Post Game 6-Pack: Notre Dame v. Michigan State ’16

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

This week’s post game 6-packs is coming in late due to some traveling yesterday and to save my Mac’s keyboard from getting broken had it been written in the heat of the moment.  Disappointing doesn’t begin to describe this one.  For yet another time, the Irish fell way behind only to mount a furious comeback that came up just short.  The Irish showed great fight, but in the 7th year of the Brian Kelly era being 1-2 in September and continually following the same script in big times is just not acceptable.

1. Deshone Kizer continues to impress.  I’ll start on a positive and one of the few positives was Deshone Kizer once Brian Kelly let the junior air it out.  Early on the Irish were hell bent on trying to run the football and took entirely too long to adjust once Michigan State shit it down.  When they did, Kizer showed he is an elite quarterback.

Kizer ended the game accounting for all four Notre Dame touchdowns – 2 passing and 2 rushing.  That is now a total of 13 touchdowns in three games – four rushing and nine passing.  If Notre Dame is going to do anything with the remainder of its season now that they are eliminated from the playoffs, it’s going to have to be on the arm of Deshone Kizer.  He set a career high with 344 passing yards but could have had over 400 if Kelly let him rip it earlier.

2. The Notre Dame defense continues to disappoint. Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor is a first year starter but the Notre Dame defense didn’t make him look like one.  The Spartans racked up over 500 yards on the Irish defense making it now two of three opponents who have eclipsed 500 yards.

There’s major scheme problems, there’s fundamentals problems, and there are personnel problems.  The defensive coaching staff has to know it’s unit’s skills and shortcomings and build a scheme around masking them.  Instead, the Notre Dame defense continues to try and run VanGorder’s schemes even though it’s abundantly clear they don’t have the personnel to do so.  Notre Dame’s secondary just isn’t good enough for so much man coverage and the defensive line isn’t getting a pass rush on it’s own.  A good coaching staff would recognize this and simplify things moving forward.  We’ll see if any of that happens.

3. Brian Kelly was out-coached by Mark Dantonio.  With an elite quarterback at his disposal, Kelly built a game plan around running the ball right into the strength of the Michigan State defense.  Notre Dame’s offensive line should be good enough to allow better rushing success (more later) but it almost seemed like Notre Dame wanted to prove it could run on Michigan State and refused to adjust until it was too late.

Mark Dantonio meanwhile built a gameplan that attacked Notre Dame’s weaknesses and adjust when the Irish defense played well early.  On Michigan State’s first three drives the Irish forced two punts and an interception.  From their the Spartans started scoring at will.  The fourth drive should have ended with an interception too but Cole Luke made a really bad play on the ball.  It should have been one of the easiest interceptions of his career.  Instead it was a touchdown.

Perhaps the worst coaching moment of game, however, came in the 4th quarter with just under four minutes remaining.  With Notre Dame facing a 4th and 7 in Michigan State territory, Brian Kelly first wasted a timeout and then decided to punt and put the game in the hands of his defense.  Bad idea first of all and rookie mistake with time management.  If you take the time out there – you have to go for it.  And why did Kelly think he could trust his defense to make the stop?  You had Deshone Kizer with a hot hand and a gassed Michigan State defense.

4. Notre Dame wide receivers are growing up fast. Another of the few positives was the play of the Notre Dame wide receivers.  Equanimeous St. Brown came up just shy of 100 yards again.  Torii Hunter made a strong return from the concussion against Texas.  CJ Sanders showed again that he needs the ball in his hands more – but he still needs to get better at protecting the football.  Freshman Chase Claypool got on the field and showed he needs to be on the field even more moving forward.

Notre Dame’s defense is going to continue to give up points this year so the Irish offense is going to have to carry the load and it could be time to start airing out the football each weekend.  With the skill in the wide receiving corps and the play of Kizer, they will have to carry this team.

5. Notre Dame’s offensive line is still a work in progress.  Notre Dame lost three starters on the offensive line this year but were still projected to have one of the best offensive lines in college football.  Instead, three weeks into the season this line is still finding its way.  They have been stout in pass protection, but Michigan State beat them up in the trenches throughout the game.  The good news is all but Mike McGlinchey will likely be back in 2017 – and even McGlinchey can return for a 5th year – and the line has their moments.  Right now though, this line is not at elite status as we’ve come to expect under Harry Hiestand.

6. This team is not fundamentally sound.  There is no nice way to say it and Brian Kelly admitted it post game.  This team is just sloppy and lacks fundamentals.  How that happens in year seven of a head coach is beyond me but that’s what it looks like Notre Dame has this year.  There are a lot of new starters and freshman playing, but again, the staff knew the personnel that they had in August and needs to put their players in better position to make plays and mask their weaknesses.

Here’s a rundown of just a few of the mistakes the Irish made that they can’t make an expect to beat a team like Michigan State.

  • Against Michigan State CJ Sanders opening kick off touchdown called back for a penalty.
  • Tarean Folston touchdown called back for a penalty (Notre Dame eventually scored on this drive).
  • Fumble on the punt when Miles Boykin was blocked into the football.
  • Cole Luke letting Donnie Corely pull an easy interception from his hands resulting in a touchdown.
  • The swinging gate two point conversion by Michigan State.
  • Fumble by CJ Sanders after a big gain when Michigan State had just scored off the fumbled punt.

All of those plays happened in the first 25 minutes of the football game.

Parting Shots

  • Lost in another defensive mess was the strong play from Jerry Tillery with two tackles for loss.
  • Nyles Morgan continues to be a tackling machine, but isn’t making any negative plays.
  • How did the Big 10 refs one of the most egregious pass interferences on the first drive of the game?
  • Tyler Newseom had some big kicks, but was also shaky early.
  • Jarron Jones had another quiet game and still doesn’t have a tackle for loss three games into the season.
  • That was probably the worst game of Cole Luke’s career.  Hopefully he can shake that off an come back strong next week.
  • Nice to see the tight end finally incorporated in the passing game a little bit with Durham Smythe getting in the end-zone.
  • Tried “Mango Keel” from Ballast Point this weekend.  Yuck.  Their Grapefruit and Pineapple Sculpin IPA’s are delicious, but the Mango Keel was really, really bad.  It tasted almost chemical.
  • Still no sacks for the Notre Dame defense.  Three weeks.  No sacks.
  • Daelin Hayes had a decent game all things considered.  Hopefuly he can keep getting better each week.
  • Good news:  I do not plan on attending any more football games this year right now so my bad luck should stop following the Irish.

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  1. It’s easy to say a general statement like “ND is awesome, who wouldn’t want to coach at ND.” Much harder to provide evidence. Who specifically is an upgrade who would actually come to ND.

  2. Someone above nailed it. Brian Kelly is a good coach, but certainly not a great one. This year his team has been unprepared for the opponent, and tied to dogmatic game plans like Ahab was tied to the great white whale.
    Coach Kelly can do better – he has done better in the past, although 1-2 starts have been way too common.
    As for special teams giving the ball right back to the opponent after a nice defensive stop, and later committing an jack ass personal foul that messed us up badly, and our offense going without a first down for 15-20 minutes straight while running the old 4-P’s offense – well, these are not the things a TEAM does when the defense is struggling.
    It’s easy to blame the defense, and they deserve some blame for not making (or finishing) big plays – but you win as a team and you lose as a team. Try thinking about somebody other than your own side of the ball and your own practice buddies and give the “D” a little help. God knows they need it.
    Bruce Curme 77′ 82′

  3. Any decent contract has a buy out clause.
    After CW, if they didn’t include one this time , they’re not very smart. And if ND continues to lose and BK gets blamed for it, I’m betting he’ll be too thin-skinned not to bail out on his own – especially after another less than impressive season next year after BVG isn’t there to blame.

  4. Didn’t BK just sign a 6 year extension?? If so cannot believe Swarbrick would take on another 20 million dollar payout after just finishing doing the same for CW.

  5. @ Brad
    “There aren’t many guys who are an upgrade over Kelly who would actually come to ND.”
    Really? In the first three weeks, BKs been outcoached twice. So there’s two. Would either leave and try ND? Probably not. Strong is building his program, and D’Antonio already has. But I suspect there are many good young coaches who’d give ND a try. Up and coming Brian Kelly seemed anxious for that chance eight years ago. If it’s academic expectations that would lead some to ignore the opportunity to be the head coach at the second winningest program in college football history, then that’s their disqualifier. But something between Florida State and Harvard is the target re: admitting and keeping athletes eligible. Stanford has high academic expectations, and they’re among the best. After the Faustian years,, standards did loosen up for Holtz. If big donors suggest ND loosen their standards a bit to assist recruiting and allow the Tony Rices, and Chris Zoriches, and Jerome Bettises and others to be given the chance to succeed, as those outstanding players did on the field and in the classroom at ND, watch the changes that could occur. If disappointed donors withhold, standards will be less stringent, and more players will be given the chance the three I mentioned got. The big checks (or the fewer of them coming in) will trump the overzealous checks on prospective recruits and academic staff.
    Guaranteed- ND administrations hear the sound of money talking.
    re: BK as a coach as good as ND can get. Let’s review the Kelly years at ND. Brian Kelly had Manti Teo, the best LB in 2012 when ND won 12, a great leader and Heismann finalist who SD Chargers have named one of their captains after less than two years in the NFL, and ND had other NFL talent aboard that year. BK had numerous players of NFL quality last year now in the NFL this year, and ND won 10. but still lost vs. the three elite they played against. BK and staff seem to be more than adequate recruiters. Is recruiting even the issue? Or is coaching the shortcoming ? One season in seven, going on eight, BK didn’t lose at least three games! Is that as good as it gets? With the NBC money, ND will just settle for less than being among the best? Maybe- as long as the cash flow gushes in.
    P.S. None of that cash is from me, so I have no voice in this.

    I’m not at all as convinced as some that BK is the best ND can do.

  6. I think Brad hit the nail on the head. If you want to get rid of BK, who’s better out there that they can actually get? BK is a good coach. He’s not a great coach, but he is good. BVG on the other hand, is easily replaceable.

  7. I agree BK will probably fire BVG this offseason to save himself. However, the only chance I see for them to upgrade is this year. You have to go get someone like Tom Herman this year or risk another lackluster hire after the 2017 season. There aren’t many guys who are an upgrade over Kelly who would actually come to ND.

  8. ND loses again, after another frantic comeback against a top team falls short (see: Clemson, Texas, and now MSU). Another great effort by Kizer and others, but why falling so far behind again this week? Let’s start with the obvious.
    1) BK finally decides he shouldn’t try to “establish the run” on first and second down against stunting MSU LBs anymore, but not until ND falls behind 36-7. A little late coach; you let the game get away from you. 2) BVG finally decided to blitz and stunt gaps on third down, but not until 8 minutes left in the game. Again, too little too late. Coaching matters. Game plans matter. The ability for coaches to adjust their game plans matter. Thorough dominance from MSUs OL and DL, with successful schemes from both sides of the ball from MSUs staff. This year, MSU had nine returning starters- three on offense-ND had 12. ND has out-recruited MSU the last five years. D’Antonio’s staff schooled the ND coaching staff. MSU and Texas frosh didn’t play like Freshmen. Coaching matters.
    At the very least, ND ought to reduce their ticket prices, with the BK and BVG giving a big chunk of their week’s pay to some charity for them taking this week off- with pay. Change is good, Swarbick. In fact, you can “hit the road, Jack,” too- oh great gutless one who stood by like Harpo Marx without his horn, silently watching the “frozen five” flushed away. But great plans for stadium renovation, so you have that going for your legacy. Here’s hoping ND can keep Sanford, Lyght, and Denson- all class acts and excellent recruiters- the rest of Kelly’s heroes hired on at ND from his past coaching staffs of yesteryear, best wishes- somewhere else.
    Game plans matter. Coaching matters.
    “Although the odds be great or small,
    ND will get behind and almost not fall,
    While her loyal sons will almost not lose the next big game.”

    After every blown play, how predictably disgusting is BK scoping the sidelines looking for someone else to blame. With Kelly, ND plays scared, tentative, and without confidence, especially with the game on the line- year in and year out. That’s on Kelly, and BVG- Kelly’s choice as DC. Why is the D’ scheme so difficult for NDs players and so easy to attack by NDs opponents? And the more time teams have to prepare for ND, the better they look. Is predictability the reason? If he can’t win with the talent level he has, it’s time for ND to move on and try someone new. It’d be interesting to chart how well each ND ranked recruiting class matches with where they finish. Do they not have the athletes to be a top 10 team, or the coaches to make them top ten? We won’t know until BK is gone. This year he’ll fire BVG to secure himself yet another chance next year. Hey, Coach Kelly- maybe some NFL teams are interested in an OC next season ? Check it out.

  9. Its simple, one team came to win( going for it on 4th down, the other came to lose kicked the ball away on 4 th and 21feet)

  10. Well written article by Frank Vitovitch. I agree 100%. I also don’t think BK should be fired, but if he can’t see the light concerning BVG, then maybe, just maybe, the time is coming for a change at the top. This sloppiness should have been addressed LAST year. This team appears confused and unprepared. I’d like to see more aggression and physicality. Let Nico Fertitta lose. Let’s start hitting. Let’s just play smash mouth football. Give all three RB’s plenty of carries. Use the TE’s more in this offense. To quote Alice Cooper – “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. Time to play with an attitude. If we can’t stop the passing game, let’s at least make them think twice with some hard hits! GO IRISH!

  11. My predictions:
    1. since BK never admits to his failures, following team’s eventual 3rd loss he throws BVG under the bus.
    2. with ND’s D, 3rd loss could come as soon as next weekend v. Duke. Certainly between Duke and NCSt.
    3. following that, and with the prospect of Stanford, BVG is gone, totally run over by BK’s bus.
    4. following my predicted 6 loss season, BK will be scrambling for his own life. 6 losses: currently at 2, 1 more over next 3 weeks, Stanford, Miami, and USC. Bye, bye Brian.

  12. Tim Murphy was a good football coach at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard hired him for its head coaching position in football. He is a great Harvard hire. Mark Dantonio was a good football coach at Cincinnati and MSU hired him as it head football coach. He is a great hire for MSU. Brian Kelly was a good football coach at Cincinnati and ND hired him to be its head football coach. He is a ….never mind.

  13. Sit down with BK this offseason should go as such:

    You go or you need to make changes. I think it’s obvious which coaches are good and which are not. Certain positions seem to improve others tend to stay the same. The defense is embarrassing.

  14. Kelly never takes responsibility
    And swarbrick never encourages him to be responsible
    There are no consequences for failure from prince shembo to dope and guns to Bvg

  15. Thankfully QB is a position ND does seem well stocked. I don’t think the book is closed on Zaire by any means and Winbush is supposed to be a great QB too.

    I’m ashamed to think I was one of those advocating for retaining BVG for one more year. One thing that Diaco did was adjust his game plan to the strengths, and weaknesses of the defense. BVG seems married to his schemes. He is insistent on his schemes, even though ND does not have the personnel to play those schemes. Maybe those schemes would be fine with the right set of players, but he does not recognize that he does not have those players. What do you end up with? 4 and 5 star players out of position, missing tackles and taking stupid penalties. They get frustrated and that only exacerbates the problem.

    His days are numbered. The only way BVG survives is if he makes some miraculous turnaround. Frankly if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s not going to happen. The only fly in the ointment for his eventual firing is if the prospect of unemployment causes him to fundamentally adjust his coaching.

  16. BK doesn’t need to be fired but BVG does. This is just ridiculous watching the defense continue to have the same problems game after game, year after year, and think the blame goes anywhere else but at the feet of BVG.

    We also better enjoy watching DeShone Kizer this year. Based on how high his draft projections are, he is a viable candidate to depart after this year.

  17. I agree with all the points. While I’m not in the fire BK camp at this point, you’d have to be living in a cave not to know he and his staff made poor coaching decisions.

    I too thought BK should have gone for it on 4th and 7. If you had a decent defense, then I’d understand that call. I know our defense got some 3 and outs, but I wouldn’t trust our defense in a game defining moment like that.

    Just a bad game all around, outside a few players.

    Very frustrating. I really start to wonder if someone put a hex on the Irish. Brian Kelly has had success everywhere he’s coached. He wasn’t some unknown quantity He won NC’s at the FCS level. He got Cincinnati to overachieve. What is it about ND that we are not having the same success?

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