Sunday, September 23, 2007

Post Mortem: Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 14

Notre Dame has played 119 seasons worth of football, and has lost at least four games in 25 of them. So the 2007 season isn't exactly alone in its ignominy. It'll get special attention though, since it is now the first time Notre Dame lost their first four to open a season. If you'd rather not be hammered over the head with that statement, don't watch ESPN this week, read the paper, go on the internet (in which case you could not be reading this blog post...interesting catch-22 we find ourselves in), or do anything except drink water and go to the bathroom. "Notre Dame is 0-4" is about to become the second most overused phrase in sports television, right behind (you guessed it, Pat), "The Masters is on CBS".

The real bug about yesterday's 31-14 loss to Michigan State is that, even for a 17-point loss, it was a game that was quite obviously winnable. The Spartans aren't that good. Right now, Notre Dame's just that bad. When they needed to mix up the offensive gameplan a bit in the second half after some first-half success on the ground, they couldn't do it. When they needed to come up with one more play on defense on 3rd downs to get Michigan State off the field, they couldn't do it (3rd and 17? C'mon.) And on a day when they really needed to get some consistency out of their special teams play, they got what was hands down the worst performance of Geoff Price's career and YET ANOTHER penalty on Travis Thomas that pushed the young offense deep into the shadow of their own goalposts during the second quarter. The hits just keep on coming.

But, and it is a least a token of saving grace to say this, there were legitimate positives to take away from the game (the first half, anyway). "Training camp" seemed to have finally established the possibility of a core, power running game out of James Aldridge (with Robert Hughes as a 'Plan B' with loads of potential). The defense continued to put out a game effort despite being faced with a staggering 7 possessions that began in Notre Dame territory. Seven. Half of the Michigan State drives began on the opposite side of the 50 - usually when a stat like this pops up, you think the other team shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, like how Michigan State fumbled inside its own 10. But only one of those 7 turns in 'plus-territory' for the Spartans once set up by a turnover. I guess the Irish special teams were tired of the offense being the only ones to hang the defense out to dry.

What the defense could not do...AGAIN (at the risk of sounding like Mike Valenti) was contain the rushing attack along the edge. I know the Spartans pride themselves on having their pounders like Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick carry the ball, but a healthy portion of their 219 rushing yards came by running to the boundary. It's almost sad to think about how much Pat Kuntz and Trevor Laws are leaving on the field only to be totally let down by a linebacking corps which can't shed blocks. Maurice Crum was all over the place, racking up 16 tackles, but mostly he was the one cleaning up after at least one other Irish defender either couldn't bring down Ringer or had been taken out of the play.

In total, Saturday was probably the most frustrating of the four losses this season because this was a team Notre Dame was capable of beating, and in the first half the Irish accomplished most of the things they needed to do in order to win. When the Irish can figure out how to make that carry over across 60 minutes, they're not just going to win a game this season. They're going to win a whole bunch in the years to come.

Other observations from a weekend of football:
  • What's going on in New England is starting to border on criminal (in the figurative sense, not the literal). Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss is quickly becoming like a real-life version of SuperTecmo Bowl. You know, when you would choose to be the Raiders and intentionally down all the kickoffs at your own 1-yard line, just because you knew Bo Jackson would score whenever he touched the ball? Right now, New England's that good. I know Mike D never loses faith in Peyton and his Colts, but if they meet up in the AFC title game again this year? Don't count on being saved by dropped touchdown passes.
  • We have an early leader for greatest sports rant of 2007. As you might all guess, Mike Valenti was the runaway winner in 2006, and pretty much has the rant of the century award locked up. But for sheer "A-Bomb style" meltdown quality this year, we haven't really seen it before Saturday, when Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy stepped to the podium after his Cowboys rallied to beat Texas Tech. Here's what he had to say towards one columnist who questioned the heart of his quarterback after the previous week's loss to Troy. (Note: this happened shortly after Oklahoma State won on Saturday. So just imagine what might've gone down had they lost...

  • LaDanian Tomlinson has only one rushing touchdown through three games. Or, to sum it up in a way that makes all those who scrambled to pick him first in fantasy football feel really bad about themselves, he has one fewer than Notre Dame.
  • Forget all this talk about 0-4. How many days until Season 4 of Lost?

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