Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame v. Michigan State ’16

Photo: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a spirited comeback that came up short, it was disastrous play during the second and third quarters that doomed the Irish against Michigan State on Saturday night. There was enough guilt to be spread around on both sides of the ball, but it was the struggles by the Notre Dame defense that put Brian Kelly’s squad in a virtually insurmountable hole.

Déjà vu All Over Again

The defensive unit reverted to its level of effort against Texas during that dismal stretch, allowing the Spartans to collect a good portion of its total yardage in the midst of jumping out to a 36-7 third quarter lead. The cushion was just enough to hold off an Irish offensive squad that got virtually no help from the ground game. That was evident even before the massive deficit forced an almost exclusive reliance on the passing attack.

Not Getting the Big Stops

Allowing 501 yards on the night is a jarring enough number for the Notre Dame defense, but the inability to come up with the big stop when needed also served as a killer. On nine different occasions, Michigan State was able to convert on third down and even picked up a first on a fourth down call.

Deadly Ball Control

Those struggles helped the Spartans dominate in time of possession, holding the ball for just under 38 minutes. That yardage was split almost right down the middle, with the 260 rushing yards boosted by the 73-yard backbreaker by Gerald Holmes that made it a 29-point deficit.

However, Michigan State signal caller Tyler O’Connor threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns, finishing an effective 19-of-26 night that saw him pick up first downs on 12 of those completions. His lone error was a first quarter red zone interception.

Shifting Fortunes

The tenor of the game changed early in the second quarter following a fumbled punt return by the Irish, with Michigan State needing just one play to score. That scoring play offered a window into the continuing woes of the Notre Dame secondary. True freshman Donnie Corley was able to wrest the ball from Cole Luke to start the Spartans on their string of 36 unanswered points.

The Irish defenders were even more befuddled by R.J. Shelton, who snagged eight passes on the night. One of those came on a touchdown right near the end of the first half and gave MSU the lead for good.

Next Up

The 1-2 Irish now host the Duke Blue Devils next Saturday, an opponent that may help improve the numbers of defense. The problem is that any quality opponent still has no problem exploiting the weaknesses of the Notre Dame defense. The ability to fix that in the weeks ahead may now end up determining if the Irish are still a viable candidate for a New Year’s Day bowl game.

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  1. btw, did I miss something, who is the #1 Fighting Irish football player of all time, my guess is George Gipp!

  2. There is not a single gimme on the ND schedule. And please don’t mistake this fact as being complimentary of ND’s strength of schedule. It is purely on indictment on ND’s ineptitude as a football team. Duke, Syracuse, Navy … I don’t feel good about any of those. I’m starting to get flashbacks to CW’s final season or two.

  3. Not even upset anymore. Just resigned to it. Looks like a 6 loss season to me Could be worse if Navy reloads at QB this year (Army looks pretty good also).

    It’s apparent, opponents are keyed up for our game. ND is neither keyed nor prepped.

  4. Once again the Irish COME up short in a game that they should have won. BAD COACHING in all facets of the game. IF Kelly started throwing the ball early in the game, they win. A bigger issue for me is the way out LINEMEN were pushed around. When I look at Bama, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, and M.S.U., they pass the eye test.Although our LINEMAN weigh 300lbs, they don’t have the muscular definition that these other schools do. Time for a new strength coach. Looks like our linemen are no match for TEAMS with talent in the trenches. Conditioning is a year round job. FIND the best strength, and conditioning coach, and pay him to come to N.D. IT will be MONEY well spent. The IRISH have the skill position PLAYERS to compete with ANYONE.

  5. At this point, the question isn’t whether or not ND will play before or after New Year’s Eve. The question is will they play before or after Christmas. At this point, they’re headed to the New Mexico Bowl or R&L Carrier Bowl.

  6. This will be another 8-9 win team. Capable of beating and blowing out lesser competition but their defense can’t match up against ranked opponents. MSU ran a conservative gameplan and still racked up over 500 yds of offense and 36 pts. MSU had a simple gameplan but was able to just cram the ball right down the throat of ND’s defense. I was a little disppointed how the O-Line played. They had their moments but they also were also dominated by MSU’s D-Line for large portions of the game.

    I’m tired of the defense not being able to stand up and make a play or make a stand when it matters most. They went right in the toilet after losing the ball on the punt return. The ball went right through Cole Luke’s hands for a TD. He makes that INT and it’s a different game, in my opinion. But they folded until they were down 29 pts. Then they played well until the end of the game when ND needed a 3 and out. ND’s defense couldn’t get off the field the rest of the game.

    No sacks, 1 TO and giving up 501 yds of total offense doesn’t cut it.

  7. It’s Monday morning. I’m not awake yet. I actually had to check the schedule because I couldn’t remember if we played Temple this year.

  8. BTW, I’m not saying they will win out. Just that the schedule is more favorable this year for wins. And while our offense was flat this past weekend, I don’t believe that is the norm. I believe they will score points.

  9. Duke is next. No Temple this year.

    ND does have some winnable games coming up. They usually win the games they are supposed to win these days, so I guess that’s something.

    Outside one or two games, they could potentially win out with this year’s schedule. They could potentially land another NY Day 6 bowl. But if they don’t fix the defense by then, it’s not going to matter.

    One thing ND knows is you win the big games with a dominant O-line and defense. They more or less answered the O-line question. Typically they play well as a unit. It’s past due to fix the defense. Undefeated regular season last year with a good defense, that’s what I keep thinking about. Even this year, they would have beat Texas with a decent defense.

    I guess in all this, I have to give Michigan State credit. They stuck to their game plan, to their strengths and they won. Only time will tell if they are really that good.

  10. The defense was embarrassing. Certainly there were problems on offense, but so far during the season the offense has done a decent job. I think they will be potent most of the time. And I give Kizer credit. He never quit.

    But the defense needs to be overhauled. They have a good linebacker front, and at times they showed they could stuff the run. But because of our poor secondary, they can’t exploit that strength. They have to essentially back-up the secondary. Also poor penalties and poor tackling. Those ARE coaching issues, the same issues that plagued Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta’s defenses under Weis.

    That’s a key difference between BVG and Diaco. Diaco faced the same problems with his secondary in 2012. Inexperience was an issue with the cornerbacks and safeties. But he got the most out of his secondary and they actually did a better job that year then I thought they would. They need a coach like that on the defense.

    Just one year, I’d love to have a good offense and defense on the field, at the same time.

  11. I had the Irish as a 3/4 loss team this year. They might be a 3 loss September team! Nothing changes. Just more of the same year after year after year. Kelly owns BVG so the onus is on him. Something tells me Kelly is not going to be around too much longer. I see him going for greener ($) pastures.

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