Monday, September 25, 2006

Post Mortem: Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37


Saving the season, or merely postponing the inevitable crash and burn?

Redeeming the offense for its struggles, or using lucky breaks to mask defensive weaknesses?

Doesn't it always feel good to be asking these questions after a win?

The 40-37 slugfest in East Lansing had a little bit of everything - sideline fights, trick plays, gutsy 4th-down calls, and crucial turnovers and bizarre changes of fortune that swung momentum wildly in either team's favor all night long.

From the get-go, the Irish looked like the first half against Michigan had never ended. The offense stalled. Special teams committed killer turnovers. The defense got caught with their pants down. And they went into the locker room down 31-14.

And the game was more lopsided than the score indicated.

Things weren't looking much better heading into the 4th quarter, as the rain evolved into a steady downpour, the wind turned back against Notre Dame, and the Spartans went in for a 37-21 lead. Then a funny thing happened on the way to complete disaster: Brady Quinn and the Irish offense finally took advantage of the opportunity they'd been given.

Let's clear up this "luck" thing. Of course Notre Dame was the beneficiary of the same type of Spartan miscues that seem to happen every year at right about the same time in the season for John L. Smith's team. Kirk Herbstreit didn't mince words in Saturday's broadcast, saying, "If you've been watching Michigan State football for the past 50 years, you know that this is why you're Michigan State." Not the last 5 years, or the last 20, or even 40. This apparently has been a recurring theme for half-a-century.

So to recap: Michigan State's Drew Stanton committed three turnovers in the final 8 minutes, Brady Quinn threw 5 TDs to help rally the Irish, and the now (once again) much-maligned Irish defense made the killer blow with an interception return for a touchdown by Terrail Lambert. Not a bad day at the office, all things considered.

Of course, many holes remain. For one thing, how to get the Irish to play with a sense of urgency straight out of the gate, rather than waiting until their actually in an emergency, down 17. On the whole the offense is still sputtering in and out of gear, and the defense of course still has major problems.

Coach Weis wasn't really in the mood to discuss any of that just yet on the rain-soaked field Saturday night. For one night, while students danced wildly in Stonehenge next to LaFortune, Weis let his players whoop it up. "I'm not bringing them down until Sunday", he said.


Nobody's confusing them with the '66 team just yet, but these Irish pulled
off what couldn't be done 40 years earlier - win the tough battle at Spartan Stadium.

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