Michigan State - Notre Dame
It was a crazy thought, but had Notre Dame turned the ball over seven times in the first two games, instead of ten, it would've been 2-0.
It gave the ball away three times instead of five, and beat Michigan State.
It was the Spartans that kept screwing things up with 12 penalties, two turnovers, and blown plays on special teams and in the secondary. No, Notre Dame wasn't mistake-free, but the other guy screwed up more, and that was enough to finally get a win.
Over the first two games, the Irish were better than Michigan and South Florida, and the offense worked just fine, but the sky was falling because of all the mistakes. The problems Notre Dame had early on could be fixed, and they will be as the season goes on, but the basics of the offense worked. Against MSU, the offense didn't work quite so well, but the offense didn't have to take any real chances and didn't have to do anything to press. The George Atkinson kickoff return for a score late in the first quarter allowed the Irish to exhale, and even when the Spartans came back to make it close, there didn't appear to be any panic.
Michigan State is a good team, and it's not a stretch to call it the second-best team in the Big Ten right now behind Wisconsin. The Irish used nice balance from the backs, another great game from Tommy Rees, and terrific run defense to right the ship.
Notre Dame will be the favorite in every game for the rest of the regular season until the finale against Stanford, and the only way it'll lose is if it starts imploding again. It's a shame the Irish couldn't be tighter and couldn't have eliminated the mistakes earlier, but the season begins now.
Yes, Brian Kelly, your team is good enough. Now it has to keep playing like it.
Now, that's more like it.
The Irish team that defeated Michigan State on Saturday afternoon was a lot closer to the one that many people, present company included, felt would contend for a BCS bowl berth in 2011. Notre Dame was solid, not spectacular, getting some key runs from Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray to go along with the passing of Tommy Rees. There were still too many turnovers, an issue that has to be addressed by head coach Brian Kelly, but ND had a couple of timely takeaways of its own that included a late pick of Kirk Cousins as the Spartans were driving.
There's a lot of work left to be done in South Bend, but there's also undeniable talent on both sides of the ball. Now that the Irish have copped win No. 1 of the season, it's the type of program that's capable of going on a run for a while. While the schedule has some thorns in it before the finale with Stanford, when will Notre Dame be an underdog again? USC at home on Oct. 22? Maybe, but the point is that the Irish have an opportunity to turn this year around if it can use Saturday's win as a launching point for the final three-quarters of the campaign.
By Matt Zemek
After the first three games of Notre Dame's season, can we get one thing straight? Much as runs, not hits, are the only salient measure of offensive production in baseball, it's also true that points, not yards, are the only thing that matters in football.
Notre Dame cracked the 500-yard mark in its first two games and lost. The Fighting Irish hit only 275 yards on Saturday against Michigan State and won. Really – you can have your yards; I'll take points and an authoritative victory… even if my quarterback, Tommy Rees, committed two more turnovers and was hardly spectacular. Football analysis should be sensible enough and sophisticated enough to discount yards as the main measurement of performance and proficiency.
It was richly ironic that after two weeks of Notre Dame red-zone nightmares, Michigan State showed Brian Kelly why America's most famous college football program started its season 0-2. Sparty struggled in the red zone, falling short at the end of the first half and then wasting a 96-yard drive thanks to a Kirk Cousins interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Cousins and his offensive line both came up very small in this game; while much of the country might focus on Notre Dame's ability to break through, the bigger story to emerge from Saturday's tilt is that the defending champion of the Big Ten Conference does not look ready or able to repeat. Based on this smackdown in South Bend, the Spartans show worrisome signs of reverting to their former (undependable) selves. The Big Ten is looking like Wisconsin's league to lose as conference play approaches.
By Russ Mitchell
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