NDtex25: Week 4

With week 4 now in the books, it’s time to take a look at how my little ranking experiment is going.  As always, if you need a refresher on how this works, check out the original post for all formulas.

This week, it appears that everything is starting to stabilize a bit.  There are still some interesting appearances in the NDtex25 this week, but now with many teams having a few games in the books things are starting to look “normal” if you will.  For example, this week, the NDtex25 only has seven teams that are unranked in the AP Poll and eight unranked teams from the Coaches’ Poll.  Only one team from the AP Poll’s top 10 doesn’t appear as well.

My guess would be that next week, my rankings will include nearly all of the teams from the two polls, but in different order.  By the time the first BCS poll comes out, this should definitely be the case.  One thing is for sure though, slowly but surely, the NDtex25 is becoming a bit less of “wtf how did that team make it” and now will be more of a comparison on how my top teams differ from the order that they appear in the polls.

This week’s rankings are below with their AP and Coaches’ Poll ranks also in the table for comparison.

RankTeamFinal ScorePrevious RankAP RankCoaches' Rank
1Oklahoma State114.5156
3Georgia Tech10552121
12Boise State95.251045
15South Carolina90.2530109
16Ohio State89.7582NRNR
17Arizona State89.53925NR
19Michigan State84.7567NRNR
23Mississippi State82.544NRNR
25Virginia Tech81.25131110

Knocked Out (Previous Rank): Ohio (2), Illinois (11), Utah (12), Texas A&M (15), Kansas State (17), San Diego State (18), Texas Tech (20), Wyoming (22), USC (24)

Just Missing the Cut: Illinos, Rutgers, Bowling Green, Kansas State, Missouri

Much like last week, any team that raises eyebrows are still benefiting from blowout wins over middle of the road teams.  Ohio State and Auburn are the best examples.  Michigan State as well rebounded from a multiple possession beating by ND to claw their way back into the top 25.  I believe that much of this is due to the small amount of games that have been played as the blowout wins easily cancel out the majority of the losses and then some.

Once again, the Big XII is king, having five teams in the NDtex25, three of which are in the top five.  The SEC though has the numbers with seven teams appearing the top 25 with LSU cracking the top 5.  The Big Ten also checks in this week with five teams thanks to the crazy additions of Michigan State and Michigan and one team in the top 5.

The worst team in the nation this week: Akron. You’ve made LeBron James proud!

As always, to close things out, it’s time to look at the rankings as they concern Notre Dame:

  • Notre Dame’s Rank: 42 (Previous Rank: 32)
  • Opponent Rankings
    • USF: 5
    • Michigan: 15
    • Michigan State: 20
    • Pitt: 63
    • Purdue: 47
    • Air Force: 84
    • USC: 54
    • Navy: 33
    • Wake Forest: 71
    • Maryland: 98
    • Boston College: 109
    • Stanford: 10

ND/Pitt: Breaking Down Rees

The big story of Notre Dame/Pitt was, once again, the Irish not seeming to be able to get out of their own way, especially on offense.  We’ve all wondered why we seem to cough up the ball so often and against Pitt, Rees was the major culprit.  While other people didn’t help around him, Rees could have prevented each turnover on his own.  The mistakes made are beyond frustrating, but, if Rees is the QB that Kelly believes is the best to lead this team, all of these mistakes can and should be corrected.

I do want to put out a disclaimer that the goal of this post isn’t to bash Rees or suggest that we have a better option.  I don’t watch practices and I only have a single half of video footage of any other QB play.  The purpose of this post is to breakdown the comments I made all game long on Twitter (and the analysts on ESPN made as well) that Rees was “locked in” and “wasn’t seeing the field properly”.  Such statements are easy to throw out, but being able to break down the footage helps to highlight exactly where Rees went wrong and why I damn near pull my hair out on such mistakes.

Let’s start with the opening drive.  Right before the Irish were forced to punt, Rees threw a near INT after a overthrow of Riddick.  This play ends up being a great example of Rees locking on to his target and Pitt selling out in coverage on that fact.

Just after the snap, you can see that Rees has two receivers running down the middle of the field, with only one safety to help.  That safety is watching only one thing: Rees’ eyes.  Once Rees looks to a receiver the safety will then decide which man to cover and which man to leave open.

Rees immediately looks to Riddick and starts his throwing motion.  The safety makes his decision and starts to move Riddick’s direction.  By doing this though, Eifert is now open against single coverage on the right side, which Rees never sees.  Had Rees used his eyes to look the safety off or even did a pump fake, we easily have the potential for a big play.  It wasn’t like Rees had to hurry and make a throw either, just look at the protection around him.

And now we get the eventual result.  The CB on Riddick is actually able to adjust to the route and cuts off the window Rees initially thought he had.  With the safety also coming over the top, this pass just became near impossible to complete.  The throw happens to be overthrown in this instance and would’ve been picked off had Riddick not gotten a piece of the ball.  Rees made a bad decision here and focused far too much on his primary read instead of making the easy adjustment to Eifert’s route.

Next, we take a look at the first turnover of the game, Rees’ fumble.

Before the snap Rees reads a blitz and throws out an audible.  He sees for sure at least two LB blitzing as one is lined up with the D-line and another creeping right behind them.  The final LB circled behind the 30 was also creeping back and forth as well.  Rees sees the potential for six pass rushers to be coming at him at once.

The ball is then snapped and it’s obvious that Rees has misread the blitz package.  Six men are indeed rushing, but the CB circled in red is the blitzer that Rees never saw.  However, missing the pre-snap read isn’t the end of the world.  The CB blitz has left Riddick wide open as the hot route and all Rees has to do is adjust and see it.

We come to our next problem in this play and this time it’s the blocking.  The four offensive linemen toward the bottom are engaged on only three pass rushers, leaving the two blitzers circled in red free to shoot the huge gap created by the initial rush.  Cierre Wood is now stuck in an impossible situation and must at least take care of one blitzer to give Rees enough time to get rid of the ball.  Riddick, circled in yellow, literally has no one around him; however, Rees doesn’t see this as he is locked into the receiver to Riddick’s left.  Rees is still operating off his pre-snap read and believes that the blitz up the middle is going to leave single coverage for his receiver down the sideline.

Wood takes out the closest blitzer and Rees needs to make his decision now on his throw.  He has the entire yellow circled area by Riddick to throw to safely; however, he still doesn’t see it despite looking in that direction down the field.  He is still looking past the correct read and is waiting for the other route he was previously staring down to develop.

The route that Rees was previously staring down didn’t develop to his liking and Rees then makes another critical error that eventually buries him.  He somehow doesn’t see the wide open Riddick and actually turns his vision to the other side of the field towards Floyd, whom, according to his presnap read should have single coverage as well.  Rees has exposed his blindside to the CB he never saw coming presnap, and based on his reactions during this play, never saw at all.  Rees continues to stare down Floyd as he is sacked and stripped of the football.

Now let’s move on to the INT, a play which should have been a touchdown.

This play is called to Eifert and, while ESPN would later criticize Rees for staring him down, I actually don’t have a problem with it.  This is a slow developing route that Rees was waiting on.  As shown above, there are two defenders circled in red.  The defense here is playing a zone and the LB will try and take away the throwing lane below and the saftey, Hendricks (the one that will eventually get the INT) will take away the route above.  Hendricks will again sell out on Rees staring down Eifert, but this time it will work to his advantage.  Eifert will move in the direction of his arrow and Hendricks will completely sell out to the route over the middle.

Eifert then makes his second move and begins to run an out toward the sidelines.  The LB behind him has settled into his zone and is completely unaware of this move.  Hendricks attempting to take away the route over the middle is now dead in the water.

Eifert is now well ahead of Hendricks.  Floyd’s route is run just underneath Eifert so he can clear out his defender in order to leave Eifert wide open.  The trap has been sprung, the perfect play called and all routes run to perfection.  Hendricks desperately tries to catch up to Eifert, but then…

…the ball was thrown to the wrong spot.  Had the ball been thrown to the area in yellow, Rees would hit Eifert in stride with no one in front of him on his way to an easy TD.  However, the ball is thrown to the area in red, forcing Eifert to stop dead in his tracks to readjust to the ball.  Hendricks, who was completely burned on the route and is in full stride attempting to catch up, now has the perfect angle to pick off the errant throw.  While Eifert should have gone forward to ensure the INT never happened, it’s easy to see why he didn’t.  He knew that he absolutely burned his man and had to make a quick adjustment to his route to get into position to catch it.  He still had time to move forward though, but while he could’ve saved the pick, the root cause for the INT is still on all Rees and a very, very poor throw.

After the first half though, Rees did begin to put things back together.  He still had several more moments of not seeing the whole field properly and locking into his primary route, but Kelly and staff actually started to use that to their advantage, trying to open up routes to Eifert all game long.  When Pitt adjusted to that, they would call a play for another receiver, leaving Pitt’s coverage eventually exposed on several plays.  Rees still fit some passes into some tiny windows that are too close for comfort (take a look at the fourth quarter TD), but that plus the above issues can be corrected.

The three plays above were major drive killers and likely took away points (especially the INT, that should’ve been a TD).  To me, it’s starting to become clear that offensive struggles are directly related to Rees not seeing the field and coverages properly along with having some accuracy issues as well.  It isn’t time to go into full panic mode, but I sure hope he can iron out these issues because it will be a long, frustrating season for the offense if he can’t.

Irish Blogger Gathering: Off the Snide

I join the IBG and the Irish start 0-2.  I host the IBG and Notre Dame gets their first win of the season and their first multi-possession win against Michigan State since 1993.

You’re welcome.

This week, our SBNation representatives at One Foot Down have hosting duties for the IBG.  The pressure’s on boys, let’s keep this winning streak going.

The host post is in the link above and my answers to their questions are below.

1. For the first time this season, Notre Dame was outgained in yardage by its opponent.  Some have expressed concern that Notre Dame maybe doesn’t beat State without a kick return for a touchdown and an 82-yard interception return.  Still, Notre Dame won for the first time this season.  What does this win say about this team?  Did we see progress on Saturday? 

Well, it depends on how you wish to look at it.  It’s hard to outgain an opponent when you do get a kickoff return for a TD and get a 82 yard INT return in just offensive yardage.  That stat alone doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.

That’s one of the reasons why I came up with my NTY metric for the NDtex25.  If you’d like to check out the whole formula, you can do so here, but the basic gist is that you take all sides of the ball into account to see the Net Total Yardage for the game (only thing not taken into account is fumble/INT return yards as I have a turnover margin metric as well).  Obviously, you want that number to be positive and if you happen to dip into the negative, you really got your ass handed to you.

However, this stat doesn’t do ND any favors either.  ND’s NTY for the game was 43 and Sparty’s was 222. Even if I include the INT yardage, ND’s number would only be bumped up to 125, still greatly lagging behind Sparty.

So with all that in mind, how do I feel?  Just fine.  Even in my own rankings, I don’t put too much stock in NTY or even TO margin, the big factor is simply: “did you win the game?”.  Every thing else, in my mind, is how I try to separate teams with similar records.  I love stats, but they aren’t everything.

Sure it wasn’t pretty, but we still managed to win the game while not playing our best football and turning the ball over three more times.  Three turnovers are less than five, so there’s improvement there.  The defense didn’t collapse.  And most importantly, there’s a 1 in the win column instead of a 0.

This game says the same thing the last two weeks did.  This is a team that still isn’t playing to it’s potential and has some things that still need fixing.  The turnovers are still too high and the offense needs to step on the throat of our opponent to put games out of reach.

The Irish are still a work in progress, but are no means a bad football team.  I’m still waiting for everything to click because this team will be damned scary when that happens.

2. What three facets of our game do you focus on in practice this week if you’re Brian Kelly? 

1) Ball Security – Obvious facet is obvious.

2) Rees – Unfortunately, Rees threw an INT that was a absolutely horrible mistake, locking in on Floyd and throwing directly into coverage.  Several of us at the IBG have noticed this tendency and it needs to stop.  Yes, Floyd can make amazing plays happen and he should be fed the ball, but even he can’t prevent INTs when awful decisions are made.  Rees is getting better and will continue to do so.  Kelly has mentioned several times that he works with Rees personally, so staying the course there should pay off.

3) Sweep the Leg – The offense needs a killer instinct.  Michigan should have been buried by halftime two weeks ago and Michigan State should have been beaten by much more than they were.  Kelly got aggressive to try and put the game out of reach, but the offense just couldn’t execute.  It’s like some weird mental block that needs to stop and fast.

3. Grade the coaching staff and position groups through three games.

  • Quarterbacks: C
    • Let’s be honest, week 1 was just awful and both of our QBs made some bad decisions.  After taking the reigns full-time, Rees is still far from perfect.  Locking onto receivers and throwing into coverage that should be obvious isn’t helping matters.  There are still flashes of brilliance, but the consistency just isn’t there.  If we compared it to an exam, it’s like Rees will work out the most complicated problem on the test and will immediately get the next gimme question wrong.
  • Running Backs: B
    • This grade would be higher if it weren’t for short yardage failures and fumbles.  Both, however, are showing signs of improvement and the running game is a legitimate weapon for the Irish.
  • Wide Receivers: B-
    • This is a grade that suffers thanks to a very poor week 1 performance by everyone not named Michael Floyd.  Yes, the performance was that bad.  Since then, everyone is starting to click much better and is playing like the weapon we all thought they would be.
  • Tight Ends: C+
    • Again, bad week 1 hurts and Rees is just now getting our TEs back into the game like they should be.  Blocking has been a mixed bag as well.
  • Offensive Line: A-
    • I haven’t had to bitch about the line yet, which means they are doing their job.  Only thing keeping this from an A is the short yardage issues.  Other than that, there isn’t much to complain about at all.
  • Defensive Line: A-
    • It’s been night and day in our defensive trenches compared to last year.  The run defense has been solid all year and the only thing keeping this from an A was the fact that we haven’t gotten great consistent QB pressure…that is, until we actually started Lynch for a change!
  • Linebackers: B
    • Solid play against the run, but struggling a bit in coverage.  I also am slightly sad Te’o hasn’t killed anyone yet.
  • Defensive Backs: C+
    • Thankfully week 3 and Robert Blanton save this grade.  Beyond that, it’s been some awful play to say the least.  Gary Gray is the obvious dog, but no one, Harrison Smith included had stepped up until the matchup with Sparty.
  • Special Teams: D
    • Holy hell has this been awful.  Mr Perfect led the season off by missing a FG and punting is an adventure on both sides of the ball.  Thankfully, Ruffer didn’t let his first miss of the season mess with his head and is back on track.
  • Coaching: C
    • While I have all the confidence in the world that Kelly and our staff is great, they sure haven’t shown it to start the season off.  Turnovers, penalties, mistakes, and everything else in will eventually fall at the feet of the coaching staff.  Much like the rest of the team though, I expect this to get back on track very soon.

4. The season is 25% complete.  If you’re Brian Kelly, what is your mantra for the second quarter of the season?

Forget the second quarter of the season, that’s already looking too far ahead.  The mantra is the same as Kelly has been preaching all season: “one week at a time”.  Kelly has made it a point in every presser to say the previous game is behind them and done.  I expect nothing less.

5. On Pittsburgh.  Did Iowa wrest control of the game from PItt, as was Iowa’s custom last season.  Or did Pitt just implode? 

Let me put it this way, if ND blew a 17 point lead for any reason, how would you react?

Comebacks of that magnitude simply don’t happen without a little bit of help.  Pitt did just that.  Pitt’s three drives in the fourth quarter: Turnover on Downs, three and out, INT.  They allowed Iowa to score on four drives in a row, totaling 261 yards on 26 plays.  Yes, Pitt gave up a little over 10 yards/play.  That’s just awful.

       a. Do any of Pitt’s players or matchups concern you?

Not really.  I mean, sure, if Sunseri gets hot he can put up points, but they’ve played no one impressive.  They beat Buffalo, barely beat freakin’ Maine, and blew a game against an Iowa squad that doesn’t seem so hot themselves this season.  They’ve also allowed 12 sacks.  That’s 4 sacks/game.  They gave up 7 to Maine.

Forget about Sunseri getting hot, if Lynch can replicate last week, Sunseri will be lucky to leave the game in one piece.

Oh and yeah, they kind of completely blew the Iowa game too thanks to a very, very awful defensive effort.

Their TO margin is about as bad as ours as they are ranked 105 in the nation right now with a -1.33 average.

So yeah, not scared.

       b. How does ND vs. Pitt play out this weekend?

Should be a complete blowout for us.  Pitt looks completely overmatched on paper.  However, the Irish love to make things interesting so as usual, the question is: “will we screw ourselves again?”  Getting out of our own way will be key once again and if that happens, it won’t be pretty for Pitt.

Bonus. With three games in the books, this season is one-quarter done.  It’s probably no stretch to assume that football writers also enjoy history, and specifically military history.  Compare Notre Dame’s one-fourth of a season to a one-fourth complete war.  Is it World War I–i.e. are we’re stuck in a war of attrition, with many, many losses still to come?  Is it Grenada–have we already seen the worst, with only relatively smooth sailing to come?  Don’t feel limited to 20th century warfare.  For that matter, no need to limit it to military history–policital, legal, and philosophical warfare is also acceptable.

I’ll take the Civil War.

Kelly is William Tecumseh Sherman and the Irish are the soldiers under his command.  USF was our Bull Run, just simply an awful defeat.  While Kelly put on a strong face, I’m sure he had several thoughts, much like Sherman did about what he got himself into; however, thankfully for the Irish he didn’t take a leave like Sherman did.  Sherman still ran into some issues with his other battles, much like the Irish against Michigan; however, then the battle of Shiloh happened.

At Shiloh, Sherman and the Union were caught completely unprepared, but still somehow managed to pull out a victory, much like the Irish managing to beat Michigan State despite some issues of their own.

What we are waiting for though, is our Atlanta.  That big victory that pushes us over the edge and leads to the Irish going scorched earth on the rest of college football immediately after.  Bonus points if we finish our fiery campaign against an SEC team in the Sugar Bowl so this can actually happen against the South in their own backyard.

NDtex25: Week 3

Yes, yes, I know a game has already been played in Week 4 and I’m horribly behind.  I apologize, but the job that actually pays the bills got quite a bit hectic this week.  On top of that, I attempted to write a conference realignment post which became worthless twice, so that was a fantastic idea.

Ideally my rankings will be up Tuesday or Wednesday before any football is played.  Some weeks it may not happen, but I’ll do my best to stick to it.

Anyways, the experiment that is the NDtex25 continues to be crazier than expected.  I thought I’d see a lot more stabilization this week. In some ways, I did.  In others, I had some more wtf results.

As of right now, I fear that I am too generous with my three plus possession multiplier in margin of victory (if you are lost, you should probably read the original post for this craziness).  I’m still hoping this will level out by season’s end; however, it is definitely clear that teams that beat some middle-of-the-road-opponents in such a manner (and I’m talking ranked around 50-80 or so) seem to be seriously reaping the benefits.  It’s taking a lot of willpower on my end to let this experiment ride out, but I definitely feel that this is an area that will need to see some serious tweaks down the road if this doesn’t level out in a few more weeks.

Having a preseason NDtex25 would probably help as well, but I decided not to do that…oh well.

Anyways, here is your NDtex25 for Week 3:

RankTeamFinal ScorePrevious RankAP RankCoaches' Rank
1Oklahoma State110.251576
5Georgia Tech105.2522524
8Boise State100.252144
13Virginia Tech93.75371311
15Texas A&M89.253888
17Kansas State88.584NRNR
18San Diego State87.553NRNR
20Texas Tech87.2585NRNR

Knocked Out (Previous Rank): Bowling Green (1), Navy (4), UCF (6), Mississippi State (10), Kentucky (12), Houston (13), Michigan State (19), South Carolina (20), Arkansas (24), Missouri (25)

Just Missing the Cut: Michigan, Wisconsin, Houston, Louisville, South Carolina

Despite the Big XII completely falling apart at the seams and the fake Dan Bebee going on a Twitter rant of epic proportions, they are completely dominating the NDtex25.  There are six Big XII teams in the NDtex25, three of which are in the top five.  Believe me, this isn’t some kind of southern bias as all three of the teams in my own top five are vomit inducing.  All these teams have benefited, in the most part, from big wins.  Texas, however, benefits from holding on against teams that had a decently high ranking from last week, so I would expect them to start to plummet at their current rate, despite the blowout win against UCLA.

The conference with the second most (five teams)? The SEC (commence S-E-C chant for coming in second place to THE FREAKING BIG XII).

Everyone’s favorite BCS buster, Boise State, has finally cracked my top 10, but were leapfrogged by Ohio whose blowout wins against an overrated New Mexico State and Marshall, helped them jump from 22.  If any Ohio fan is reading this blog (highly doubtful), enjoy it while it lasts because your two blowout wins are about to be seriously devalued next week.  New Mexico State checks in at 85 and Marshall sits at 114.  So yes, the balancing out will continue for these MAC team that continue to be overrated.

The previous MAC-daddy on top of the NDtex25, Bowling Green, suffered a loss to the powerhouse that is Wyoming (hilariously ranked 22 this week for beating the “number one team”), which dropped them down to 35 this week.  My crazy formulas giveth and taketh away quite equally.

The worst team in the nation according to me: UAB.  Being blown out by Florida is forgivable, but being blown out by freaking Tulane is a joke.  Hang your head in shame.

And to close, it’s time to focus on how these rankings treat Notre Dame and their opponents:

  • ND’s Rank: 32 (YAY victory against an overrated Michigan State!)
  • Opponent Ranks
    • USF: 14 (Man we make people look good)
    • Michigan: 26 (Michigan falling out of my own top 25 makes that loss that much harder to swallow)
    • Michigan State: 67 (Like I said, losses severely punished, previous rank was 19!)
    • Pitt: 61 (Playing a FCS team and blowing a 17 point lead does you no favors)
    • Purdue: 40 (Shockingly high rating in my opinion)
    • Air Force: 100 (Sucks to be them)
    • USC: 24 (Vomit…)
    • Navy: 41 (beating South Carolina would’ve helped)
    • Wake Forest: 54 (Again, surprisingly high)
    • Maryland: 65 (They can thank Miami for winning)
    • Boston College: 116 (losing to Duke hurts, also lolBC)
    • Stanford: 14 (Still holding on strong to their top 25 slot)

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.

ND/Michigan State Preview

Kelly looks on as the Irish fall to Michigan (Getty Images)

Initially I had planned to toss in audio of a Michigan State sports radio host losing his mind in 2006, pictures of the flag planting in 2005, pictures of the resulting “defense” of Michigan State’s 50 in 2006, and video of the “Little Giants” play that cost us last year’s game against Sparty.  However, I’m not.  The majority of those events happened in Weis’ tenure, and in today’s world of college football, should be considered ancient history.  Even the “Little Giants” thing last year should be put far, far behind in the rear-view mirror as well.

The reason is simple, there is more recent history to be concerned about and that’s the fact the Irish come into this game 0-2 with the worst turnover margin in the nation, are ranked 106 (out of 120) in yards penalized per game, and ranked 119 in net punting.  The Irish are their own worst enemy.

I could spend a lot of time on how Michigan State will likely have the best defense that we have seen yet.  How their defensive line will be the first true test for the revived running game.  How their more traditional offense will showcase a battle of size and strength in the trenches rather than speed.  How we will be beaten over the head yet again with our record against ranked opponents as the Spartans walk in as #15 in the nation.

No matter what “skill level” Sparty comes in at, we know that they give us a run for our money.  Since 2000 all but two games have been decided by a single possession.  Those two games were the horrendous and very forgettable 2007 and 2008 campaigns in which we flat out got crushed.  The last time the Irish actually beat the Spartans by more than a single possession was in 1993.  Michigan State comes to play the Irish, period.

As discussed in this week’s IBG, everyone came to a pretty unanimous consensus that the big key to this week’s game is to stop shooting ourselves in the damned foot.  Again, everything else regarding Michigan State is rather secondary at this point.  It’s rather hard to worry to continuously worry about what Michigan State will do if we cough up the ball five times again, penalize ourselves at the worst possible times, or have Turk punt the ball so bad we all wish that Kelly would add a Rees arm punt to the playbook.

At some point this needs to turn around.  Vegas still believes in us as we are yet again favorites to win.  The talent around this team is undeniable; however, repeat the last two weeks and the sky will be falling.

With all that being said it’s prediction time (yes, this is a very short preview, but I’m not going to use 500 or so more works to say “ND needs to pull their head out of their ass”).  I sure hope I don’t end up saying this every week; however, I just can’t believe that the Irish will turn the ball over five more times.  Maybe I’m in total denial, but oh well.  All that being said, since Michigan State will always play this game to the wire, I’m looking for a very close game all the way through.

ND 27 – Sparty 24

For the love of God, ND, end the pain.