CONSISTENT IN THEIR INCONSISTENCIES
Who are you and what have you done with the Irish defense?
It’s a question that needs to be asked of Brian VanGorder’s defense that suddenly and unlikely began to bow up near the end of Saturday’s third quarter.
Six Spartans snaps yielded just 19 yards. Six more just 10. Then, a three-and-out on which just five yards were gained. Notre Dame’s offense responded in kind, drawing close in the process, 36-28 with 6:02 remaining.
Thereafter both the Irish offense and defense failed in similar chances to close the deal and potentially force overtime.
But the defense is the fatal flaw, and save for the three consecutive possessions detailed above, surrendered touchdown drives of 75, 78, and 92 yards – par for the course save for the ugly realities of a 38-yard touchdown pass and three-play, 39-yard touchdown drive not already included therein.
Which begs the question: why does the defense occasionally rise to the occasion?
“There can’t be a lapse in energy or anything like that,” said senior defensive lineman Isaac Rochell. “We came back after being down like three or four touchdowns. You have to keep that effort and enthusiasm going.
“Ultimately it’s just being more consistent in terms of playing with heart and energy.”
Which begs the relevant question: why can’t the Irish defense play with said “heart and energy” over the course of a contest?
TURNING THE TIDE
Notre Dame scored first, then, as noted in our weekly “Who, and What, to Watch?” column, the team that scored the contest’s second touchdown ultimately won the game (that’s 18 wins vs. 4 defeats dating back to the Irish epic in Tallahassee with the team notching a game’s second touchdown rather than its first going on to win.)
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio doubled down on his team’s touchdown at the 9:30 mark of the second quarter, going for two points and an 8-7 lead rather than accepting the nearly certain tie.
“It's early in the game, we came here to win,” said Dantonio of the decision. “Our MO was ‘We came here to win.’ I kept saying it the whole time, ‘We came here to win, just win.’
“You have to take a calculated risk.”
Such risks have Dantonio’s Spartans emerging as victors in 38 of their last 43 contests dating back to the outset of the 2013 campaign.
Again they fell behind, just as they did in four of their last five losses (14 points at Clemson; 21 against Ohio State; 17 at Texas; 29 last night). Again they roared back (within 2 at Clemson; 10 vs. Ohio State; ahead against Texas; within 8 last night).
Again they fell short.
And for at least the third time in those four losses, a curious tactical decision accompanied defeat.
Trailing 36-28 at its own 32-yard line and facing a 4th-and-7 with just over 3:30 to play, Notre Dame elected to punt. That’s fine – in fact, the Irish were within a (perhaps predictable) mental defensive error on third down of getting the ball back with ample time remaining to mount a final offensive drive.
But instead of “deciding to punt” head coach Brian Kelly first called timeout. You get three in a half. That was one of them…all were needed for what became two potential defensive stops thereafter.
“No…it was pretty clear that we were going to punt the football, but no sense of showing punt there,” said Kelly when asked if the timeout was used to make an ultimate decision: go for it or punt. “I kept the offense right there and sent the punt team out after.”
After a timeout that was necessary.
“If you can keep your head when all about your are losing theirs, and blaming it on you…”
STATS AND STUFF
- DeShone Kizer now has 14 rushing touchdowns in 14 career starts
- C.J. Sanders lost fumble Saturday was just second of his career but the sixth time he’s fumbled the football in 16 games.
- Tyler Newsome’s 71-yard punt was the longest by a Notre Dame punter since Hunter Smith unleashed a 79-yard bomb against Arizona State in 1998.
- Junior middle linebacker Nyles Morgan registered six of his game-high 10 stops within three yards of the line of scrimmage Saturday night.
- Notre Dame is one of two teams among the 128-team FBS ranks without a sack to its credit. Irish fans had the pleasure of watching the other, Nevada, last week.
- Including incomplete passes, more than half of Notre Dame’s 62 snaps (33) ended in either loss, no yards gained, or a turnover.