Sunday, September 21, 2008

Odds & Sods: Pool Deck Edition | by Mike

Thoughts from Saturday's game (besides how much I miss John L. Smith at MSU):

Up against the wall. One of the reasons I predicted an MSU victory in our season predictions, was that I expected Dantonio would have the patience, and Ringer and his blockers would have the ability, to wear down the Irish front seven. For fifty-five minutes, the Irish defense held up fairly well against the Spartans' persistent running game. Justin Brown played well, including making a great play on a 3rd-and-1 run. They even had an impressive goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, when MSU had first-and-goal from the two-yard-line and the defense stuffed Ringer on three consecutive carries. Ringer had gained 124 yards at that point, but those 124 yards came on 32 carries. That hardly qualifies as shutting down Ringer. However, his quarterback entered the game completing less than 50% of his passes and would go on to complete less than 50% of his passes in the game. Given Hoyer's struggles, one would have hoped that simply keeping Ringer from running wild would be enough to allow the offense to win the game. Unfortunately, the offense failed to hold up its end of the bargain, and following the missed field goal with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, a deflated defense allowed Ringer to rip off 77 yards on seven carries. While the game was in doubt, the defense played well. I wonder if they would have held up better if the offense had been able to put more points on the board.

Running just to stand still. The Irish rushed for 16 yards, and it's possible that the statistics actually understate the ineffectiveness of the Notre Dame ground game. Taking out Golden Tate's reverse, the sacks and Clausen's carries, the Irish running backs rushed for 30 yards on 15 carries, or 2.0 yards per carry (Aldridge - 3.2, Hughes - 1.8, Allen - 1.3). Against MSU last year, the same three running backs rushed for 150 yards on 27 carries, or 5.6 yards per carry (Aldridge - 5.8, Hughes - 5.5, Allen - 4.3). I am positively baffled by the inability to approach even 2007 levels of rushing.

The decision to use four-wide-receiver sets in the second half made sense in the context of the game given the futility of the Irish rushing attack against the Spartans. However, the game also demonstrated the downside to such an offense. The Irish offense can pick up yardage with this offense, but will have difficulty translating such yardage into points. And the point of the game, obviously, is to score points, not accumulate total yardage. The reasons the Irish will have difficulty generating points from the four- and five-wide sets are the consistency and quick-decision making such formations demands from the quarterback and receivers and Notre Dame's youth at these positions. When a defense brings pressure against these sets, the quarterback and receivers need to recognize where the pressure is coming from and adjust their routes and reads accordingly - and do so quickly. With David Grimes out due to injury, Clausen and four of his five receiving options were all underclassmen. The odds that one of these underclassmen will make a drive-killing mistake - or that someone else will make a mistake (e.g., a penalty) that they can't overcome - over the course of an extended drive are bad. Running plays don't put the same degree of mental pressure on young players and a balanced offense is thus less prone to drive-ending errors.

Gold lion. Golden Tate once again demonstrated impressive versatility in a game short on offensive highlights. He took a reverse 24 yards, hauled in a 30-yard pass and performed a miracle on 3rd and 18. I also loved his awareness and toughness on a bad Clausen pass, knocking down a pass that two defenders had a shot at intercepting.

Videotape. I could not understand Weis using a challenge on Michigan State's second touchdown, which touched one of my pet peeves with replay reviews. When officials correctly apply the rules, it is almost impossible to overturn a close goal-line play. The parallax errors that arise from the placement of most cameras largely ensure that the available video evidence won't produce anything "indisputable." An off-axis camera can't compete with an attentive official near the action when it comes to the question of whether the plane of the goal-line was broken. Additionally, it was still conceivable at that time that the Irish would need that timeout.