The Fighting Irish came into the 2016 season with high hopes, and expectations. Against Michigan St., both were dashed in equal measure, in just the third week of the season.
A pessimist would argue that the hopes and expectations for the Irish had been dashed two weeks prior, following their Week 1 loss to Texas, but I’m no pessimist. I am, however, a realist, and the reality that the Irish, and their fans, are faced with now is that despite a better than average amount of talent on both sides of the ball, they simply aren’t a playoff caliber team this season. And, whether it happened this past week against Michigan St., or mid-October against Stanford, or against Miami, etc., this team would have its playoff hopes dashed, eventually. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, to have to temper your expectations for this team moving forward, after just three games. But, perhaps our expectations were just too high for a team that lost ten players to the NFL following the 2015 season, and are now forced to rely on younger players with limited experience, to begin with.
Another bitter pill we may have to swallow is that Brian VanGorder likely isn’t going anywhere, at least not this season. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that VanGorder’s on the hot seat, and how could he not be when his defense can’t put consistent pressure on the quarterback, doesn’t have a single sack in three games, can’t make clean tackles, and leaves opposing wide receivers undefended in crucial moments of a game. But with lesser opponents in Duke, Syracuse, and even North Carolina State up next (boy, I sure hope that statement doesn’t come back to bite me…), VanGorder’s defense should be able to muster a performance that’ll keep his job safe, for at least one more week, each week, until the next quality opponent, Stanford, comes to South Bend. And is there anyone, at this point, that believes VanGorder gets fired mid-season? I certainly don’t.
So it’s time to hunker down Irish fans, and break out the industrial sized bottles of whiskey to numb the pain, and remember, it could always be worse, college football season could be over already.
Key Fighting Irish Plays
1st Quarter – CJ Sanders 100 yard kickoff return for TD nullified by holding penalty. A play that could have set the tone for the game, instead gets called back for holding, and the Irish are forced to start the opening drive from their own 10 yard line.
1st Quarter – DeShone Kizer 14 yard TD run. The Irish mount a 91 yard drive capped off by Kizer’s TD run to take a 7-0 lead late in the 1st Quarter.
2nd Quarter – Miles Boykin fumble recovered by Michigan St. After the Irish defense held the Spartan offense to their first 3 and Out of the game, the ensuing punt takes an odd hop, hitting an unaware Boykin in the leg, and the Spartans recover the fumble at the Notre Dame 38 yard line. It would take them just one play to reach the end zone, and following a successful 2 pt conversion they take an 8-7 lead.
2nd Quarter – CJ Sanders fumble recovered by Michigan St. Two plays for the Irish (one on special teams, one on offense), two fumbles lost. The Spartans aren’t able to capitalize on this turnover, at least, but the disjointed play for the Irish continues to build.
3rd Quarter – DeShone Kizer 15 yard TD pass to Equanimeous St. Brown. The first of three straight touchdown drives for the Irish. The Irish cut the lead to 36-14.
4th Qtr – Tyler Newsome 54 yard punt to the Michigan St. 14. The Irish were facing 4th and 7 from their own 32 yard line, with just over three and a half minutes left to play, and Coach Kelly opted to punt the ball away, instead of giving his offense a chance to convert. It would be the final nail in the coffin for the Irish, as the Notre Dame offense never got another crack at it.
Final Score – Notre Dame 28 – Michigan St. 36.
Top Fighting Irish Performers
DeShone Kizer – After two solid performances to start the season, Kizer had an extremely up and down game against Michigan St. After leading the Irish 91 yards down the field for the first score of the game, Kizer wouldn’t lead another scoring drive for the Irish until late in the 3rd Quarter. Still, Kizer was involved in each of Notre Dame’s touchdowns, and he led the Irish to three straight scoring drives, starting late in the 3rd Quarter, to cut the Michigan St. lead to 8 points. Unfortunately, for the Irish, the ball was taken out of his hands with at least the chance of mounting one last scoring drive to tie the game. Kizer finished the game going 20-37 for 344 yards passing, 2 TDs and 1 INT; he added another 27 yards and 2 TDs on the ground.
Equanimeous St. Brown Even with a defender draped all over him, St. Brown made a spectacular catch in the end zone, managing to get one foot down by the barest of margins, to get the Irish back on the score board late in the third quarter against Michigan St. Despite the loss, St. Brown had another solid game against Michigan St., hauling in 4 receptions for 83 yards and 1 TD. So far, at least, St. Brown seems to be living up to the pre-season hype, and it’s been fun watching this dynamic receiver make big plays each week, and he leads the wide receivers in yardage and touchdowns with 15 receptions for 243 yards and 3 TDs.
Nyles Morgan Though the defense is struggling around him, Morgan continues to play well, and continues to rack up the tackles. He’s been the team leader in two of Notre Dames three games, including the game against Michigan St., where he recorded 10 total tackles (8 solo, 2 assisted). Morgan now has a team leading 27 total tackles through three games (19 solo, 8 assisted).
Up Next: Notre Dame takes on the Duke Blue Devils in South Bend at 3:30 PM (12:30 PST).