Michigan State Game Chance for Notre Dame Statement

Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame had the chance to make a statement on Labor Day weekend.  Prime time match-up.  Only game of the day.  Notre Dame could have told the college football world that the Irish were a team that reloads, not rebuilds.  The Irish fell well short by allowing 50 points to a true frosh quarterback.  Notre Dame has a chance for redemption this weekend when it hosts 2015 playoff participant Michigan State.

Michigan State isn’t rolling into town this weekend with a ton of momentum following their uninspiring 27-14 opening weekend victory over mighty Furman and then a ridiculously early bye week.  Still the Spartans won the Big 10 last year and were 12-2 including their drubbing at the hands of Alabama in playoffs.  The Spartans also sports a top 10 ranking this season depending on which poll you look at.

This isn’t the same Michigan State team that went to the playoffs, but Mark Dantonio’s crew has averaged 12 wins a season the past three years and has won the Big 10 twice during that span.  It’s also a team that Notre Dame can beat this weekend.

Notre Dame hasn’t exactly taken care of business against highly ranked teams recently though.  The Irish have fallen flat in 8 of its last 10 games against teams ranked in the top 15 and one of those wins came against a Georgia Tech team that proved to be down right terrible last year.  The other was a solid win over then #14 ranked Stanford at home.

Most of those losses have come on the road where the Irish have struggled to say the least.  At home, however, the Irish have been strong against top 15 opponents under Brian Kelly.  The only loss a Brian Kelly coached team has had in Notre Dame Stadium to a top 15 team was the 2013 loss to Oklahoma when Tommy Rees turned the ball over twice in the game’s first few minutes and dug a hole the Irish could never crawl out of.

One of those four wins was against Dantonio’s 15th ranked Spartans in 2011 when the Irish limped into Notre Dame Stadium with a 0-2 record following losses to South Florida and Michigan.  Notre Dame came out that afternoon and took it to the Spartans to the tune of 31-13.  Michigan State finished that season 11-3.

The Irish have plenty of flaws coming into this contest.  The secondary is young and has been beat deep entirely too much already this year.  The pass rush has failed to register even a single sacks through two games – something only two other programs in the entire country have failed to do as well.  And serious questions still linger regarding the validity of Brian VanGorder’s defensive scheme.

Even with all those flaws, the Irish are currently a 7.5 point favorite over Michigan State and the line was as high as (-8) at one point.

Obviously I’m not the only who thinks Notre Dame can win this game.

A win for the Irish won’t vault them back into the top 10 and won’t make them a playoff favorite by any means at this point – plenty of work needs to be done for that to happen.  But a win does change the narrative of the season for Notre Dame from a team rebuilding to a team chasing the playoffs.

Heading into the season many were torn between thinking this was a team a year away or a team that could be very dangerous by the end of the season if it could survive September virtually unscathed.  The loss to Texas knocked Notre Dame down but not out.  As the Irish sit at #18 in both polls with plenty of chances to impress the playoff committee remaining, the Irish would be right in the thick of the playoff discussion the rest of the season if they continue to win.

A loss this weekend though and it will be impossible to look at Notre Dame as much more than a team rebuilding and looking to next year.  The Irish would be 1-2 with games remaining against Stanford, Miami, and USC and would fall outside of the top 25 for the first time since the end of the 2014 season should they stumble against the Spartans.

In year seven of the Brian Kelly era, that scenario should be viewed as unacceptable.  Notre Dame has a lot of new starters and suffered a big blow when Shaun Crawford was lost for the season last weekend, but that’s college football.  Every program loses starters to graduation and the NFL every year and every team loses players to injury.

Notre Dame is now 6-9 against top 15 teams during the Brian Kelly era and it’s time that record starts trending up and eclipses .500.  To Kelly’s credit, that record is an improvement over his predecessor.  Charlie Weis was an embarrassing 1-11 against teams in the top 15.  That’s right – just a single win against a team in the top 15 for Weis and that was the first top 15 opponent he ever faced at Notre Dame (Michigan 2005).

Lou Holtz by the way was 24-17-1 in games against the top 15 (21-15-1 against the top 10).

This isn’t just a Notre Dame can win, it’s a game Notre Dame has to win if it wants to be considered among the nation’s elite programs again.  Michigan State has had just as much turnover as the Irish have from a year ago and Notre Dame will be playing at home as a touchdown favorite.  A win won’t erase the loss to Texas, but it will set the Irish up to be in the conversation and show that this is a team that reloads.

This weekend’s contest will no doubt make a statement about where Notre Dame is as a football program.  The outcome will determine if that’s a statement Notre Dame fans want to hear or not.

15 comments

  1. Ron 3 years ago

    As usual, the typical media underestimates Michigan State; conversely, Notre Dame is overinflated every year and not deserving of these highly ranked polls. Consider the top notch recruiting Notre Dame gets every year and the best facilities; in addition, the brand itself as one of the most successful teams to date with championships and heisman trophy winners. Interestingly, you fail to bring up any of the catastrophes Notre Dame has partaken in like Alabama in the N.C, which they were lucky to even be part of. What about the 2014 skid post-Fsu? Sure, injuries plague all teams, but when you have the best recruiting classes year in and year out, you should still be ready.
    Michigan State delivers and makes the most of their mediocre recruiting classes that are consistently in the 20’s each year. Not to mention, have won way more big games than N.D. in recent years. In my opinion, Coach Dantonio makes the most of what he has, unlike Kelly (I don’t care if Kelly is 3-2 vs. Dantonio that doesn’t define or make him a better coach or role model, in my opinion). Call MSU that old beat out Honda Civic, but it finds a way to get from point A to point B. They seem to pride themselves on being even keeled. “Not the prettiest car in the lot, but finds a way in the end.” If and when MSU loses, no team seems to be better prepared the following week. Beat Duke and do the little things right!

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  2. Bruce Curme 3 years ago

    Boy was I wrong about this game. Special teams played without any discipline. The offensive play calling was learning disabled during the second and third quarters. Only after thousands of people in the stands booed it did it change. This team has no chemistry at all. I expected a win and a good season, but it looks like we may be in for a lot of disappointment. I was shocked and saddened.
    Bruce Curme 77′ 82′

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  3. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

    BK: Statement made! Right off the bat penalties, turnovers, missed tackles, dropped balls, etc. Typical slow start under BK in big games.

    ND football under BK is this. Make no mistake. It will only get worse.

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    1. Bruce G Curme 3 years ago

      I must admit, I had this game all wrong. It was downright embarrassing. The special teams were completely without discipline. The offensive play calling was learning disabled throughout the second and third quarters, until thousands of people in the stands started booing it. Only then did it change.
      I’m shocked and saddened. I expected a win and a good season. This team suffers from a profound lack of chemistry.
      Bruce Curme 77′ 82′
      La Crosse, Indiana

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  4. Dan MacDonald 3 years ago

    Well we made a statement tonight all right.

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  5. Chuckie 3 years ago

    Defense is the greatest concern for this team. Unreliable.

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  6. pete 3 years ago

    I do believe Van Gorder is a big part of the problem of Notre Dame at least being a solid above average defense. However watching many other teams in college football Notre Dame doesn’t have the speed, athletes strength etc that these schools have. I’m watching Cincinnati and Houston right now and both those teams are much faster on defense than Notre Dame . Quarterbacks are being sacked and constantly under pressure and neither team can run on the other.

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  7. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

    I’ll let George or whiskey breath take this one.

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  8. Mike "King" Kelly 3 years ago

    Ricky Watters should get in NFL Hallof Fame. Also Kicker John Carney

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  9. Damian 3 years ago

    In some ways BK is frustrating. He has ND on the cusp of greatness and elite again. We’re just having trouble climbing that final hill.

    Let’s face it. During the D/W/W years there came a point where you just knew it was not going to happen. They were mediocre at best.

    But first, BK has had success at his prior coaching stops. He got Cincinnati, of all schools, into a BCS bowl. He won national championships at the FCS level. Sometimes I wonder was is it about ND that it seems we can’t take that final step.

    That’s one reason I really hope BK can get ND over that hump and win an NC. I don’t see any other coaches out there that’s willing to come to ND that could do better. If ultimately BK fails to bring the Irish back to the elite ranks, I honestly don’t think anyone will. My fear is that if this doesn’t work out, ND will be back to hiring mediocre coaches in the hopes one might turn out to be a surprise (which rarely happens)

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  10. Bob Rodes 3 years ago

    Bruce Curme? I know that name from 40 years ago, don’t I? If you’re the guy I went to high school with, email me at robtrodes at aol and say hi, and we’ll catch up.

    As for your comments and Damian’s, I’m feeling the same way. Our defense has to step up. Either they are coming together or BVG ls still firing blanks and BK is putting up smokescreens until he can make a change at the end of the year. The D isn’t any shorter of veterans than the O is, but they look less prepared than the O does. If so, that’s a management problem.

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    1. Bruce G. Curme 3 years ago

      Well, if we give up 500 yards again, and lose, it may be time for a change. But I don’t think that will happen.
      Do you mean 45-50 years ago at South Bend St. Joe’s? If so, “FAC BRATS RULE”!
      I’ll email you when I get home tonight.
      Bruce Curme
      La Crosse, Indiana

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  11. jeff 3 years ago

    The chance to make a statement was against Texas on the Road. The defense got torched. Three offensive series were wasted by BK using Zaire. Next Statement game will be against USC in late November that is if ND can win out. Road games matter.

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  12. Bruce G. Curme 3 years ago

    Frank,
    You just wrote exactly what I’m thinking. And I hope our entire program sees this as the great opportunity that it is.
    This could be a watershed game, a defining game, in the Kelly era.
    And if everybody gets the oars in the water at the same time and pulls at the same time, from the waterboys (and girls) to the managers, through the 4-deeps, up to the position coaches, into the glass boxes where the spotters and the radio people are, right up to the head coach himself, from bottom to top, and they all just execute their jobs, we’ll win and send out a clear message to everyone and move on.
    But you know what – it has always been that way at Notre Dame when we have had a great coach at the helm while things were not going as well as they could be.
    Let’s do it again.
    Bruce Curme
    La Crosse, Indiana

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  13. Damian 3 years ago

    I do think BK is a vast improvement over Weis. Weis was abysmal in games against Top 25 opponents in general.

    But we should not settle for that. It’s ironic that the one knock on BK when he was hired was could he recruit on a national stage. Now we know he can recruit, and the offense is solid. If Bob Diaco had stayed on maybe our defense would be solid too.

    But it is not. I believe it’s defense for the most part that is now costing ND the big games.

    One thing BK should keep in mind is it was partly ND’s poor defenses under Weis that led to his downfall. Many times outside of 2007 ND would score points, only to see the games turn into shootouts because the defense could not stop the other team. They need to shore up the defense.

    I almost feel like a broken record. Fix the defense and those L’s become W’s. It seems so simple, but is so hard. BK is 2 to 3 wins away from being an elite coach, but they need to fix the defense. Or it will never happen.

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