Well, that was a disaster.
We all expected MSU's passing offense to have problems during the year, but this was supposed to be the best offensive line in the Mark Dantonio era. Yeah, the Irish have a solid front seven, but they were getting pressure with three. With the national spotlight on the Spartans, they fell flat on their face. Where to start?
First, looking back at my keys to the game:
No turnovers from Andrew Maxwell: This was a positive, or at least not a negative. He was sacked four times, but that really wasn't hit fault. He finished 23-for-45 for 187 yards.
Force Everett Golson to be one-dimensional: Along these lines was being able to contain Golson and keep him in the pocket. Notre Dame had a great gameplan of rolling him out to get away from any pressure from MSU's defensive line. His final numbers weren't great (14-for-32, 178 yards, 1 TD), but he took what was given to him (often not much) and, like Maxwell, didn't make any costly mistakes.
Get Bell going: This did not happen, partly because of the deficit. I contend that MSU gave up on the run too early — Bell had four carries in the third quarter and none in the fourth — but I don't blame Dan Roushar for not trusting the offensive line.
I mentioned it above, but I thought MSU abandoned the run way too early. In the second half, MSU relied on the inexperienced receivers virtually on every down. The result was some bad routes, some bad throws and some bad drops. The game was within reach for much of the second half, but they got out of their offense.
Now, part of that was on the offensive line. The Irish were able to get pressure with three linemen, but not giving Maxwell any extra protection was a big mistake, in my opinion. As Jim from Shaw Lane Spartans (SpartanBDF) pointed out, going max protection instead of five-wide may have been a wiser decision at times. Maxwell had no faith in his line, and I don't blame him. Kirk Cousins had the same problem at times last year.
Another good observation from Jim was that Maxwell's timing with the receivers is still off. Instead of anticipating a receiver getting open, Maxwell is waiting until the receiver is open to throw. Maybe he's a little gun-shy after the Boise State game, but by the time the ball gets there, the defender has recovered.
Still, the receivers have to make plays. Bennie Fowler dropped a touchdown. Andre Sims Jr. dropped a big third down throw. That's not helping Maxwell's confidence. Dion Sims and Le'Veon Bell still remain Maxwell's most-reliable targets. That's how Maxwell finishes with 4.2 yards per attempt. As Mike Valenti would say: Make plays.
But this was still cool, although the momentum was quickly killed by Sims Jr.'s drop.
via The Big Lead
The numbers aren't bad: Notre Dame had 300 yards of offense and went 1-for-14 on third down, but Brian Kelly had a great gameplan.
As mentioned above, Notre Dame rolled Golson out often to get away from the pressure, and there, he played very smart. He threw the ball away when it had to, and he didn't make any major mistakes. As part of those roll-outs, the Irish took advantage of MSU's aggressiveness on the line with some counters and delays from the running back. This resulted in a few big runs, and William Gholston was burned a few times on this. The first touchdown was also a throwback the other way.
Even when Notre Dame ran stretch plays in the second half, they were able to pick up some good gains. I never thought I'd see MSU's linebackers beat to the edge, but they were. Too many times.
Although Johnny Adams was beat on the first touchdown, Notre Dame went after Darqueze Dennard a whole lot, just like Boise State did. I noticed that when Notre Dame would put two receivers on the far side, Dennard would play farther off. Now, I'm sure that's an order from the coaches, but it opened MSU up to short outs and curls that picked up more yardage than they should.
MSU's defense is still very good, but there have always been a few holes. Notre Dame figured out how to exploit them. Most teams can't because they don't have the players. The Irish do.
All in all, this was almost a copy of last year's MSU/Notre Dame game.
The offense line was blown up, so MSU abandoned the run and passed the ball a ridiculous amount, and it didn't result in much. Weaknesses were exposed. The good news is that MSU won't play a better front seven all year, so things can't be worse than that, right? RIGHT??
I'm still picking MSU to win the Big Ten, mostly because of the dumpster fire that is the Big Ten. But I don't blame poll voters dropping MSU all the way to the 20s. The Spartans had a chance to prove the program can remain among the nation's best despite some big personnel losses, but they're not there yet.