September 17, 2010

Week Three Picks: Notre Dame - Michigan State

Tough loss last week Irish fans. Nothing else to say about that. Let's see if the blue and gold can't circle the wagons and pick up a W in East Lansing. Don't want to be 1-2 with Stanford coming to town next week.

Dan: Michigan State

Last week was painful. No one can deny that Denard Robinson is a talented individual. But to lose to a one man team always stings a little more, because you can’t help but question a defense that cannot key in on and slow down one player. This weekend, ND gets another nemesis in the Spartans of Michigan State. Spartan Stadium has been relatively kind to ND since the departure of Robert Montgomery Davie.

Michigan State’s defense has had its difficulties this year. It gave up over 300 yards to a miserable Florida Atlantic team and a questionable Western Michigan team. While I have not had the opportunity to watch either game, my Spartan friends have complained about a sloppy defense, poor tackling, and sluggish game play. If that continues on Saturday, the Notre Dame offense should have success. In particular, I’d like to see a larger dose of the running game. ND got away from Armando and Cierre a little bit last week, and I think keeping them as an active ingredient will open up some more passing lanes for Crist. Additionally, if Crist really can’t throw the ball to the outside with accuracy, then I’d rather not try. Keep the DBs honest with outside running plays or swing passes and keep the downfield passing game over the middle.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Michigan State Running game has looked dominant. Both running backs are averaging over NINE yards per carry. Granted, the opposition has been weak. But it is clear that the ND linebackers are going to have a long day if they cannot wrap up on first contact and slow down the run game. Cousins has been a little slow to get started, but the Spartan passing offense always comes alive against Notre Dame. Expect him to elevate his game this Saturday. The key for the ND defense in my mind will be turnovers. Michigan State turned the ball over twice against both FAU and WMU. Meanwhile, ND lost the turnover battle last week 3 – 0. If ND can win the turnover margin this week, they can win this game.

Unfortunately, I have not seen anything to believe that we will commit to the running game, win the turnover margin, or be consistent and successful in bring down runners on first contact. Our DBs have been good wrapping up wide receivers, but I’m more concerned about the Spartan running game right down the gut. Michigan State always plays Notre Dame incredibly tough, and I expect this year to be no different. Brian Kelly is only 3 weeks in, but I am afraid he may find himself facing a must win game next week against Stanford after opening up 1 – 2.

Michigan State 31 Notre Dame 27

Jeremy: Notre Dame

I can’t really put my finger on why, but I’m strangely confident about this game. The Irish are done with super-athletic running QBs (at least for a few weeks anyway), and I think the ND defense matches up much better against the straight-ahead running tendencies of this MSU offense. I do expect the Spartans to have some success in play action and perhaps even on a trick play or two, but I believe the Irish will be stout against the run and may even force Cousins to make some ill-advised throws. The news about Slaughter missing another game are a bit worrisome, but I thought Motta played admirably last week, particularly in run support. He’s going to be asked to do a bit more in pass coverage on Saturday which should have Irish fans a bit nervous.

On offense, I really do believe that ND is poised for a big breakout game soon. I don’t think its going to happen on Saturday, but with every offensive series, it appears Crist is getting more comfortable with the spread and more comfortable with his receivers. I expect that once Theo Riddick and TJ Jones grab a few more catches, their collective confidence will rise and perhaps take some of the attention off Floyd.

Look for a tight game in the 1st half as the teams feel each other out (possibly in some ugly weather), with the Irish pulling away on some long scoring drives in the 2nd half.

ND 31 MSU 23

Jimmy: Notre Dame

Like Dayne Crist's 1st half vision, things are still a little blurry this week. Chalk some of that up to a tailgate for the ages that raged late into the evening (thank you Joyce lot lights for illuminating our night bags). More specifically, the makeup of this team has yet to come into focus. Way too many questions that will begin to be answered in East Lansing. By the end of this 4 week gauntlet of quality (if not flashy) opponents, expectations should be 20/20.

Some of those lingering questions:

Is the defense auditioning for the role of Plastic Man (whenever Sam Raimi decides to adapt it)? Not allowing 2nd half points for 29:23 was a solid effort. Yet they couldn't make the pivotal stop. Shoelace could have been an aberration and they bounce back against a more pro style offense. Or they are what they are and we have to buckle in for this momentum roller coaster.

Is Crist healthy? Clearly, he needs to be on the field for any semblance of an offense.

Why is Mike Floyd the Michiana Regional Man of Mystery? I know safeties are spying him when they're not double-teaming him, but this is college football! The best players find a way to impact the game. He has yet to play like the unstoppable force he was touted to be for two games now.

Will the lack of dependable safety play force the CBs to give up the 5-7 underneath route all season? They have to be able to play more bump knowing they have some backside help.

Are Duval Kamara and Theo Riddick still dressing on offense? Bravo on the Copperfield vanishing acts.

Will Brian Kelly continue to make head scratching decisions? Granted, the FG before half had much to do with Crist's availability to play, but running the flea-flicker with your back was questionable at best and the use of timeouts on UM's final drive should have been managed better. We're two games into viewing Brian Kelly under the microscope and still learning what his strengths and weaknesses are. I hope the lens doesn't magnify the latter too quickly.

Which brings us to tomorrow night. East Lansing isn't a fun place to play, especially under the lights. And history doesn’t exactly have Notre Dame’s back, losing 9 of the last 14 contests. Kirk Cousins joins the list of capable but not outstanding MSU signal-callers. He hasn't exactly been tested by Western Michigan or Florida Atlantic as the Spartans have opted to dominate on the ground. Suffice it to say, I don't envision Cousins pulling a Denard and racking up infinite yards of total offense. But the Spartans WR corps have had success finding ways to get open and will certainly take advantage of soft coverage. If the Spartans focus on the ground game, I like the challenge for our run defense as foreshadowing for matchups with run-centric BC and Pitt. But Sparty has beaten us through the air before and I expect them to try to do so again.

On the other side of the ball, Greg Jones will wreak havoc thwarting ND’s rushing attack, but the offense should still put up some points through the air (with #10 behind center all game). Special teams will be crucial as that has unequivocally been an improved unit so far. I’m queasy about heading into Stanford (the best opponent of the next four weeks) 1-2. Kelly needs to build momentum to have a shot against Harbaugh. Call me naively optimistic, but the Irish will do just enough to escape with a W.

Notre Dame 27 Michigan State 25

Matt: Michigan State

I really want to pick ND here. I do. I think Brian Kelly will eventually get this program headed back to national prominence. The recruiting this week has been awesome despite a heartbreaking loss.

But I was in the stadium last week and as soon as Kyle Rudolph crossed the goal line and I looked up at the clock, I knew that no matter how loud I yelled, how hard we blitzed or any other factor, Notre Dame was losing that game. You probably had that feeling too. We’ve seen it all unfold too many times.

The aftermath was predictable, with every talking head praising Denard Robinson and anointing him as the Heisman frontrunner. And of course along with that came the inevitable “Michigan is back” stories and even some proclamations that Blue will factor into the Big Ten race. And I couldn’t help but be brought back to the Georgia Tech game in 2007 when Tashard Choice carved up the Irish defense to the tune of 197 yards in a colossal blowout win. And every Irish fan afterwards kind of brushed aside the horrific performance by ND by praising Georgia Tech (“John Tenuta blitzed us from every angle – wouldn’t it be great if he could do that for our defense”) and lofting praise on Choice as if he was the second coming of Adrian Peterson. Of course, we all know how it turned out – GT was an average ACC team that plenty of teams had no problem in stopping their run and their blitzes. Don’t you deep down, no matter how spectacular Robinson was/is, get the feeling that plenty of Big Ten teams will stop the one dimensional Michigan offense, and the Wolverines will end up a 7-5 / 8-4 type team. Why couldn’t ND stop them? At home no less.

As you can tell, I am not over the Michigan loss, and I haven’t really even begun to look into the matchups for this week. What it comes down to is I have no reason to believe yet in this team. The best player on the team can’t get the ball in his hands, the defense is still shaky at best – a bend but sometimes break if you will – and the QB situation appears to be on a 1-AA level if Crist goes down again. So no, I don’t see ND going into its house of horrors in East Lansing in front of a rapid, intoxicated nighttime crowd and pulling out a W. I hope I’m wrong.

MSU 28 ND 24

Mike: Michigan State

I won’t spend much time rehashing last week’s disaster because it’s simply too painful. Simply put, there was no excuse for losing to an inferior Michigan team at home in that manner, regardless of Crist’s injury. It is far too early into the Kelly era to begin drawing conclusions about whether he will succeed, but last week was certainly not encouraging. At 1-1 with a tough Stanford team on deck, this is a critical week for Kelly and the Irish. As usual, a night game at Spartan Stadium will be no picnic.

Notre Dame on Offense: Assuming that Crist is healthy, the Irish should be able to move the ball effectively against Michigan State. The key for Crist, who seems to be improving each week, is to play more consistently. Likewise, Notre Dame’s offensive line needs to be more consistent for the Irish offense to reach its full potential. The Spartans have an excellent group of linebackers, but their secondary is inexperienced and their front four is suspect. Accordingly, ND has an excellent opportunity to put up large numbers on offense.

Notre Dame on Defense: Where do we begin? Michigan State boasts a dynamic one-two punch at tailback with sophomore Edwin Baker and true freshman Le’Veon Bell (think Jason Teague and Javon Ringer, part two). In addition, the Spartans have a solid veteran quarterback in Kirk Cousins, who has several talented receivers at his disposal: Keshawn Martin, Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham. After a promising debut against Purdue, Bob Diaco’s defense was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by Denard Robinson last week, so there is plenty of cause for concern. This is a bad matchup for ND, which figures to surrender a healthy chunk of yardage on the ground and through the air. Hopefully, the Irish can force a turnover or two to help stem the tide.

Special Teams: The Irish have been solid on special teams thus far and it must continue against the explosive Keshawn Martin. A long kickoff or punt return, particularly early, would whip the Spartan faithful into a frenzy and make life very difficult for Notre Dame.

Coaching/Intangibles: Based upon the first two weeks and Kelly’s resume, I don’t have any worries about Notre Dame’s motivation level. Of course, there is no doubt that the Spartans will be equally up to the task, as always. Given Notre Dame’s defensive shortcomings, there will be an enormous amount of pressure on Crist and the ND offense to score points. As with last week, the Irish will have their moments, but they will also make more mistakes, which spells doom on the road against a talented and motivated foe.

Michigan State 35 Notre Dame 31

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

long time before a real decision can be made on kelly, but he has to find a way to win one of those two games. bigtime coaches find a way to win those games. he has to find a way to stop late drives with better defense.

and he needs to learn how to work the refs. 2 plays, the late TD and the fake should have been called back.

i had extreme faith that kelly would get this turned around before season started. now, not so sure