ND has a tall task in East Lansing.
So, through the first two games we all have our own thoughts about the 2012 Irish.
Some good thoughts—like being on a beach with the bikini babe in the Corona commercial casually working on our tan lines while watching ND bug-squash Navy.
Some not so good thoughts—like being on that same beach being chased by 310-lb. Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short in full cannibal mode.
The veteran Irish O-Line line that is supposed to stop oncoming trains with one hand, eat raw steel like Chicklets and move large buildings to warm up looked pretty damn average against Purdue’s front.
Our athletic new QB showed his athleticism and his newness. He also confirmed what we all knew that he is an exciting work in progress that needs more experience running the offense and reading defenses to go along with the raw talent dripping from his pads.
Like me stumbling into a beer-chugging contest in the heart of post-WWII Germany in the height of the Cold War, the potential is there to win big, you just have to get some experience with the process in a hostile environment.
The Irish receiving corps has more than decent hands, good size and speed when healthy; and the team is deeper at running back than at any time in recent memory.
When you look at the tape, whether cut-blocked by sneaky Academy types or banging heads up with a corn-fed Big Ten O-line, the Irish defensive front is definitely earning their non pay.
It looks like the Irish linebackers can play, with the notable exception that OLB Carlo Calabrese has hips stiffer than most WWII retirees and does not belong in pass coverage any more than your average Walmart greeter.
Notre Dame's special teams are vastly improved and should get even better with the upgrade in talent and a bit more experience, but then starting at the bottom in almost every major statistical category does not leave much room to not improve.
The fast new secondary looks very fast and very new and has Amazing Graced us on alternative plays—looked lost and then is found—another exciting work in progress.
Possibly too exciting.
Generally, we’ve seen a conservative Irish offense move the ball and make some plays and a defense that has had some slip ups but has been stout overall.
We have a few cases of experience and a beer truck full of talent.
Is that enough to take out Sparty?
History Says No
Recent history does not favor the Irish this Saturday when Michigan State and their hand-picked officials take the field against the Irish at Spartan Stadium this Saturday night.
The key words here are “Spartan Stadium.”
Just so you know, for MSU the home field means everything and a bag of coeds.
Historically speaking, Mark Dantonio doesn’t do so well when his opposition isn’t getting consistently homered, and the contrast is mind-boggling.
His supposedly uber-great teams are strangely not so intimidating outside of the friendly confines of Spartan Stadium.
I hear the detractors now…
“What, Dan? Don’t upset them. What if they read this!”
“These are the mighty Spartans that have been tearing college football a new butthole for the last two years! They are the next coming of ‘Bama as soon as Saban retires!”
Not really. Dantonio is the next coming of Saban only when the Spartans don’t board a bus or a plane.
When his boys have to pack an overnight bag and bring a toothbrush, Dantonio’s MSU teams are less about intimidation and more about mediocrity.
Dan’s Handy Quick Dictionary Review:
Me·di·o·cre [French médiocre, from Latin mediocris : medius, middle; see medhyo] - adj.
Moderate to inferior in quality; ordinary. See Synonyms at average.
How mediocre are Dantonio’s road warriors? Try 15-16 for a .484 winning percentage. Try 1-4 in bowls at neutral sites.
Road pillow fighters maybe. Warriors not.
Lest I haven’t already proved my point, MSU’s 11-2, 2010 co-Big Ten champion squad had three true road wins.
One was at RichRod’s Michigan Big-Boned Weasels, which is a whopping 45 minutes from Lansing.
They had to drive all of three hours to Evanston, Ill. to come back from 17 down in the fourth quarter to edge a Northwestern team that was 3-5 in a bad Big Ten.
The same team survived a 19-point fourth quarter comeback to edge a Penn State team that was 4-4 in Big Ten play.
So what else happened while barely surviving that hellish gauntlet of almost average teams? The rest of the 2010 11-win Spartans road games?
8-5 Iowa crushed them 37-6 in Kinnick Stadium, and 9-4 Alabama simply destroyed their 11-1 bowl team 49-7 in neutral site Orlando.
But this same team that couldn’t beat Bambi’s big brother and struggled against Bambi’s younger sister when they got too far from their Toga parties?
8-0 at home in 2010.
Without the boring detail, more of the same in 2011: 7-0 at home, 4-3 outside of the local bars.
Dantonio’s last two purported national championship-caliber 11 win teams are 15-0 when mommy tucks them in, a combined 7-5 when they don’t get to walk to Spartan Stadium.
Suffice it to say Dantonio is pretty good when his wife cooks breakfast, below average when he boils his own eggs.
As for the Irish's chances?
Dantonio has lost to Notre Dame twice, both at Notre Dame.
He has beaten Notre Dame three times, beating Charlie Weis’s pathetic 3-9 squad in 2007 and winning both other contests played in East Lansing, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that all Spartans are acutely allergic to natural grass.
But just how intimidating is Sparty’s home-field advantage when the Green and White is rolling around in the best synthetic grass made?
Forget about the gaudy record.
Think monster-faced Khloe Kardashian’s buttocks, then think of yourself as a misplaced set of keys innocently laying on her recliner cushions. You see a descending eclipse and realize you may never be seen or heard from again.
It’s that intimidating.
Mark Dantonio is 31-6 in East Lansing, a stunning .838 winning percentage with a combined 15-0 record in the last two years—cementing Dantonio as The Man in Spartan football.
None of the Spartan faithful have gone to a home game and seen Sparty screw the pooch since 2009.
We all know that holding calls on MSU’s humongous bubble-butted offensive linemen are not allowed in East Lansing, and the place has the most broken-down time clocks in the history of major college football when needed.
The road team’s offensive linemen will somehow not hold for three quarters but will inexplicably get called on a borderline or non-existent hook on the their team’s biggest offensive play of the fourth quarter.
Instant-replay burdens go from “indisputable video evidence” to “How bad does Sparty need this one?”
Aside from that, it is just a damn tough environment to play, even for veteran squads, which Notre Dame is not.
In the next couple of days, a lot will be said about MSU’s crushing defense and how far along ND’s young secondary and new QB have come in two games, but make no mistake…
…the biggest factor impacting this game is the zip code.
Can Notre Dame Win?
If it’s not bad enough that the Irish have to go to East Lansing, the Irish are marching out a first-year starting QB in his third college game against a defense that returns eight starters from a group that led the Big Ten and was 10th in the country in scoring defense.
This same Spartan group went into South Bend and held last year’s ND veteran-laden offense with a more experienced QB and the best receiver in the country to 274 total yards.
For those precious few among us that can still recall last year, running a conservative game plan for Tommy Rees, the Irish threw for a meager 161 yards and rushed for 114 yards into the teeth of the Spartans’ rough-ass D-line.
Despite shutting down most of ND’s offense, MSU lost when Notre Dame scored early on a kickoff return by George Atkinson and held off a late rally from Sparty with a pick by Robert Blanton at the one-yard line.
It’s hard to think that all that can happen again while concurrently battling the crowd noise and referees in East Lansing, but there is hope elsewhere.
The Man-God of East Lansing has the same affliction of most man-gods: The Achilles Heel.
More precisely, the Achilles Feet, and even more precisely, the Achilles Running Game.
You see, in Dantonio’s three wins versus ND, the Spartans have averaged 208 yards rushing a game.
In Dantonio’s two losses to the Irish, Sparty has stumbled to an average of 64 YPG, including a miniscule 23 yards rushing last year.
As a rule, when Dantonio’s teams can’t run, they can’t win.
No, I don’t expect Notre Dame to go into Spartan Stadium and shut down Le’Veon Bell & Co. to 23 yards, but this is basically the same Notre Dame team that slammed the door on substantially the same backs and the same O-line in 2011.
All things considered, it is more than possible that ND’s D-Line can handle MSU’s ground game if offensive holding is called even once a quarter.
And as I said, as the ground game goes, so goes Dantonio.
It is entirely possible Dantonio goes down, just not all that likely.
All in all, I do think the ND lines on both sides of the ball will perform well and that Everett Golson will be better than expected.
Still, winning on the road against this D with an Irish secondary that doesn’t shave yet may be too much to expect this early in the year. There’s just too much that can go wrong and too much that has to go right.
A great effort by all things Irish with just a couple rookie mistakes thrown in is not likely to be enough to beat Sparty this year, not in their house at night.
That is unless the horrible luck the Irish had all last year strikes Sparty square in the Jones Brothers.
If that happens, we’re in for a big day and a big year.