True Grit. Rooster Cogburn would have loved this game. A gritty bunch of players led by a gritty coach with a gritty game plane beat a gritty band of Spartans for the second straight win and tenth consecutive home victory.
Starting a four game run of high quality opponents, the Irish methodically handled business and dispatched Michigan State for the third year in a row. The final was 17-13. It was the third consecutive win over D’Antonio’s Spoartans. In the thirteen years between Holtz’ departure and Kelly’s arrival, Michigan State was 9-4 against Notre Dame. So, while the three game win streak is not a BCS victory, it is noteworthy. Further, since Ohio State accomplished it in his first three years in East Lansing, D’Antonio had not lost three games in a row to any opponent.
Some will say it was not pretty. For those folks we will provide free directions to the Louvre, the Prado or MOMA. But we have one tough football team, which beat a tough, worthy opponent.
For reasons of injury and targeted improvement, several changes were made on defense. Sheldon Day’s injury gave a lot of additional snaps to Kona Schwenke, some to Tyler Stockton, some to Jarron Jones, and some to Romeo Okwara as a tackle in passing situations.
Shumate and Grace were awarded starting positions and this made the starting unit a tad quicker and more athletic. The rotations at ILB and Safety will probably remain in flux for the rest of the year. We simply have more options and more flexibility than a year ago.
The Notre Dame defense held the Spartans to 254 yards of total offense, a number evocative of 2012 statistics.
The Irish offense totaled only 224 yards, but that was not far off the 275 the Irish totaled agaist the Spartans in 2011 and the 300 yards the Irish acheived against Sparty in 2012. Those with an accounting bent might think about doing a “pro forma” for the passing numbers by adding to them the interference penalties. In basketball you “create” free throws by driving to the bucket and forcing the defense to, well, defend. Kelly pressured the press coverage by throwing deep to Jones and the tall receivers, and, thereby “created” interference penalties. CAUSE; EFFECT.
We are each entitled to our opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts. In four games, the offense has had three turnovers, two Rees interceptions and the Carlisle fumble. The offensive line has allowed three sacks. These guys do not beat themselves. This is now a HABIT.
After four games last year the Irish had allowed just 36 points, 9 per game. This year is it 21 points per game. That gap must close, but the defense may be on the verge of knitting. The defense was solid, cutting off the head of the Michigan State offense, its power running game. Sacks are still hard to come by.
Elliott and Cooks continue to play a lot of defensive backs and we can now nickel and dime with a bunch of players. This secondary may be ready for the Dies Irae against Graham and Kelly and those Devilish Arizona State players.
We face some, but not Denardesque, mobility at quarterback the next two weekends, and that has been a challenge for the 2013 defense.
Newcomers of the match
Corey Robinson – The little Admiral is remarkable. A year ago, he was a three star recruit who looked like a “project.” He’s a project like the Hoover Dam was a project. He is remarkably poised for his youth. And think about this: for the first time is it possible that someone other than Jaylon Smith might, just maybe, be the Freshman of the Year.
Tarean Folston -Surprise, surprise! Most thought Greg Bryant would be the first frosh back in the mix, but appears that Folston, FOR NOW, is a more comfortable choice for the coaching staff. They trusted Folston to play while the game was well in doubt.
The Sleeper Has Awakened
Stephon Tuit must have dismissed his stunt double and put on #7 himself. He’s back! Whether it was a sports hernia or emotional hernia that needed time, the process is now complete. He’s about to start breaking some things!
Ronnie Stanley – still raw as a redshirt frosh but he is the first robin of the Spring of our future offensive lines. The pipeline is filled and Harry knows what to do.
We’ll refresh the unit rankings after the OU game.
This week we’ll rank our opponents, comment on some 2013 developments, and attempt to rate their bowl level.
BCS Bowl candidates
(1) Stanford – after three games the Cardinal look pretty much as they have the last two years. They are deliberate on offense, but have the ability to string together long drives when they need to control the ball. Hogan has settled in at QB.
Their defense is rough, physical, rugged, more effective than it is esthetically pleasing. They may have the best offensive line we will see this year and the best offensive line we have since since early January.
Their BCS hopes rest on the Oregon game, to be played November 7th, on the Farm. They play a tough schedule, drawing Arizona State, Ucla and the “Weakest Link” USC from the South. The Pac XII championship winner gets the automatic bid, but it would be no surprise if the improving Pac XII gets two BCS participants. Signature win: Arizona State
(2) Michigan – Remember the Big 2 and the Little 8? From the 1968 season through the 1980 season, 13 long years, either Ohio State or Michigan represented the Big X in the Rose Bowl. It is not guaranteed, but the most probable and plausible result is that Michigan will play Ohio State on two successive weekends, once in Ann Arbor and the following Saturday in Lucas Oil for the Championship. It is the winner of the second game who will get the automatic bid. Signature win: Notre Dame
(3) Oklahoma – while the Sooners have some serious issues on offense, the Bix XII is a bit off this year. Kansas State and West Virgnia are a shadow of what they were last year, Oklahoma State is being pecked at by compliance rumors, TCU is still two years away from competing for the title, and in a remarkable tribute to either inertia or stupidity, Mack Brown is still the coach at Texas. It is a conceivable result that the Soooners will be well out of the Top Ten and still get a BCS bid. Signature win: West Virginia
(4) Arizona State – their path is simple, albeit difficult. Just win the Pac XII South by outpointing UCLA and Arizona, then somehow pull the upset over whichever of Stanford or Oregon wins the North. They have, BY A MARGIN, the best quarterback we will face in the first six games. Signature win: Wisconsin
New Year’s Day Bowl Caliber
None of our opponents, huge drop-off after the top four (albeit USC is sui generis)
Michigan State – Signature Win: South Florida? (tallest of the three midgets they’ve beaten)
The Spartans are a typical D’Antonio team, sound but not spectacular. Yet, it is likely that they will be an underdog only against Michigan for the rest of the regular season. They might be the third best team in the Big Ten, if Wisconsin isn’t. And the two preceding facts constitute an indictment of the Western Conference. It is an archive with big TV ratings. As a conference it is sinking without trace.
Pitt – not a bad football team at all. Has a sure ACC classic on its schedule when they visit the Carrier Dome on November 23rd to play Syracuse. Signature win: Duke
BYU – a 1-2 team with a weird schedule, and it is still seeking an identity as an independent. Taysom Hill will amass huge stats against Middle Tennessee, Houston, Idaho State and Nevada but he will be get lambasted by our front seven. He will look much slower against us. Signautre Win: Texas
Navy – the most intriguing, suspense-filled race in America may be the Commander in Chief trophy. It’s a toss up! Signature win: Indiana
USC – Kiffin will not go quietly into that dark night, and Haden and his new coach (Believe this, it will be a dandy, and the rivalry will be rekindled, in ways we might find unpleasant) will have to go into damage control, rehabilitation, weeping, gnashing of teeth and rebooting this storied program. USC will QUALIFY for a bowl, but the coaching change will keep the Trojans home. Signature win: Boston College?
Air Force – can’t even contain the offenses of Utah State and Wyoming. Lost their starting quarterback, but the kid, Jaleel Awini, is a good runner, and a horrific passer. Signature Win: Colgate
Temple – Rhule will probably get the Owls to a bowl game, right before he leaves for greener pastures. Give it a couple of years. Winless
Purdue – If you want to plot the arc of the Purdue program, observe carefully what Jerry Kill is doing at Minnesota, if you’re into that sort of football thing. Hazell learned well under Tressel. Signature win: the mighty Sycamores of Indiana State.
We will update these rankings, and slot the Irish in the appropriate place after the Shamrock Series game against ASU.
What will we see against Oklahoma?
(1) Best set of skill players so far this year. At WR and RB they have some difference makers. Williams, Clay and Finch at RB, and Saunders, Shepard and Duron Neal at WR. But Blake “BellDozer” Bell is limited. He is more powerful than nifty, and nifty works better against our defense. He is not a good passer despite the stats he put up against Tulsa.
(Sigh!) This week we will hear much noise about how Bell has “arrived” There’s a reason he was not chosen the starter and the injured Trevor Knight was. Watch and see.
(2) An improving defense under Mike Stoops. They are quicker than a year ago. He was always the stronger of the Stoops/Venables pair when they worked together in the early years of the Bob Stoops reign.
(3) A lot of Stoops in the stands. The Stoops family is very active in the Catholic community in Youngstown and they will be out in force. The Sooners did not play on 9/21 and they will be rested. Bob Stoops will have put a lot of effort into this game, and the Sooners will probably play their best game of the year.
Last year, they were beaten physically by our Irish on both lines of scrimmage, as they were by Kansas State. Have they closed the gap? Have we? Both? Neither.
(4) Last chance to hone the man-to-man defense and blitzes before we confront a challenging Arizona State team.
(5) An opportunity for the 11th consecutive home win.
TV viewing note: our two ensuing opponents, USC and Arizona State, have a Saturday clash in Tempe, 7:30 California time on ESPN 2.
Buckle your chin straps, lads. Saturday is a big one!