Duranko’s Digest: What We Saw in East Lansing?

Sep 15, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7), running back Cierre Wood (20), cornerback Josh Atkinson (43), running back Theo Riddick (6), and center Braxston Cave (52) celebrate after Notre Dame defeated the Michigan State Spartans 20-3 at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Spearheaded by a brutal, dominating defense, augmented by an opportunistic offense, Notre Dame moved to 3-0 against gritty Michigan State. The Irish, moving up in class, were able to handle business against those sturdy Spartans.  In any emotional game, the first task is to weather the early storm.  The Spartan were ready and were prickly during the first quarter. But their power never got the better of our power, and our superiority wore them down. Still, the Spartans fought and scrapped in a manner worthy of the legacy of their nickname.  They had to try to beat us physically, as their passing attack is still rebuilding after the departure of last year’s veterans.

There were two litmus tests for this game that were offered last week, one input driven and the other output oriented.  The Irish held LeVeon Bell to 77 yards and 19 rushing attempts, well meeting the 20 carry/100 yard standard listed last week.  This pushed Dantonio and his offense out of their comfort zone, resulting in 45 Spartan pass attempts.  On the output test, the Irish were comfortably in control as the fourh quarter began. The better team was winning and controlling the action.

On offense, we saw more movement of the quarterback, the first glimpses of draws and screens, the deep ball (Hi, Chris Brown, even though it was incomplete we see that you can “take the top off the defense”) and the two back sets.

We saw one other thing Saturday in East Lansing.  It was the end of an era, too long in its vibrance, when teams thought you could beat the Irish by pounding us on the ground and being intimidating up front with superior size, power, quickness and aggression. Not any more.  It’s different now.  We have vulnerabilities but not THAT vulnerability.

Prettiest play of the game: Worthy of including in film study for clinics, the oft-maligned Dan Fox, with about a minute left in the first quarter, latched onto Bell as he circled out of the backfield, stayed with him and batted the ball away.  Slow linebackers? Can’t cover out of the backfield?  Are you talking to me???????

As usual, our defense was ferocious led by the nastiness of the front seven. This unit has not merely size but they play with some darkness in their hearts.  This is the best ground and pound offense we will face until Stanford brings their herd of moose to South Bend on Oct. 13th.  If you don’t believe me, ask Lane Kiffin.

The Irish walked off 3-0.  That has not happened in a decade. A DECADE!!

How good are the Irish?

Wood’s return was more than a blessing, strengthening two positions, RB and the slot. Riddick is now facile in both roles, and that will help down the road.

Golson and the Irish passing attack are like the dance of the seven veils. We can see more of the flesh of the Irish passing attack each Saturday. This week it was the two back sets, long ball, flares and screens and more pocket movement.

By the time the team leaves for Norman in October for the season’s 8th game, the seven veils will have been dropped, and  all will have been revealed.

Let’s rate the Irish units according to our four tier standard: BCS Bowl level,New Year’s Day bowl level, bowl level, and Stay Home!

BCS Bowl level

TE’s: led by America’s best tight end, Tyler Eifert, and with game ready studs like Niklas and Koyack, this unit is the cornerstone of the offense.  And now, they all block, with vigor. Especially Niklas. Seriously, have you even noticed the absence of Alex Welch?

Front Seven: three NFL prospects, huge and powerful, start it off upfront. Stephon Tuitt is the most terrifying sight in South Bend since Fat Eddie was blissfully doling out towels at the Rock.  The linebackers, quietly, have matured, added depth and been coached up.  The LBS have a lot of minutes played in their careers.

You want to talk depth?  Our second string front seven is Hounshell, Schwenke/Springman, Day, Spond/Okwara, Calabrese, Grace/Moore and Ishaq freakin’ Williams.  Second string.  Better than half the first string front 7’s in the no longer eponymous Big X.  Admittedly, pass rush is not their strong suit and there are quicker front sevens.  But foes underestimate our front seven at their peril.

New Year’s Day Bowl Level

OL: effective veterans who are tough, fine run blockers and who can protect Golson. This ranking is provisional, because after Purdue, they still have some splainin’ to do. But the OL is seriously depth-challenged, with only Heggie having earned minutes before this year.  Recall the impact from Cave’s injury last year.  This OL is even more vulnerable to loss of a starter. The second string, however, is getting  some game experience. They need more minutes.  This unit could move up a notch by mid season.

RBS: depth, speed, agility, ability to catch the ball.  We haven’t seen this much functional depth with high skill level since the Holtz teams of the early 90’s.  Let’s see how Wood performs for a couple of games. And let’s see the next iteration of the multiple back set.  But this unit may be movin’ on up.

Bowl Game level

QBS: Golson is still an embryo.  So far he has adhered, materially, to Rule #1 “Do no harm.” One mistake a game, the interception against Navy, the fumble against Purdue. He has pleasantly surprised with his pocket discipline and more than surprised with his command presence.  Sometimes he shows his hoop DNA and looks like a floor general.  He has miles to go with recognition, audibles and progressions, but the train has left the station.  And he is a “viable” embryo.

He has given us glimpses of the “It” play, college football’s most dangerous (long pass to Niklas against Purdue the bomb to Goodman on Saturday). When the pocket breaks down, he can scramble, and not just run for yardage, which is good, but look downfield, reset and complete the pass, which is great.  This technique is the bete noire of defensive coordinators.
There are two key differences in quarterbacking and its coaching which distinguish this year from  ’10 and ’11. First, Molnar is no longer a DMZ, buffering Kelly from the QBS. Second, so far, we have not had to pop the clutch to shift from Dayne Christ, either because of injury or implosion-real or imagined.

And, riddle me this: Does any other D-1 school have a back-up quarterback who has won 12 games, 9 of them against BCS conference teams?  Appreciate Rees, he’s earned it. Two words: Pat Dillingham.

We are no longer there.

If Golson continues with just incremental improvement, this unit should move up later in Autumn.

WRS: Assets are TJ Jones, Toma, Daniels, Goodman and football’s most toxic asset-potential. There have been initial pixels filling in the WR picture from  Neal, Ferguson and Smith. Again, incremental improvement (being coached up)is the key requirement.  You’d like to have 4 WRs with 25 or more catches for the year.  Right now, that’s a reach.

Take solace in this: in 2014, Golson-or Kiel- will be throwing to TEs Niklas, Koyack, Welch and Heuerman, and WRS Daniels, Neal, Brown, Ferguson, Onwualu, Robinson and Fuller.  Hmmmmm….


Secondary: Yikes!. Kelly has to be positive, encouraging, enabling.  That  is his job.  But this is where the Irish will be attacked. Sure, there is athletic ability with the starting corners, but they thirst for time and experience.  Beyond them? A black hole.  Remember we have yet to play against a good, veteran quarterback with good, veteran receivers.

This unit impacts the entire team.  Our vaunted front seven will not reap “coverage sacks,” a staple of great all-around defenses.  The front seven’s ability to stuff the run could become a mere poisoned pawn.  Diaco will have to tilt his schemes to protect the secondary.  He admitted so even before Lo Wood’s reluctant Achilles.

Offensively, Kelly, Martin want to be patient with Golson and the young colts at WR.  But he will need to be nudged out along the risk/reward arc to be able to outscore opponents, if needed.

Keiverae Russell, when all is said and done, may be the pivotal player in determining Notre Dame’s success this season.  He’s got a little cockiness, and that ain’t bad.  You can tame a wild duck but you can’t “wild” a tame duck.

It is what it is.
And it’s why we have coaches.
Hey, nobody said it would be easy.
But this unit has shown sparks.  It can move up with continued improvement at the corners.

Irish and opponent rankings:

OU: an odd schedule, only playing three times in the month of September.  To stay here, they have to handle K-State on Saturday night.

USC: One of many 2-1 teams in America, second best record in LA! Stanford sort of beat them up, 202-26 rushing edge.  Does SC have a championship level defense?

Stanford: Still tough, lead with defense and running, but Nunes is at least adequate, and the Cardinal can throw the ball, even Luck-lessly.

Michigan: still dangerous, though the 2012 edition will be weaker than 2011 or 2013. Don’t look at Denard’s deficiencies, remember his strengths. Your scar tissue will tell you.

Notre Dame: relax, gun to our head, they are ranked higher. But we must accept that Michigan and Stanford have each beaten our Irish thrice consecutively.  It all sorts out by the Ides of October.

Michigan State: tough, great d, but lack impact players to be explosive offensively, especially in passing game.  Leading with Bell will be a tough road against OSU and Michigan.

Miami: Golden holding team together until the scandals are past and his agenda is installed.

BYU: The University of Our Founder had 55 wives @Provo was, as last year, exposed by Utah. Let’s see how they perform against Boise.

Purdue: an intriguing team in a weakened conference.  By 2014, it will be the Big 2 and the Little 10.  You can guess the Two.

BC: always gritty, Spaz’ defense is coming along. Bent a lot but didn’t break against Northwestern.

Wake: FSU is several levels above Wake, but as North Carolina found out, Grobe will steal a few.

Pitt: different team since halftime of the Cincy game.  Have some top tier athletes, actually one less than Tino Sunseri thinks they have.

Navy: served up PSU’s first win. Is AFA the favorite for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy?

What will we learn this Saturday?

Most of football’s hackneyed mantras are both untrue and insipid. The chatter often is “this is a must-win game.” The rule is that this is just not true. The Saturday against Michigan is the exception, which proves the rule. It will validate the player’s efforts since the FSU game, efforts in the weight room, spring practice, summer work and all of August and September.  The four games will have been well worth the candle. A huge fork in the road for not just the team, but the program.  Saturday precedes the off week and a win Saturday will fertilize and irrigate the teaching soil for the next two weeks.

Denard Robinson is 3-0 against the Irish.  There is something offensive, nearly profane, about the thought that he might become the first QB to go 4-0 against Notre Dame.

(1) Mattison will have observed what of Dantonio’s shtick worked, what didn’t, and what Mattison will try that Golson hasn’t seen.  Remember, since last seen on Nd’s sideline, Mattison has toiled for Florida and as DC for the Baltimore Ravens.

(2) Last year, Diaco’s game plan was conservative, sitting back, with a priority of containing Robinson’s runs and making him beat us with his arm.  Risk versus reward. And at the end of the third quarter, the rewards were in the Irish barn, with the score ND 24 Michigan 7. But then that outlaw, risk, arrived, Michigan hung 28 on the Irish, and the glistening golden Irish eyes turned a dull Gray.  With a tougher front seven, and less experienced corners, you’d expect Diaco to play similarly, but will he? And will cackling maize colored chickens come home to roost on our secondary?

(3) Last year, our offense hung 513 yards and 28 first downs against the Michigan defense. Remember, last year, the Blue won games on offense, not defense.  Will we control clock?

(4) So far, Michigan has not won a big road game in the Hoke tenure. Will this be the first?

Seen on a sign at Fayetteville’s First Baptist Church in 1965:
“Football is only a game
Spiritual things are eternal.
Nevertheless, beat Texas!”

Well, you know the drill.
Spirituality can wait until Sunday.

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  1. I’d prefer to read about ND football versus religious/political discourse on this blog. Otherwise, Duranko, I enjoyed the original post for the most part.

  2. Irish eyes are smiling because the legendary Fat Eddie is finally receiving the recognition he has never deserved. Great reference for the Irish of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. Unfortunately, the rest of the readers probably don’t have any idea who you’re talking about

  3. Big-D,

    Welcome to UHND!

    Just some friendly advice…

    Politics, & Religion, much like alcohol, should be taken in moderation.

    And, when it comes to most Domers here, there is always a tendency to over indulge in all of them! … hic!

    Now that you have survived the burning blade, I look forward to reading more of your “stuff” as the season progresses.

    Keep up the good work!


    1. Shaz,

      I would like to offer one more thing to your post. This site is like a bar, no politics or religion written on this site period.

      Thanks, Jack

      1. Jack,

        “This site is like a bar”

        If ever there was a lead into a good joke this is it.

        Unfortunetly, all the bar jokes I know are vulgar and dirty, but at the very least, I guess I could get one started…

        A Senator, a nun , and a Camel salesmen, all walk into a bar…

  4. Duranko,

    May I suggest you stick to football nomenclature in the future. You may so strongly favor your position on mormonism, however, this is not the forum for it. Nor is it the forum for knowing full well, your comments on mormonism would definately shed an adverse light directed towards one of our beloved STAR players.

    I further suggest, you respect SteelFanRob’s request on keeping your offensive references to yourself. Your personal theory is definately flawed when you choose to use words such as “premature ejaculation” in your last post.

    Not to be guilty of out of context:

    “Again, next week, we’ll slot the Irish in this ranking, but there need be no premature ejaculation of ranking.” I’m sure you will win a nobel peace prize for those normal and soothing comments.

    Finally, I read your incurably self-absorded in your position. So understand this, we are not required to pass your personal litmus test on mormonism or your personal interpretation of Christianity.

    Peace be with you!

  5. offense didn’took good in the second half and we were terrible on third downs. We will need more then 20 to beat michigan

  6. Steelfanrob.

    I respect your position on what you asked about the completely accurate
    statement I made about BYU.

    But this is no small issue. Not saying I won’t change it in future posts, but hear me out.

    First, I am a Christian who practices Catholicism, but my loyalty is to Christ, not the Pope and his boys. I am eternally grateful to Catholicism.
    For 2,000 years, my brothers and sisters in Christ have been praying, meditating, striving, communing, writing, taking Eucharist, preaching and much much more. The original code is in the 89 chapters we have inherited as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But in these 2000 years there has been some great stuff added that helps those of us who strive, however poorly,
    to follow Christ. John of the Cross, Aquinas (his treatment and synthesis
    of the 7 sacraments is no less than an epic,) Julian of Norwich, a Kempis,
    Merton and Meister Eckhart. They are all Catholics and all embellish
    and support Christ’s work.

    The Catholic Church? Let’s take the most recent scandal, as it is instructive. The Church’s first obligation was to minister to the victim, and heal the victim, not pick up the phone and call together a battery of lawyers, public relation and press people to go into “damage control.”
    The Church’s role is a magnifying glass to expand Christ to the soul, a conduit and a lubricant to ease the soul’s path to Christ. Any attempt to
    “interposition” or to obstruct the role of Christ as “Way, truth, Life,” is not for Christ but anti Christ. Christianity, at the particle level,
    is about the soul’s relation to Christ, then, given that, the soul’s relation to other souls That is why Christ showed up. Institutional power, reputation and wealth are not relevant to Christ.

    When the Catholic Church helps me be closer to the Trinity, and then to relate Christianly to Christian brothers and sisters, then it has validity. Otherwise, it’s on its own.

    Mormonism is a lie, and a blasphemy and mockery of Christ. Now if you are a secular humanist and prefer cordiality in the marketplace of ideas, then, of course that leads you to one place. Probably a place where in
    polite company you argue neither religion nor certain more controversial
    aspects of political views. But Christians have obligations to speak up. Cf Baptist, John the.

    But let me ask a couple of quasi-rhetorical, quasi-interrogative questions:

    (1) Have you read the Book of Mormon?
    (I have, by the way)
    (2) How many conversations have you had with Mormons about their beliefs?
    (3) Are you familiar with the Mormon hierarchy and their designation of
    (4) Are you familiar with their tiers of heaven and what the prerequisites
    are for the various tiers?

    The Son of Man was pluperfectly clear about the fact that Christians are to be reviled for their beliefs. He repeated several times that Christians would be mocked and jailed for their beliefs. Christians get justice from God, not from the citizenry, polity, or marketplace of public opinion.

    While I may back off just on this site, it will have nothing to do with Manti Teo. But Mormons have been lying about Christ, Christians, the word of God and divine revelation for a long, long time. Why should any Christian be silent about their heresy.

    Then I just have one other question:

    Did Christ come for peace or the sword?

    (for background on that, cf. Garry Wills “What Jesus meant”

    rob, I know your objection was heartfelt, so we can converse on this,
    I’m fairly dug in on the principle, but can negotiate with you
    on implementation.

    God bless

    1. Duranko,

      Love your writing on ND football. You also make great points in the above. I too have had many conversations with those of the mormon faith and have come away wondering how anyone could believe their diatribes.

      Still, I turn to this site for a conversation of football. Not politics or religion. We all love ND for many reasons. Her Catholic heritage, high academic standards, high moral and ethical standards and good deeds are what set Her apart. Whether a persons fandom for Our Mother arises from those aspects or her football tradition, alumni status or family tradition? We all want her to be victorious.

      To get there, ND has long accepted those of many faiths and should continue to do so. Manti deserves respect for what he has done for the glorification of ND. It shows how special the place is when someone of his faith feels drawn there instead of BYU.

      I’m rambling and your post deserves a better response than I can author. I end with only a bit of advice from an old ND fan. Keep to football and leave the religion and politics out.


    2. @Duranko,

      In light of JDH’s supplication, I won’t go into detail. I can answer yes to most of what you ask about my knowledge of the Mormon faith. Like I said, I’m not a Mormon apologist.

      All I was asking for was a little respect for the faith of others, esp. Manti T’eo, who will go down as one of the great ND men and not just player. After all, most atheists think that all religions are equally absurd.

      In then end the Bible encourages to speak the truth. But, Duranko, it says to do so in love. That’s the part of the verse people always leave out. Even sound facts stated in an unloving manner are against the Christian faith.

      Love your writing on ND football, though!

    3. Duranko,

      True story….

      My nominally Catholic family almost became Mormons. When I was very young I recall two very beautiful Mormon women (I thought only Mormon men were missionaries?) coming to our door. My mom let them in. As a pre-teen boy I was very glad (and other feelings!) whenever these young ladies dropped by the house.

      After some time, they passed us off to two men. I was not very pleased by that development!

      To make matters worse I vividly recall the moment I knew I wasn’t going to become a Mormon. It had nothing to do with theology and everything to do with ND football.

      One Saturday afternoon, these two Mormon elders assigned to us came by. I was in the middle of watching a ND football game. I vividly recall one of the two men saying to me that if my family converted I would have to root for BYU. Now, I’m not sure if he was serious. But I sure was serious when I said that I would never stop cheering for old ND!

      Like I said, true story.

  7. shazamrock–there may be a completely different explanation for recent
    Irish performance (better than expected) on the road and performance
    (worse than expected) at home.

    At home, you get all the backslapping and “we’re going to kill
    _____” leading to overconfidence and underestimation of the opponent.

    On the road, the team bonds in the travel and in the hotel, less
    subject to the local hype. Just a theory…..

  8. storespook is 100% correct.

    i’ve seen this film before and i know the ending.

    there is nothing more i would like than to be 4-0 this time 7 days from now heading into the bye. i can only dream about how relaxing a week that would be (for once).

    with that being said, UofM and “shoe-laces” has been a gigantic thorn in our sides for several years now, everyone needs to take a deep breath and focus on this one game. there is absolutely no need to worry about any other teams on the schedule.
    Saturday night will be a HUGE test and i hope our boys are up to the challenge GO IRISH!

    1. Perhaps I mislead you a bit with the “new numbers” statement.

      These are the passing and rushing numbers put up by Denard Robinson vs Alabama a couple of weeks back.

      200 passing, 27 rushing, with 2 interceptions, are numbers any Irish fan would welcome this Saturday.

      How did Alabama do it?

      While I don’t have the particulars of Saban’s defensive scheme that he used agianst Michigan, I can tell you a reoccurring theme that I saw all night long…

      Be it a Alabama defensive lineman, linebacker, corner or saftey, none of them ever turned their back on Denard Robinson.

      I watched the Alabama corner backs play man coverage all night while watching Robinson at the same time.

      Very difficult to do, but very effective.

  9. Already tired talking about Mich St.

    How about some new numbers?

    11 out of 26 for 200 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT’s.

    (3-12 on 3rd down conversions.)

    10 Carries for 27 yards or a 2.7 yard per carry average with 1 TD.

    Anyone know what college QB posted these numbers and agianst who?

    1. yep, time to focus on the next game. We can’t get ahead of ourselves, which I have been seeing on other sites bout being 7-0 at Norman, BCS contenders, etc. There is a history of this kind of forcasting/high hopes and then it doesn’t occur on the field. This is a week to week deal right now. Definitely the team is looking better than a lot of previous ND teams. Continued improvement week to week is what is needed.
      I do look forward to Sat against the Michie’s

      Go Irish

  10. @Duranko

    PS: Conservative Evangelicals think both the Mormons and Catholics are cults anyway. So there’s perhaps another reason for doing unto others as we would have done to us.

      1. To add: I forgot to mention the officiating of that game- literally some of the worst I had ever seen in any sport of any era. Weis plus the officials made for an impossible situation for our players that year. But alas, it’s history.

      2. i still have nightmares, trust me. as long as i live i will not forget that game and just how terrible officials can be

  11. @Duranko:

    Can I please suggest you remove the offensive reference to Brigham Young? Why? To begin with, our beloved and grieving Manti T’eo is a Mormon and that alone merits some respect from us. Also, in the past, there have been wickedly corrupt popes (the successors of St. Peter). Third, the LDS “church” no longer holds to polygamy. The Roman Catholic Church also has abjured certain of its past beliefs (e.g., “limbo”). So we shouldn’t smear modern-day Mormons for past beliefs no longer espoused by their leaders.

    BTW: Don’t misconstrue this as an apologetics for either Mormonism or Mitt Romney. This is simply a call for religious respect for the sake of Manti T’eo, if nothing else.

    1. Very well said SFR. Whenever I hear of one religion disrespecting another, I harken back to the splinter and the plank. I mean no disrepsect to any Catholics anywhere, but let none of us forget the decades of sexual perversion, criminality, and cover up that has ruined thousands of lives.

      We all must make sure our spiritual house is in order, period. The “best religion” is the one that brings you closest to Christ.

  12. Great win! Very impressed with the defensive performance. BK has been preaching that this is what he wanted from the moment he arrived. Got to give him credit for following through and delivering. It is clear he knows how to run a program and deserves our support. I was amazed to read the criticism of him after the win for “conservative” play calling. Anybody who watched the game knows Sparty had no chance of moving the ball and the only thing that could have turned the game was a costly turnover. I thought BK was spot on and really managed the game well.

    Now, can we respond and deal with success. That is the next big challenge for our program. All week everybody is going to be telling them how great they are and what a “signature” win this was. I think we would all agree that MSU is probably a little overrated and they underestimated how much losing Cousins impacted them.

    I’m glad we are playing Michigan this week because we have had so much heartache against them recently that our boys should be hungry. Backing up the win against MSU is just as important or more so than the win itself.

    There is a long long way to go this year and the schedule only gets tougher from here, but 4-0 at the bye would bye would be sweet!!!!

  13. “Duranko’s Digest: What We Saw in East Lansing?” Is what needs to be seen again in Norman Oklahoma + Los Angeles.

  14. What I saw in East Lansing….

    I saw a ND team that “seems” to play better on the road than at home.

    We all know there is a bit more pressure when it comes to playing at home.
    There are certainly more distractions.
    And, as witnessed in the only home game so far this year (against Purdue) even a few boo’s at home.

    ND went 1-14 on third down conversions against the Spartans.
    (a team doesn’t win very often going 1-14 on 3rd down)

    Forget for a moment that we eventually won in grand fashion.
    If ND was playing at home, would we have heard a few more of those boo’s considering a 1-14 (7%) 3rd down conversion rate?
    Would that have made a difference in the outcome?

    Last year’s night game against the Wolverines is still fresh in my memory.
    We had that team whooped. But their fans, and then their team, refused to quit.
    It was almost as if the fans in that stadium “willed” their team to win.

    We are 3-0. There is absolutely no reason for our stadium, our campus, and are fans not to be going crazy from start to finish!

    Teams coming into ND stadium have come to exspect a nice, respectable, and easy to quite crowd.

    The players and coaches have done thier jobs.

    It’s damn time the fans start doing theirs!

    A new level of excitement, energy, and determination.
    That’s what I want to see in South Bend.

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