Thursday, September 15, 2011

Next!: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish

In this world there are three things I love more than all other things. My family, the Philly at Backyard BBQ and the sad panda look of the fans of our vanquished rivals. I don't always feel that way about Notre Dame fans. Despite how hard I was on Notre Dame's program with the Uncle Rico comparisons I've always found their fans to be a likable sort of people. If you really wanted to go all JK Rowling on the whole thing, Notre Dame is like Hufflepuff, certainly a rival, but at the end of the day not the enemy of all things sacred and good. When Voldemort is comin' to town you can count on them to get your back.

I'm not sayin', oh screw it, I am sayin'

So that's what makes it particularly hard to watch the latest in the string of Saviors of Notre Dame football. The fans of Notre Dame deserve better than Brian Kelly or at least the Brian Kelly I've seen on TV the past two weeks. In just a year they've gone from Brian Kelly lobbying for only 8 minutes of commercial breaks between snaps to Brian Kelly being incapable of sending in a play call with enough time for the QB to do anything other than run the play as given. Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, Notre Dame Quarterbacks both have not gotten stupider since last year. I have to assume they've stayed the same at reading defenses if not gotten better. So what gives?

Here's a list of what Brian Kelly is not:
- The President of Senegal.
- The Savior of Notre Dame football
- An oompa-loompa
- Unstoppable

Previewing a team like Notre Dame scares the crap out of me, and by scares the crap out of me I mean is difficult to do. There will be a minimum of two games in progress under the view of touchdown Jesus, Notre Dame vs. Michigan State, Notre Dame vs Notre Dame and perhaps even Rees vs Kelly. Kelly won Saturday night's match up of Rees vs. Kelly at the sacrifice of winning the match up of Notre Dame vs. Michigan.

That was the most excitingly terrible game I have ever seen. Neither team could give that game away to the other. A commenter on Twitter said: I know when Michigan plays Notre Dame, you wish both teams could lose. Both teams tried and failed. How do you make a prediction on a team that has yet to play a game where they don't spend more time beating themselves than trying to beat you? Well, who even knows if we'll be close to right, but let's give it the old college try.

Notre Dame Pass Defense against Michigan State Passing Attack

Notre Dame's defense gave up 338 yards to Denard Robinson on Saturday but he only completed 11 passes. Additionally, Michigan never had an offensive drive that went more than five plays. This suggests that Notre Dame might be susceptible to the big play. Further, Cousins is more accurate than any quarterback they've played so far this year and in this regard you can only consider the Irish Pass Defense untested. The Irish held BJ Daniels to 128 yards passing, but it rained like God was starting the great flood in South Bend and USF was just trying to salt away the lead on the ground after that. Plus BJ Daniels is like Denard Robinson lite.

Cousins has been his usual efficient self completing 79 percent of his passes for 3 touchdowns and no picks. He's looked comfortable and in command of the offense as you'd expect. BJ Cunningham is going to be the best wide receiver in South Bend on Saturday, yep, I said that. We should have Bennie Fowler back and always watch out for Keshawn.

Advantage: MSU
Key Matchup: Kirk Cousins vs the missing communication armbands of the ND Secondary.

Notre Dame Rushing Defense vs Michigan State Rushing

In case you haven't heard our running backs are good. Real good. Like "killed a man in Reno, just to watch him die" good. I bring them up because Notre Dame will have to gameplan around our rushing attack good. In an interview with Dan Roushar, our offensive coordinator, he indicated that MSU has kept things pretty vanilla in the run game so far. I don't know if that means as much to the run game as it does to the passing game, but more wrinkles available is always a good thing.

I suspect we'll continue our rotation of Baker and Bell with Caper on 3rd down. Hill could make an appearance as the game goes on. There's something magical about having a 5'6" guy running through a line of people a foot taller than him. You can't find him sometimes.

Notre Dame is tooling itself up to stop the run by playing with lots of beef on it's defense. If they have success early on, look for State to start using the pass to set up the run. They surrendered 126 rushing yards to USF in the aforementioned rain bowl but only like 10 yards to rushers not named Denard Robinson in the Michigan game. That's probably part Notre Dame's Defense and part that Michigan was playing from behind the whole game.

Advantage: MSU(but not by as much as before)
Key Matchup: The MSU Monster Trio vs Notre Dame beefcakey manchildren linebackers.

Notre Dame Passing Attack vs MSU Pass Defense

Tommy Rees stepped in to relieve Dayne Crist halfway through the USF game and is suffering the same sort of turnover problems that Crist did. He's got a pretty respectable 69.9 percent completion percentage for 611 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season. He unfortunately has 4 interceptions and 1 lost fumble to his credit at this point. I'd pick on him for half his passing yards being to Michael Floyd, but the same is true of Cousins to Cunningham. Speaking of Michael Floyd, he is definitely among the top two receivers in the stadium on Saturday. Michigan State will need to keep a bead on him at all times.Notre Dame has been effective at moving the ball all season and not being able to close in the redzone. If those problems aren't cured on Saturday, look out.

Michigan State on the other hand has yet to face a quarterback as good as Tommy Rees. Further, they've shown in the Youngstown State game if you want to try and complete passes for four yards, we'll give that to you all day long. Still I like the cut of the jib of our defensive line and think that Worthy will show up to wreak havoc on the ND interior line Saturday. Dennard and Adams will have to do some of their best work to keep tabs on Michael Floyd. They will need help from Lewis and Robinson over the top on deep routes.

If Notre Dame can avoid beating itself:
Advantage: Wash
Key Matchup: Notre Dame not beating itself.

If Notre Dame has Notre Dame fail:
Advantage: MSU
Key Matchup: MSU Defensive Line forcing poor decisions that result in Turnover Walks of Shame.

Notre Dame Rushing Attack vs MSU Rush Defense

I think the combination of Wood and Gray is not as solid a rushing attack as Allen and Wood was last year. The tandem of backs has combined for an average of 160 rushing yards a game against two of the worst defenses they will play this year. In short, I'd say Notre Dame's rushing game is the quality of a middle tier Big 10 opponent, they'll have some success running, but I'd say it'll be capped at 100 yards give or take 25 yards.

Of course there is to consider the Spartans looked devastating in their lopsided victory of FAU by ceding only 22 rushing yards. While it may have only been FAU, they looked like a machine into which you feed men and out comes only bones. Still, this will be higher quality competition than MSU has faced thus far.

Advantage: Wash
Key Matchup: MSU's young linebackers forcing Wood and Gray into the ground.

Special Teams

Notre Dame's Kicker is 1/2 on the Season, Conroy is 2/4 on the Season.
Notre Dame's Punter has an average of about 36, Sadler is averaging 37.8 on the Season.
Advantage: Wash
Key Matchup: Getting one team to stop copying the other team's average special teams play.



Right now, Mark Dantonio has his sea legs at MSU, Brian Kelly does not.

Final Prediction

It's not that Notre Dame CAN'T win this game, it's that I think they have too far to come in too short a time. I'd rather be playing them now than in six weeks from now. I think ND's pass defense has not shown me that they can stop Cousins nor that their defense is well-suited to stop our rushing attack. They make too many mistakes at critical times on offense for me to be real scared about offense. Although, expect this to be a game where if you watch it with someone who gets pissy about a team moving the ball between the 20s, that you will be hearing a lot of complaints. Final score in the 5 Key Things Post tomorrow.

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