Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Continues Redzone Perfection

Taking some revenge from last year’s home to defeat to Michigan State, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish improved its season record to 3-1 with an impressive 38-18 victory over this year’s edition of the Spartans. Unlike Notre Dame’s two previous wins this year, the team’s offense managed to offer a balanced attack that saw 182 yards on the ground and 173 through the air.

The Irish defense also managed to shine, allowing only a single touchdown until garbage time kicked in with the Irish holding a commanding 38-10 lead. Ironically, Michigan State won the total yardage battle 496-355, with Notre Dame taking advantage of ill-timed mistakes on the part of their opponent.

Visions of a Passing Game

Entering this important contest, the expectation was that Notre Dame would stick what had delivered the first two wins of the season: a potent running game. That thinking was immediately eliminated when Brandon Wimbush connected on four passes for 62 yards on the opening drive of the contest, which culminated in a 16-yard scoring run by the quarterback.

A pair of other scores were set up by passing connections that haven’t been heard much thus fair in 2017. Just prior to the fourth touchdown by the Irish, tight end Durham Smythe made a leaping grab in traffic for a clutch third down conversion. Score number five was aided by Chase Claypool‘s reach and footwork that put the ball in the red zone and led to Deon McIntosh scoring run.

Another good sign with the awakening of the pass offense was the fact that Equanimeous St. Brown seemed to come out of hiding, finishing with four catches for 61 yards. Two of those came on the opening drive, including a 40-yard grab that set up the first score. Yet despite not collecting much after that, St. Brown didn’t seem to be as invisible as it had seemed during much of the first three games.

Making Them Pay

Any analysis of this contest will look at the three costly turnovers that Michigan State committed, simply because the Irish were able to turn them into 21 points. The first of these came on a pick-six off a pass from Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke.

Julian Love snagged it and gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead after less than five minutes of action. A short while later, Lewerke fumbled the ball at the Spartan 24, which Daelin Hayes recovered and Dexter Williams converted into an eight-yard touchdown reception.

However, the most costly turnover committed by Michigan State came when LJ Scott had seemingly scored to cut the Spartan deficit to 21-14. However, just before Scott reached the goal line, Shaun Crawford was able to force a fumble, which he recovered in the end zone. The Irish then moved down the field and Williams scored on a 14-yard run to send Notre Dame into halftime with a 28-7 advantage.

Red Zone Magic

Getting in the red zone is one thing, but scoring from there is a necessity if a team expects to win. Against the Spartans, Notre Dame continued its spotless production in this department by converting on all four of its attempts, reaching the end zone each time. An opening drive capped by a Wimbush run, followed by a pair of scores from Williams and McIntosh’s second half score afforded the Irish the necessary breathing room.

That spotless mark now stands at 19-for-19 on the year, with 17 of the scores coming on touchdowns. By comparison, Notre Dame last season managed to score on 40 of 48 efforts in this department, which is still an impressive 83.3 percent. The problem was that only 30 of those scores were of the six-point variety, which translates into just 62.5 percent, a number that might help explain why the Irish started out 1-3 last year and now find themselves sporting a 3-1 mark.

Turning the Tables

Prior to the opening kickoff, Michigan State had only committed seven penalties for 55 yards, which put them in fourth place among all Division I schools. In just the first 30 minutes, the Spartans managed to nearly match the total penalties while surpassing the yardage as they racked up 67 yards from their six penalties.

Two of those miscues came on personal fouls and by the time the final whistle had sounded, the Spartans had been flagged nine times for 97 yards. The last of those mistakes was yet another personal foul at the end of a 32-yard Wimbush run, adding 15 more yards and helping to set up a Justin Yoon field goal.

Next Up

For only the third time ever, the Irish will line up against a MAC team, this one being the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks. Notre Dame’s two previous contests against this conference came against Western Michigan in 2010 and Massachusetts in 2015, with both of those home contests resulting in victories of more than three touchdowns.

The RedHawks are 2-2 entering this clash, having opened up MAC play on Saturday with a 31-14 road win against Central Michigan. Miami’s central component on offense, quarterback Gus Ragland, threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns to lead his team to victory.

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  1. This was a much more satisfactory game. We can nitpick…there were some missed plays, a missed tackle here…and so forth. But then no team is perfect. Even Alabama has been known to miss a play now and then. But this was a much more complete game. I definitely like what I see out of the defense. I didn’t anticipate this quick of a turnaround, kudos to Elko on that. They are a force to contend with, even against Georgia they played well when it was most needed. I know they gave up a lot of yardage, but it’s more in the Diaco defense mode, bend but don’t break. They’ll let you get downfield but you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to punch it in the endzone. I also believe this is just the beginning. As they improve I think they may start to cut back on yardage as well.

    Offense was more solid as well. They didn’t light the world on fire, but there was definite improvement. Hopefully they keep it moving. Wimbush looked much more comfortable this week which was good to see. Hopefully next week they’ll get a chance to work more on the passing game. If ND has any shot at taking down USC, the offense will need to be at the top of their game. I’m actually feeling good about the defense at this point though, which is the first time I was able to say that since the beginning of the BVG era.

    Go Irish!

  2. Not a complete game. MSU pretty much gave away the game. I want to see consistent offensive and defensive execution. Still too many missed tackles, missed blocking assignments, average kick return, kickoff coverage, etc. Kelly’s most experienced and talented team in many areas. I hate to see it frittered away by poorly conceived offensive plays and poor execution.

  3. Good win. (As if there’s ever a “bad win”? Never mind…) MSU hails from the B1G conference. B1G is a legit conference. So whenever anyone (especially the TUN whiners-not-winners) begins to bitch about ND’s quality of scheduling? Just STFU.
    (Shut The Heck Up) MSU exhibited class the TUN can only dream of. But the fact remains: ND WON because ND IS BETTER.

  4. Great win over MSU. I missed the game , but saw highlights and following articles/posts on here. Surprised on final score–thought it would be closer. MSU was one of the Big Boy wins needed in September — the other was Georgia. As an old timer , Spartans have always been tough rival year in , year out. This was a big win—and no doubt improvement needs to keep on the upswing. I see a possibility of USC coming into South Bend in October with Irish standing at 5-1. An almost similarity in 2014 when Irish at 6-0 went up against highly ranked Florida State. A close game lost on a controversial call in the end zone. Then after that loss , was the collapse in 2nd part of season to upstart Louiville program , Northwestern and others. This was the BVG defense. What we got here in 2017 is a defense under Mike Elko—and so far opponents are being kept in check. Come the half way point of season versus USC — win or lose , I don’t see a collapse like 2014 second half of season. Now the USC game is pointing to be the pivotal game as to how good this 2017 Irish squad can really be. Some of us refer to this team like myself , as “The Unknowns” — and each game brings forth exactly that. But , so far the needle points to the good each week —especially with the D. At this stage , I like the fact — that the D is getting the ink/attrubutes compared to the BVG years. What’s ahead are some tough games and if O and D get it all together— I truly believe they can beat anybody on remaining schedule.

      1. Bob and Southside:
        My gut feeling after the game was that this ND at MSU game was really the first COMPLETE game I remember seeing in years. By that I mean the offense and the defense were both working pretty well. All units contributed…there was a running game and a passing game…receivers sure showed up…Brandon was good…”O” line was decent…ROVER was all over…”D” produced three big TOs…”D” line stood up…even special teams looked involved. It was nice. I hope it felt good to our players too – maybe they’ll do it again!

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. I wouldn’t call it a complete game. They were outscored 11 to 10 in the second half. I get the fact that they were already up but really put the hammer down. Dantonio never gave up and I respect that. So don’t shut down in the second half. I’m not talking about long bombs or trickery but rather getting on the oline to block and the secondary to cover.
        Teach the team to finish.

      3. Well Bob , did you see the game ? Where is your comments on the game — instead of commenting on length of a commentary by another fan. One would think you would have something to say in regards to the game — But there is no follow up from you .

    1. It goes without saying that you don’t watch the games. One would only need to read a few of your posts to realize that.

    2. It goes without saying that you don’t watch the games. One would only need to read a few of your posts to realize that.

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