I probably shouldn’t have been as upset as I was after Michigan State lost to Notre Dame on Saturday, 17-13, on the gridiron. However, I believe that this was a game that could have gone Sparty’s way if not for some awful play-calling, a little more proficiency from the quarterback and a few pass interference calls against Sparty that even some Notre Dame fans on my Twitter timeline felt were…controversial. Now, “If ‘if’s’ were fifths, we’d all be drunk,” and that’s true. But, damn, if there was ever a time for Sparty to crap a game away, this past Saturday simply wasn’t the time.
The good is that MSU’s defense was once again very stout, although no one would mistake ND’s offense for those run-n-gun Florida offenses of the 90s. Nevertheless, in their first road game of the season, at Notre Dame Stadium, no less, they were up to the task. ND QB Tommy Rees (14-34, 142 yds, TD) was under constant pressure and when he wasn’t, seemed to make decisions as if he were. While I didn’t think Rees had a chance to sit in the pocket and dissect the Sparty defense, I for some reason knew that he would hit on a couple of lucky passes downfield, which he did. The Sparty secondary held ND receivers DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones (who caught Rees’ lone TD pass) to a measly 5 catches for 21 yards, but it was freshman WR Corey Robinson (son of former NBA center David Robinson) who answered the call early. The 6’5″ receiver caught 3 passes for 54 yards, all of them coming on third down, leading to a first down each time. Besides that, ND’s offense didn’t do much of anything. As a team, the Irish ran the ball 32 times for 78 yards and one score, and ND racked up just 220 yards of total offense.
The bad is Michigan State’s offense, especially their passing game. Connor Cook (16-32, 135 yds, TD) got the start under center and was awful in the first half, completing only 5 of 15 passes for 44 yards and a score, a 12-yard TD pass to WR Macgarett Kings, Jr. midway through the second quarter. He was slightly better in the second half, and helped lead a 15-play, 75-yard drive that used up over 8 minutes of clock and resulted in 3 points. The game was tied 10-10 and it looked as if Sparty had regained a little momentum after giving up a TD to ND right before the first half ended. So, of course, on the next drive, head coach Mark Dantonio decided to reach into his bag of tricks…and failed. Terribly. After running back Jeremy Langford (14 car, 68 yds) rushed for 11 yards and first down to the MSU 47, Cook handed the ball off to freshman WR RJ Shelton, who then rolled out and appeared to want to throw downfield. ‘Oh no,’ I thought. His target, WR Bennie Fowler, was surrounded by ND defenders, but Shelton threw the ball anyway. Interception, Irish. And after a personal foul penalty on MSU, ND had the ball at MSU’s 37. ND scored after the turnover to go up 17-10, but all was not lost…until Dantonio decided to try his lucky hand again.
With 2:11 to play in regulation, Dantonio replaced Cook with Andrew Maxwell. After 3 incomplete passes and 2 penalties, it was 4th and 20 for Sparty at their own 23. Maxwell dropped back and…yes…ran for a gain of 8 yards. Ballgame.
Michigan State was whistled for four defensive pass interference penalties, and three of them appeared to be pretty bogus. A few of them helped ND sustain scoring drives, but anyone who pinned the loss on the refs didn’t watch the game. Sparty was flagged 10 times, for 115 yards, so keeping their hands off of ND receivers wasn’t their only issue. It’s clear that while we can expect MSU’s D to produce at a high level, this offense, and the passing game especially, has a ways to go in order to catch up.
Up next for Sparty are the 3-1 Iowa Hawkeyes, who pasted Western Michigan at home on Saturday, 59-3. The Hawkeyes struggled in their first 3 games, losing to Northern Illinois in the opener, before putting it together against the MAC’s WMU Broncos. Iowa runs the ball well, while MSU stops the run well. Consecutive road games will be tough for Sparty, but I like their chances to rebound and somehow get out of Kinnick Stadium with a win. Go Green. Go White.
Wait. The Bears?
I have been a Chicago Bears fan for as long as I can remember, and have waited for their offense to show some semblance of proficiency, even against the crappier teams in the league. Well, the offense is still a work in progress under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, but the unit doesn’t give me ulcers the way it has in years’ past.
Last night, the Bears went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers, 40-23, at Heinz Field. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 400 yards and 2 TDs, but also threw 2 interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a late score by Bears DE Julius Peppers. Total, the Bears forced 5 turnovers and S Major Wright returned an interception 38 yards for a score about midway through the second quarter that pushed the Bears ahead, 24-3. Pittsburgh eventually pulled within 4, 27-23, after a 44-yard field goal by kicker Shaun Suisham, but the Cutler-to-Bennett connection worked again, this time on a beautiful throw-and-catch that resulted in a 17-yard score, putting the Bears up, 34-23.
Cutler (20-30, 159 yds, TD) wasn’t great, but he took what the oft-confusing Steelers D gave him. Also, Cutler did this. Forte (16 car, 87 yds, TD and 4 rec for 24 yards) was huge early, as was WR Alshon Jeffery (7 rec for 51 yards). After going up big so soon in the game, it seems the Bears D fell into a bit of a soft Cover 2, but made big plays when they were needed. The Steelers are now 0-3 and have struggled all year, but it was still good to see the Bears go on the road and beat one of the league’s premier teams, in spite of said team’s early-season struggles.
Detroit Lions QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson play host to the Bears next in what will be an important divisional matchup. It will be interesting to see if the Bears’ O ratchets up to match the production of the Lions’ offensive unit. Besides Megatron, Lions WR Nate Burleson has been impressive this year as well, and there’s always the prospect of Lions RB Reggie Bush creating havoc. A loss won’t doom the Bears just like a win wouldn’t cement a playoff spot. Still, it will definitely be an exciting game to watch. Bear Down, anyone?