Instant Analysis: Irish-Spartan Slugfest
Posted Sep 21, 2013

It wasn't pretty... and it wasn't expected to be. Notre Dame didn't figure to gain any style points against Michigan State, but the Fighting Irish walked away with the win they needed. CFN's writers and analysts examine this Midwestern slugfest.

E-mail Rich Cirminiello
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Great football game … if it was 1966.

Hey, I can appreciate a tremendous defensive struggle as much as the next guy. In fact, I think the sport would benefit from a few more 17-13 games that are dominated by jarring hits and timely stops. What took place in South Bend this afternoon, though, was just plain ugly, and had more to do with sloppiness and ineptitude than the play of the D's.

The Michigan State-Notre Dame alley fight pretty much went as planned today. The defenses set the tempo, the offenses were AWOL and the outcome hung in the balance in the final quarter. Toss in a couple of highly questionable calls from the officials, and you've got an Irish victory. The Spartans have to be driving their fan base absolutely batty again this fall. The defense is clearly championship-caliber, yet the offense looks like something that's more likely to be found in Ypsilanti than East Lansing.

Sparty isn't on the Notre Dame schedule in 2014, signaling what could be an end for now of a storied rivalry that began well over a century ago. After today's poorly played game between the Irish and the Spartans, there aren't many folks outside the two programs who'll be shedding any tears regarding a hiatus.

By Matt Zemek
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The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were not particularly effective on offense against Michigan State on Saturday. Tommy Rees didn't throw particularly well. The Irish needed help from unwise Michigan State defensive backs to gain a lot of their yards. Head coach Brian Kelly was unwilling to trust his ground game on third down with fewer than three yards to go. There was nothing particularly encouraging about the way the Irish's offense performed.

Yet, Michigan State never came particularly close to winning this game. The Spartans came close to tying this contest at 17-all, but none of Michigan State's final drives gave Notre Dame any reason to feel threatened.

The biggest question to emerge from this game is this: How bad is Michigan's defense? If the Irish were able to move the ball so consistently against the Wolverines, how can the Maize and Blue be expected to withstand the Big Ten season that lies ahead?

Notre Dame is a work in progress. Such a reality always tastes better when you can win in the midst of struggles and a manifest lack of offensive rhythm.

When Notre Dame and Oklahoma meet next week, expect the Irish and Sooners to play a low-scoring game akin to last year's meeting in Norman… only without an Irish explosion in the fourth quarter.

By Phil Harrison
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Quarterbacks. If you have the luxury of suiting up a good one, the offensive-coordinator looks like a genius, but if the position is lacking, it makes scoring points more painful than a root canal on your birthday.

Simply put, after another game notched for both the Irish and Spartans, we still have little reason to believe that it could be a special year in South Bend or East Lansing. It does appear that both teams are very similar, in fact carbon copies to some extent. Both struggle on offense, while both can bring some defense to the party.

The reality for both though is that without a real, live, kicking offense, neither is going to make any kind of championship run. Oh, each will be in a lot of games because it's unlikely that either will be outscored and will keep things close, but when you play that many knee-knockers, some are going to end on the not so pleasant side of the scoreboard -- just tap into the memories of Spartan fans from last year.

And that's just where we leave things with Notre Dame. It walked away from this one with another hard fought win, but it wasn't pretty and it won't strike fear into future opponents. Tommy Rees is a veteran and provides a calm in the pocket, but there's a reason why he would be sitting on the pine behind Everett Golson if the whole eligibility thing didn't throw a monkey wrench into the master-plan.

Rees makes way too many misreads, misfires more often than a North Korean missile test, and doesn't have the extra dynamic with the legs to wiggle out of trouble. The offense did just enough to win against it's inept counterpart today, but that's not going to work out nearly as well down the road.

E-mail Bart Doan
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Sparty off. Again.

More of the same for Sparty. Dropped passes. Elite defense. Barely functioning offense. It's been pretty much their biography the last two years, and it was again Saturday afternoon. From kickoff to Andrew Maxwell inexplicably running out of bounds on fourth and 20, decision making, consistency, it was all absent.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, wasn't great, but they got enough points when they had to. The Irish needed this win, especially after getting paddled by Michigan and escaping a bad Purdue team in consecutive weeks.

Consider this staggering statistic: MSU scored over 20 points only three times last year against AQ conference teams. A lot will me made of Mark Dantonio's decision to put Andrew Maxwell in potentially cold for the last drive, but at that point, the coaching staff was just throwing darts at the wall in the dark hoping something worked. It didn't.

From that fateful first Friday night of the season when the Spartans scuffled with a poor Western Michigan team just to get across the goal line to today, there really hasn't been much of a change. The Spartans have to be frustrated with the offensive production at some point. For it's one thing to have a flaw one season and try to change it. It's an entirely different issue to continue to have that same problem after you do. Traveling to Iowa next game to open B1G play, it could be another long year in East Lansing unless they hold everyone under 20.

By Terry Johnson
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Sometimes a team will emerge victorious because it was better than its opponent. Other times, it wins simply because it didn't beat itself. Notre Dame was clearly the latter today.

Make no mistake about it: the Irish weren't really that impressive this afternoon. After throwing the ball well over the first three contests of the season, Tommy Rees missed on several deep balls, completing just 14 of his 34 passes. And while the defense held Michigan State to 254 yards, it struggled on third downs, allowing Sparty to convert on 8 of its 18 attempts.

Despite this lack of perfection, Brian Kelly's team won because it cashed in when given the opportunity. Although the offense couldn't march up and down the field, it was able to score points when a couple of questionable pass interference calls gave them excellent field position. The defense also came up with a timely interception on an ill-advised, poorly disguised halfback pass, preventing the Spartans from knotting the game at 17 and seizing the momentum.

That, my friends, is why Notre Dame remains in contention for a BCS bowl bid. Even when it's not perfect, this Fighting Irish squad will still find a way to pull out a W.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when Oklahoma visits South Bend next week.