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MSU-Notre Dame: The Nonrecap

(Preface: As it turns out, LVS and I both finally found time to write up pseudorecaps at almost exactly the same moment.  So this post and the one below it were written independently of each other.  What we lack in timeliness, we're making up for in lengthiness/redundancy.)

Events have conspired over the last 60 hours to prevent any of the three of us from writing a comprehensive recap of Saturday's game.  Thankfully, you, our readers, have stepped in to cover things pretty thoroughly.

Con-T covered those frustrating final two throws by Kirk Cousins:

Absolutely the only thing you can’t do in that situation is turn the ball over. Throw it away, take a sack, ground the ball, trip over your own feet and fall, anything else. Don’t throw a pass that there’s even a microscopic chance of an interception on. Only throw the pass if there’s no defenders anywhere near it. Oh, wait, that didn’t work the play before. Sigh.

njd helped pull us back from the brink:

I’m still of the opinion that MSU was a couple of games lucky last year and that that gaudy 9-4 record and a New Year’s Day game raised expectations unreasonably. A return to a bowl game—any bowl game—for a third consecutive year would still be the kind of progress that MSU fans should applaud. Particularly with a coach in his third year who is still building a deeper team, a new starting qb, and a corps of freshmen in the backfield.

This game felt like progress to me. The CMU game felt nightmarish to me as I listened on the radio—a slow march into ignobility. That game would have been a disappointment even had MSU won it. This game felt more like a well-matched prize fight, with the two teams trading blows pretty equally. MSU made more significant mistakes (2 turnovers) and lost. But MSU was supposed to make more mistakes—MSU is the team with all the kids and ND is the team with the experienced line and backs. (How long have Clausen and Armando Allan been around? Man, it feels like 40 years with all I’ve heard about them, but I know that can’t be because I’m only 33.)

This was the return for the Iowa game last year. Last year MSU was lucky to get Iowa early in the season, before they hit their stride. And this year ND was lucky to get MSU early in the season, before MSU hits their stride. By December, MSU will be the better team. Cousins will learn not to make that pass, Ray will squeeze the ball better, and Dantonio will have them back in a bowl game.

I still expect a bowl game in December and I still expect 2010 and 2011 to look even better. And I expect MSU to win two of three to start the Big Ten season.

. . . and SpartanDan gave us two more reasons to seethe:

Our secondary got torched repeatedly. I didn’t see much of the first half, but in the second it felt like every other play for the Irish was "screw it, send ’em deep" and we couldn’t do anything that remotely resembled coverage. (Of course, ND’s receivers are better than we’re going to face in any other game this year, probably by a wide margin.)

Why was Nichol rotated in again anyway? Cousins had been tearing it up based on the first half stats, and we send out Nichol to start the second half (after Jimmah marches ND down the field) and it’s a quick three and out. That’s two close games that rotating our QBs has potentially cost us already. The QB battle should have been settled last week. I understand that switching things up can throw the defense off their stride, but it’s taking our offense out of rhythm even more. This needs to stop. NOW.

stones81 threw out some other observations--mostly of the positive variety:

- Caper seems to improve a bit every game. He was running over and through multiple defenders yesterday. I’d like to see him continue to get a higher percentage of the carries, but our run game is still a concern due to the lack of holes from the O-line.
- I hope to see more 3 WR sets…White, Dell, and Cunningham will cause a lot of match-up issues, especially with an accurate Cousins throwing them the ball.
- Unfortunately it seems our defense will be an issue all season. The lack of pressure from the front 4 will continue to be an issue in the run and passing game. Add in that with the disappointing play of the secondary to date and we’ll struggle against good offenses.
- The on-side kick from last week, the drop from Rucker on the easy INT in the 4th and the missed pass on the wide open Caper will haunt me the rest of the season.
- However, even with the 1-2 record I’m still happy with direction of this team. There is a lot of young talent on this team…last year we had a top 15 recruiting class and this year we are looking at a top 20 one. If we continue to recruit like that our teams will get better over the next couple years.

And, last but not least, DrDetroit and CPT Hoolie asked some serious questions (to put it mildly) about what's going on with our defensive game planning/calling.

The failure of the TOC braintrust to post a game recap in a timely manner could be interpreted as hiding from the game result and/or being sunk in a depressive state about the remainder of the season.  I hope that isn't the case.  Generally, I think we're feeling about as upbeat as you could feel considering the way events have unfolded the past two Saturdays.

On Sunday, I was talking to my Dad about the game.  He pointed out that the difference between a 5-7 season and a 9-3 season can be just two plays (clarification: add "either way" here).  It's entirely possible that the recovered onside kick by CMU and the overthrown pass to Caper on Sunday will turn out to be two such plays.  But it's also a real possibility that this team could rally to put together a 6- or 7- win conference season.  Consider:

  • Despite the way the game ended for him on Saturday, Kirk Cousins is arguably the best quarterback--at least from a pure passing standpoint--in the Big Ten at the moment.
  • We have three wide receivers capable of making big plays and three very good tight ends to complement them.
  • The pass blocking has been more than adequate through three games.  Despite the injuries on the offensive line, they've only allowed one sack to date (zero vs. ND).
  • Add it up and you have the best passing offense in the conference at 295.7 yards/game.
  • The defense can't play much worse, right?  More concretely, one hopes we won't be facing any quarterback/receiver combos in conference play as good as the ones we've faced the last two weeks.
  • The rest of the Big Ten hasn't exactly looked like world beaters to date.  The odds makers are only giving Wisconsin (3-0) the 3-point benefit of home field advantage on Saturday.

There are certainly still some big questions to be answered.  Can the running game build on the glimpses of effectiveness we saw with Caper running the ball on Saturday?  Does Keith Nichol have an ongoing role in the offense?  Were the problems with the run defense (27 carries for 144 yards for the two ND RBs) a function of Armando Allen's talents or a longer-term problem?  Do we see more plays by Chris L. Rucker like the one shown above or more like the dropped interception on the subsequent drive?  Can anyone besides Greg Jones tackle consistenly?  Do turnovers become a factor at some point (MSU is currently last in the Big Ten in both turnovers given up and turnovers created, with two of each)?

That's a lot of questions--but there's also a lot of season ahead of us.  100% of the conference season, in fact.