task this weekend with a trip to East Lansing, Michigan to take on the #10 ranked Michigan Spartans in the yearly matchup with their long-time rival.  Notre Dame cruised to an easy victory in South Bend a year ago, but haven’t left Spartan Stadium victorious since the class comeback thriller in 2006.

For Notre Dame to get back to South Bend on Saturday with an unblemished record, they will need to play their most complete, most disciplined game of the season.  Here are the keys to whether or not that Irish return home undefeated or unsure of what type of team they are in 2012.

Let the Kid Play

Brian Kelly has a potential Ferari at quarterback, but so far he hasn’t let Everett Golson out of the garage without training wheels on through two starts this season.  Kelly has taken things very slowly with his sophomore quarterback to ease him into the starting role after the South Carolina native spent all of last season on the scout team.  Well, that may have worked against Navy and Purdue, but it’s not going to work against the 10th ranked Spartans.

Michigan State’s defense is going to want to do all that it cane to disrupt and rattle Golson and won’t allow Kelly into a position where he can wait to see what the defense is doing before he calls his play.  Kelly is going to have to take the training wheels off and let Golson run with the offense a little bit this week if the Irish are going to score enough points to come out on top.

Reestablish the Offensive Line

Will the real Notre Dame offensive line please stand up?  After two weeks of games I think it’s safe to say that the Irish offensive line is not as strong as it looked against Navy and I hope its also safe to say that they aren’t as weak as they looked against Purdue.  With the experience and talent Notre Dame has across the offensive line, there is no reason the line should not be a strength for the Irish going in to almost any matchup.

Last week though the Irish offensive line looked overmatched and lost at times missing assignments and letting Purdue defenders slice through the line untouched.  They just can’t happen again this weekend if Notre Dame has any chance of leaving East Lansing with the upset.   Hoipefully some of the things we saw last week that were cause for concern were more of just some growing pains with the new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s system.  Remember, against Navy the Irish had such an overwhelming size advantage that they could get away with a lot more than they could against Purdue.

Continue to get Pressure with the Defensive Line

Stephon Tuitt has 4 sacks in the first 2 games of the season while Louis Nix has another 1.5 of his both.  Both have been instrumental in getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks without forcing Notre Dame to commit too many blitzers thus allowing for some extra protection for the young corners.  Notre Dame will have to do the same again this week in order to keep pressure off of Kei’Varae Russell, Bennett Jackson, Elijah Shumate, and Jalen Brown.

The injury status of Kapron Lewis-Moore could play a role here.  Not much has been said on KLM’s status for this weekend.  If he or Sheldon Day are unable to go, Notre Dame loses a lot of talent and depth up front which would allow Michigan State to focus some extra attention on Nix and Tuitt.  If they are healthy though and Tuitt and Nix can play like they did last week, Notre Dame should get some solid pressure without having to blitz too much.

Keep Le’Veon Bell in Check

Michigan State’s offense pretty much starts and finishes with their star running back Le’Veon Bell.  He was quiet last week with just 70 yards against Central Michigan, but he was unstoppable in week 1 against Boise State.  Against the Broncos, Bell wracked up 210 yards on the ground (on 44 carries) and another 55 through the air while running for 4 touchdowns.

Like the Notre Dame offensive line, the answer as to how good Bell is going to be this year probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two performances.  Notre Dame did a great job bottling up the Michigan State ground game last year and if they can do it again this year, the Irish will be in a position to come away with a W this weekend.  While Bell had that monster performance against Boise, he average a mere 3.9 yards a carry last week and had a long of 8 yards – yeah 8 yards.

Tackle, Tackle, Tackle

Tackling last week left a lot to be desired – specifically from the linebackers and corners.  Notre Dame gets Danny Spond back which allows Notre Dame to have the two deep it wants across the board at linebacker, and that should help shore up some of the tackling issues since some backers might have been lined up out of place last week. Still, there was a lot of sloppy tackling that needs to be cleaned up in order to slow down Le’Veon Bell.

In the secondary, the Irish are going to have some growing pains in the tackling department with all of the young players – especially since Russell played offense last year in high school and Jackson played sparingly as a reserve.  Notre Dame will benefit from getting Jamoris Slaughter back after the senior missed most of last week’s game after delivering a punishing hit.

Special Teams Magic

Last year’s game against Michigan State really tuend on George Atkinson’s kick off return for a touchdown and I think the Irish are going to need a similar big play out of the special teams units this weekend to have a similar outcome.  Atkinson set up Notre Dame’s game winning drive last weekend with a great return and is certainly capable of busting another long one this weekend.  Davonte Neal might be about ready to break loose on a punt return too.  He hasn’t gotten a chance yet where he has had a lot of space to work with.  If he does this way, I think he gets loose for a big return.

Remember, last year Notre Dame had two turnovers to none for Michigan State at the time of the Atkinson kick return and yet that play gave the Irish a 14-3 lead.  A big play from the special teams can make up for a lot which could come in handy if Kelly does indeed start to take the training wheels off of Golson.

So here’s hoping we see a little of this again this weekend…

Get Healthy in a Hurry

Notre Dame got banged up pretty bad last weekend.  By the end of the game, Notre Dame was without Tyler Eifert, Davaris Daniels, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jamoris Slaughter, and Sheldon Day.  The good news is it looks like most of these guys will play this weekend.  Kelly sounded very optimistic about the chances of Daniels playing yesterday, he specifically said that Slaughter will be full go, and I will be shocked if Eifert doesn’t play.

KLM, however, has not had much said about his status for this weekend which is reason for some concern.  Notre Dame has to be able to not just get pressure up front with the defensive line, but they also need all of the bodies they have up front to keep Bell in check.

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  1. First time at 3-0 in 10 years!!!! This team is off to a great start and even Mark May couldn’t find anything bad to say about ND. ND defeated the #10 team in the country on the ROAD. This team is buying into what Kelly is selling and I think they are hungry.

    They have played 3 BCS programs and have outscored them 87-27. The defense is giving up 9 points a game. I agree with storespook, having the same defense system is starting to pay off.

    Now they need to stay focused and beat the snot out of Michigan. If they do that, then this season could be a great one.

  2. Amen storespook,

    Everyone at ESPN picked Michigan State to win except good old Lou knew what was going on! Even 74% of the people who responded to ESPN’s pre-game survey was WRONG! Alot of people will be dazed and confused tonight! Love it!

    Hey, isn’t this the 1st game for BK without any turnovers??

    Here come the Irish!

  3. ND certainly came to play. I was impressed with the stamina of the defense. They certainly never looked gassed. The secondary is now respectable. The D-line was dominant and in fact really controlled
    the game. Teo is amazing this year. I was always a fan, but I think
    he matched the hype.

    Golson made good mistakes. By that I mean they’ve started to take the
    shrink wrap off. He’ll need to take chances next week.

    The running backs were all great, and Wood being back is key.

    My only criticism on this one was Kelly’s abandoning the running game. I would have liked a little more smash mouth. They need to force some of that and be patient with it.

    Stanford iced USC with a patient but physical running game. ND can do that, but the coaches need to let it unfold through all 60 minutes.

    So now we get to see if ND can stay focused for Michigan.

    Great win for the Irish against a great MSU team.

  4. Walking out of sparty stadium with a W was a good step up the ladder. I think maintaining some continuity for 3 years on the defensive side for coaching is starting to show with the D’s performance tonight. I haven’t seen such intensity for a long time. I hope Diaco sticks around. EG had a good game, the run offense still needs to improve with the OL still needing to get better to help that. It was nice to see 2 straight wins now over sparty.

    How about those Cardinals knocking USC off for the 4th straight year, hahahaha. I’m glad we play both of those teams this year.

    The Irish wave is growing, hopefully it might become a tsunami by the time the end of the season arrives.

    Go Irish

  5. Yeah, TOTAL DOMINATION!!! Herb was in shock. The front three D guys were absolutely amazing! Lynch Who? What zero turnovers too?

    I’m worried Frank won’t have anything to write about?

    Here come the Irish!

    1. JTRAIN,
      You hit the nail on the head. Pus-Berger is such a Big 10 Pimp. But now that ESPN is stealing the SEC from CBS, and also has the ACC, you can bet they will be more favorable to the Irish. Old Brent might not like that.
      They really were surprised.

  6. What about it Chris! Your boy caught a 55 yard ONE HANDED pass with a defender drapped all over him for 6! Ah yes Goodman the man!

    Oh Jackie,

    JC: 1 beer Jack: 0 (You need to listen to your elders!) We will keep score and settle up at the end of the year! I’m sure I can win a six-pack! Hahaha!

    Man, what about the Trench War! EG was outstanding! Well, Kelly and Co. has finally arrived. What about it JTRAIN!

  7. Just wanna say, I am very glad we have the D Line that we do. Puts way less stress on our corners when they don’t have to cover as long. I hated that we were playing conservative because i always say that if you play not to lose you usually end up losing. our d played great and it worked here. also very happy to see us stick with the running game and get it going in the 2nd half. great play call on that 40 yd run by atkinson. pretty pumped for michigan next week.

    p.s. I loved seeing USC lose tonight

  8. hats off to coach Diaco. great defensive game plan. Tuitt and Day make me miss aaron lynch a little less.
    shembo had his best game ever in my opinion.
    the better our D line plays, the less likely i’ll be cursing our corner backs over the course of this season.

    3 and 0 feels good……..beating michigan and going to 4-0…….well i’m not sure we’r that lucky, but that wont stop me from dreaming about it tonight.

  9. This conservative shit with 18 minutes to go in the game SUCKS! I am SOOOO sick of IT! Enrico is absolutely right! Why cant this team play one friggin game for a full 60 minutes? BK;s play calling the second half will lose the game for the Irish!

  10. DDDDD must sustain the pressure..! If there are any
    ND fans out there you know it is usually not a good thing for ND to get an early lead….they go to sleep! Can the momentum continue this night this game for 60 full minutes? D play tough and lay off the damn penalties!!

  11. Michigan State is definately the bellwether game and will set the tone for the season. No “sponge bob” teams here either and would love to get Ohio State in a bowl game and shut them up once and for all.

    AP Poll:

    USC #2
    Oklahoma #5
    Mich St. #10
    Mich #17
    Standford #21
    BYU #25

    Zero time for excuses BK! Just get it done!

    Here come the Irish!

  12. So if this is a must win and BK loses, who is the next coach? Should they fire the AD and Rev. Jenkins? The only coaches according to this board to go get will never leave where there at, Meyer, Sabin and Stoops. Maybe Cowherd is right, we are delusional. This rationale has got ND four coaches in 15 years. Its a game one in twelve they play this year.

    Lets look at the team ND takes into East Lansing. Rookie QB against the 8th ranked defense in the country, Eifert hurt and other players hurt. A middle linebacker who just lost two important people in his life and you are talking about a must win. People need to get a clue, it will be close but I don’t see ND winning this game with Holtz on the sideline.

      1. JC,
        I can never relax with this team. I worry all the time during ND football season. Been watching to much ESPN this week and think we don’t have a chance. Mel Kiper picked the Irish.

        Watching Kansas and now realize why ND had s QB issue last year

  13. No doubt this should be treated as a must win by BK, his staff, the players, the alums, and the fans.

    Indeed we’ve all come to expect the worse from ND football over the las 2 plus decades and settle for the least. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, excuse-making and settling will not lead to a return to greatness for ND football.

    Having said that, BK needs time. Let him have this year and next. then it will be time to evaluate. He’s bringing in top recruiting classes and in college football that’s a key. Let’s see how he dvelops that talent (something Charlie Weis was singularly unable to do).

    Like I said a 10-3 season (with a bowl win) given this brutal schedule will do. Of course, at 2-0, we still can demand more and better.


    1. Steelfanrob

      We disagreed about the purdue game last week but i’m on board with you on this one. No excuses this time around. Yea its a night game, away, and sparty has won 14/15 straight at home but thats why they play the game. This game is all about the character of this team.

  14. The time for buying into lowering expectations is over. This IS a must win for the Irish. I agree with Frank A.

    Golson must be protected better this game and the O line better find their jocks and play a hell of a game! The old adage remains true – as the offensive line goes so goes Notre Dame.

    The focus will be on Bell and stopping the running game which makes me think MSU will use Bell as a decoy and open it up through the air. The secondary better play tough cause they will get a lot of action tonight. A good intangible may be the grief Manti has gone through this week. I feel horrible for him but hope he uses that emotional energy as a dedication to his loved ones through his play. He should be ready to go, hopefully the rest of the D has his back in the process.

    It should be a good game and ND needs this W big time. The schedule only gets tougher although I dont think Michigan is all that this year.

    If the O line dominates like they are capable of and we establish a running game, it should bode well for the Irish. This is a game ND used to drool over – under dogs, on the road, at night against a team that has a 15 game winning streak at home. All the making for a moment this year that could raise a cloud of doubt that has been over this program for a long time. We as fans are not just hungry, we are starving! Hope the Irish have the same fire in their bellies tonight! GO IRISH – kick some Spartan ass!

  15. Easy frank! Slow down take a deep breath. A loss to a top 10 Michigan state team at home in a night game by a td of less isnt panic mode. Beat Michigan and your 3-1. Then beat Miami and your 4-1. That’s a good start.

  16. This single game could be the future of Coach Kelly. Lose this one and chatter will begin on replacing Kelly as Head Coach and will continue. Win this game and Kelly may have finally turned the corner. I know it’s not logical to place so much emphasis one a single game, but this game is more then Huge for Notre Dame and Kelly. An Irish loss will once again place doubt in the minds of players for future big games. BGI has proven that the Irish have the players to compete at the BCS level. The rest is Coaching. Confusion, missed tackles, poor coverage and an anemic running game have been just a few of the problems in Big Games in the past. This game Must be different. This game is a must win for Kelly and his future at Notre Dame.

  17. The next 2 games with State & skunkbear will show where our program is headed.
    I think we go 1 – 1.
    However, we can very easy go 0 -2
    We need to run the ball more and play solid defense. We looked soft at times, and we depended on the pass too often.
    I have been a believe of Kelly up until now based on his past records, but if we go 0 -2 , people will start jumping off the bangwagon.

  18. The Irish are really going to need to run on all cylinders. No player or group can afford to be tuned out. That offensive line must block and create holes. That will dictate everything else. All other units will be overwhelmed if the offensive line can’t get it done. MSU is too talented and too well coached not to take advantage of the pressure that will fall on the other units if the offensive line can’t push.

    At Navy, several units looked great including the offensive line, but not all units played well. Meanwhile against Purdue, the unit most questionable, the secondary played well enough. But without a dominant offensive line, the game was much closer. Everyone talks about Golson being a future wunderkind and I wouldn’t refute that. But he’ll look like crap if the offensive line can’t protect. To protect they need to get mean and hammer.

    The whole team needs to be ready. But this game will hinge on the offensive line.

  19. We will see where this team is at this weekend. no jetlag, no excuses. Either the OL plays with some urgency (especially helping out EG)and the D doesn’t get beat on big plays, something Sparty has done in the past to win games against ND, especially at sparty stadium. Either walkout 3-0 because 2-1 doesn’t bring any “moral victory” crap to the table. Hit ’em hard Irish.

    Go ND

  20. How about trying to block a punt for once! You can still set up the return even if you are trying to block the punt.

  21. Golson will see a lot of pressure, Mich St d line is just as good prob better then purdue. Hopefully he plays like last weeek, except for ball security.( holds ball like a loaf of bread at times) He has the scrambling ability, which could come up huge.Would not suprise me to see old tommy at some point, he did play and beat them last year. Also, senior on the road, at night, and kelly just seems to like him.

  22. George Atkinson has to be given the opportunity to carry the ball more than ONCE the entire game for us to see “a little of this again this weekend.” Coach Kelly, don’t give up entirely on the running game this week without even trying and get the ball to Atkinson, who is truly a dangerous play maker.

  23. “Last week though the Irish offensive line looked overmatched and lost at times missing assignments and letting Purdue defenders slice through the line untouched. They just can’t happen again this weekend if Notre Dame has any chance of leaving East Lansing with the upset.”

    If it somehow does reoccur again the O-linemen + O-line Coordinator should realize it could cost Notre Dame their starting QB! MSU is strong.

  24. The frustrating thing about “letting EG play” is that I can’t help but feel that fear of mistakes and miscues has become part of ND’s DNA. Why didn’t Atkinson handle the ball last week? Tight game, can’t make a mistake. Why didn’t Lynch and Tuitt get to go after Denard last year? Afraid they might make a mistake. So, why can’t EG come out slinging this week? He might make a mistake. So, we will be conservative and give him a bunch of 3rd and 8s.

  25. Amen Frank Amen,

    “Let the Kid Play,” EG has to have the “green light” for this game! We definately need more of EG’s talent vs over thinking everything. Otherwise it will look like we are delivering newspapers that didn’t hit the porch!

    Here come the Irish!

  26. There’s really only one key to victory – jump on MSU early and get a good lead. That’s the only way to keep Bell from being a factor, only way to protect Golson from some last minute “heroics”, etc.

    I highly doubt ND will jump ahead by 3-4 TD’s, but without a substantial lead, we’re going to have to see Golson engineer a comeback/final game-winning drive, it puts more pressure on the defense, on punt coverage, on field goals, etc.

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