MSU Breakdown/Purdue Preview

I know, I know, I’m behind.  Hey, we got a night game tonight and it is going to be a long journey through crappy Big Ten games airing today until we finally get our very own crappy Big Ten opponent.  So let’s take a journey through the last week or so for the Irish before tonight’s game at West Lafayette and breakdown the ND/MSU game and preview tonight’s matchup.

Uh, Defense?

After a very impressive outing against Nevada, the defense has more or less just flat out fallen on their faces.  The Irish have given up a combined 68 points in their past two games.  Our passing defense has gotten worse too, against Nevada the Irish gave up 154 yards, against Michigan: 240 yards, and last week against Michigan State: 354 yards.  As a reference, last season we gave up 195.7 yards/game through the air.

Now, I do believe our secondary is far better than the numbers show; however, our problem starts up front with QB pressure.  As I said in the beginning of the season, when you decide to be blitz-happy like Tenuta, the key is having those blitzes hit home.  If you continue to place your corners on an island with single coverage, and the QB still has all day, you will have major issues no matter how good your secondary is.

So where are the hitting home results?  Against Nevada and Michigan: 2 sacks.  Against the Spartans: 0.  Now you might want to make an argument here saying “but hey, how many times did that rush Cousins and/or he was hit as he threw?”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter in this case.  Last week, the Spartans had a 65% completion percentage.  They weren’t rushed in the passing game at all.

Well, until that is, the last drive of the game.  As the Spartans were driving to deliver what looked to be an all to familiar comeback win in South Bend, a blitz finally hit home in a big way.  Cousins was flushed from the pocket, panicked, and threw off balance to avoid a sack.  The result was a lame duck floating into the arms of McCarthy to ice the game for the Irish and barely escaped with a win.

A weak defense caused us far more problems than it should have this past Saturday.

The Officiating Saga Continues

I’m far more prone to complain about the zebras after a win, and some of last week was comical.  Once again Big Ten refs came into a ND game and left with some fans wanting to tear them from limb from limb.  Once again, the Irish saw a TD inexplicably taken away from them, and this time, it wasn’t only the Big Ten to blame, but “our own” Big East refs in the both that we have every home game.

Of course, I am referring to the catch that ended Floyd’s season.  The call on the field was an incomplete pass, and the call in the booth upheld it.  Later on in the broadcast, we were informed that the ruling from the booth was that Floyd did not “have full control of the catch all the way to the ground.”  Which really boggles my mind…that ruling is brought into play for passes in which the receiver is immediately shoved out of bounds, and barely gets a foot in.  Let’s do our own further review:

Now, as the commentary shows, in bounds isn’t an issue at all.  What we are focusing on here is having full control of the ball.  Watch the replay again and watch the MSU defender, as he is the one that “disrupts the catch”.  Floyd has full control of the ball as he puts both feet in bounds, the defender is even able to try to rip the ball out until after Floyd has taken the extra step that usually is more than enough evidence to signify the catch.  Once Floyd’s back hits the ground then the ball is finally ripped out by the MSU defender.  How this is not full possession is beyond me.

Thankfully, it did not affect the game in the end; however, the fact that Floyd went down on this play and didn’t even get credit for his catch is infuriating to say the least.

There were some other questionable calls throughout the game as well; however, one fact does remain and that is the Irish are getting penalized far too much.  You can place blame on the refs for throwing laundry around all you want, but somewhere along the line the Irish need to stop giving them any excuses to throw flags.

Golden Shower

Once Floyd went down, Tate needed to step up.  While he again gave Irish fans a heart attack by dropping some passes, he completely redeemed himself with the winning TD and best celebration ever.

How we got away with that I will never know, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. 

I know Tate claimed he thought it was ND’s band, but I have a feeling he is full of it.  Go back and find a highlight reel of him and watch him taunt nearly every receiver he burns by turning around and pointing the ball back at them.  He likes to taunt, he just happens to get away with it.

By the way Spartans, we are now even for the flag planting of 2005.

M*A*S*H Unit

Ok enough of the Spartans, time to turn our attention to the pressing issues facing tonight’s game.  The first of which are the injuries.

Clausen should be good to go, despite his turf toe.  It sure wasn’t all too much of an issue during the MSU game when it happened, and I would like to assume it got better and not worse.  However, it is something to keep an eye on.  If he starts hobbling and struggling, I would expect to see Crist in tonight.

Allen, at best is questionable with his ankle.  Weis hasn’t completely confirmed that he is out, but from all news that’s I’ve read out of South Bend, he will have a limited role at best.  Expect to see much more of Jonas Gray and Robert Hughes tonight.

Floyd, of course, is out for the season, and Aldridge is still slated to be out for this game as well.

Keys to the Game

For Weis, he simply wants to avoid a shootout.  He’s got good reason for that.  The Irish are 28-5 when holding opponents to 29 points or less.  They are also undefeated when they win the ground game and out-rush their opponents.

The Irish are facing a rather potent offense in Purdue that has racked up 440.3 yards/game, with 229.7 yards/game through the air and 210.6 yards/game on the ground.  As stated earlier, the Irish defense must step up in a big way.  If they aren’t able to disrupt Purdue in the backfield, we could have another heart attack of a game on our hands.

On the flipside of the ball, Purdue has given up 434.3 yards/game, with 253.3 yards/game coming through the air and 181.0 yards/game on the ground.  Those are some big holes the Irish should be able to punch through all game long, especially on the ground.  With Floyd out, that is going to be a major factor in this game.  Tate will likely get much more attention than usual, so airing it out may not be the best plan of attack this time around.

Look for the Irish to establish a strong ground game first and then try to throw over the top once Purdue crashes the box — which will be the complete opposite of last week when ND attempted to air the ball out early and often and allow that to open up huge holes for Allen.

I’m not really sure how to peg this Purdue team.  They’ve beaten lowly Toledo, lost to an Oregon team that isn’t what it was last season on the road, and lost to the powerhouse that is Northern Iowa at home.  While I’d love to have supreme confidence with that resume, I can’t help but forget MSU lost to Central Michigan before facing off against the Irish.  The only thing I do feel some what confident in saying though is that ND will have no problem moving the ball against Purdue. 

The key for a ND win is going to be the defense.  If the defense shows up, it’ll be game over for Purdue in a big way.  The Irish have some bouncing back to do of their own and I expect to see it happen for a solid win.

Final Prediction: ND over Purdue 34-24