ND/MSU: First Victory Clog of the Year

Cierre Wood dives for the endzone for a TD against Michigan State (Matt Cashore/photos.nd.edu)

The nightmare that was a rather unexpected losing streak to start the season is thankfully over.  Thank God it only lasted two weeks, I don’t know if I could’ve handled starting 0-3 after I started the season with BCS hopes.  Those hopes are still alive, even if the chances are beyond slim.

Hey, some hope is better than none.

As I stated in my preview post, the Irish had been unable to beat Sparty by more than a single possession since 1993.  The majority of the roster was in diapers at that time.  If that doesn’t put this 31-13 win in perspective, nothing will.

And no, I’m not going to say this is our (re-(re-(re-)))return to glory or anything like that.  However, on the heels of two of the most frustrating losses, it was very nice to see the Irish win convincingly against what has been quite a thorn in our side in recent years.

Depending on your point of view, the way we beat the Spartans could be even more comforting.  After putting up two consecutive 500+ yard efforts, the Irish won by putting up only 275 yards.  The Irish were far from perfect in minimizing mistakes as well, turning the ball over three times and committing six penalties for 53 yards.

Despite all that, the Irish still won, convincingly.  The team didn’t panic and kept plugging away until the final whistle.  Like I said, this may not be comforting to everyone, but we just won a game by playing football that was far from perfect.  Personally, that tells me that there is loads of room for improvement and this team will be beyond scary when they start clicking 100%.

The resurgence of the Irish rushing attack continued as well.  The Irish put up 141 rushing yards with Cierre Wood again leading the charge with 71 yards and 2 TDs.  Jonas Gray continued to impress with 67 yards of his own.  More importantly, the Irish backfield had zero fumbles, a trend which hopefully continues throughout the season.

Overall, the Irish attack was balanced overall, with 32 runs and 26 passes.  Although, shocking to quite a few was that Kelly went far more pass heavy in the second half, with only 8 runs compared to 18 passes.  Honestly, I’m not sure what to attribute this to besides the fact that Kelly continuously wanted to try and be very aggressive and put the game completely out of reach.

I sure hope I don’t read anything about Kelly abandoning the run completely this week because that definitely isn’t the case.  Every drive in the second half had at least one running play.  While I’m sure every old school fan would love to see much more run to close the game out, you have to remember that this is the same coach that went for the TD against Tulsa last year.  He’s aggressive, period and, in this case, he definitely felt like that the Spartans weren’t going to mount any kind of a comeback the way his defense was playing.

Speaking of defense, that really is the story of the game.  Especially Aaron Lynch who was flat out wrecking havoc in the Spartan backfield all day long.  He may have had only two tackles, one of which being a sack that forced a fumble and flattened Cousins, but his impact was undeniable.  It’s even scarier to think that this kid is just a true freshman playing on mostly raw instinct and talent.  He’s going to be a monster for us.

While Gary Gray still had a handful of struggles, Robert Blanton saved the day with three pass breakups and an INT for 82 yards that more or less sealed the deal for the Irish.  Harrison Smith was also very active in the Irish secondary with 4 pass breakups as well and came close to a pick himself.  It’s definitely good to see him becoming an impact once again (beyond awful facemask penalties).

Rees as well had a fairly decent game despite a rather poor INT.  Throughout the first half, he definitely scared me into thinking that he was starting to lose his confidence; however, he came alive to put the Irish on top for good.  I’m still waiting for that killer instinct from Rees (and really the rest of the Irish offense in general) to deliver a dagger to our opposition rather than letting them hang around.

Just ask our next opponent how not doing so worked out for them.

Overall, there is a lot to be happy about, but we still have a lot of room for improvement.  I’m going to keep the bitching to a minimum though as a win is a win and it’s hard to be mad at an 18 point victory against a ranked team.

Here’s hoping we continue the improvement going into Pitt.