As is the case with all things Notre Dame, prognosticators, fans and the less sober of the true leprechauns all go into a feeding frenzy when the Fighting Irish beat a ranked team.
This time, Notre Dame pummeled an overly muscled and highly motivated #10 ranked Spartan team by winning an ugly game in the trenches on both sides of the ball, inevitably setting off the standard three gazillion articles and blogs that the Irish are indeed back.
Yes they certainly are, the question is, back to what?
Enjoy the Moment
The Notre Dame football team had a great game at a venue known for eating road teams like big Oprah downs chocolates. I do not downplay the significance of that fact.
In fact, I revel in it.
I am an hour from East Lansing, so I’ve had to watch Spartan fans grow from the nicest band of close knit, but harmless party-goers into that nouveau successful fan base that thinks two 10+ win seasons in a bad Big Ten coupled with a string of wins against the crappiest U of M teams in almost 150,000 years of football means they are now an awesome force in modern college football.
In the course of three years, what was once a perfectly reasonable group of mildly successful beer-bongers with lots of marketing degrees turned into a snarly bastion of self-righteous football snobbery.
Many of the Spartan faithful actually quit downing warm bottles of Boonesfarm at tailgaters in favor of slightly chilled white wine spritzers.
In short, I was surrounded by utter chaos.
As a Michigan resident and Notre Dame alumnus and devout loyalist, I contemplated setting my mom loose at one of their frat parties to out-chaos their chaos—something truly drastic had to be done.
Saturday, the Fighting Irish did it for me.
What Did We Do?
We silenced Spartan Nation.
Notre Dame ended Sparty’s 15 game home winning streak in dominating fashion, 20-3.
Notre Dame didn’t allow Michigan State into the red zone. Not once. Not even when they asked nicely and then resorted to offering free keggers and a drunken coed for every ten yards.
None of their sneaky underhanded plans worked.
Neither did the blunt-force trauma MSU tries to inflict between the tackles. Neither did the wrestling matches MSU calls pass coverage.
Notre Dame held one of the best backs in the nation to 77 yards, 20 of which were gimme yards at the end of the first half on two runs against a prevent defense.
Notre Dame’s defensive line tossed MSU’s 320 lb offensive linemen around like they were having the world’s largest green and white pillow fight.
An entire Irish secondary that just recently got their driver's licenses lost their best player in the first half and still held MSU’s passing game to a mere 187 yards and no TDs, with two plays of 23 and 21 yards and no other play over 11 yards.
While we can all question Dantonio teams’ inability to go on the road and beat anybody that owns two helmets and a decent blocking sled, his 31-6 (15-0 for the past two years) home record at MSU is testimony to some bone-crushing brawling in a very hostile environment.
Any man that has put on a wife-beater T-shirt, drank a bit too much of the hard stuff, and loudly stumbled into a Women’s Rights Convention "looking for some hot broads” knows of that which I speak.
My mom played there in 2010 and the Spartan D-Line wrestled a half empty bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 from her during a timeout. I’ve seen a veteran team of Navy Seals lose body parts trying to do that.
It’s probably fair to say that, outside the SEC, Michigan State is probably one of the more physically intimidating teams in the country, double that at home.
On Saturday, the Irish did the intimidating, pit-bull mauling anyone that crossed their trenches, and there were no arguments about bad calls or lucky bounces.
Sparty got his big green ass kicked, and kicked hard. In his house.
The Irish didn’t have to spike their flag into Sparty’s field, because they had already stuck it through his heart, and Spartan Nation knew it.
What Did We Really Do?
Still, the ultimate question beckons: is this the harbinger of a new era in Notre Dame football? Or is this just another win against an over-hyped Big Ten school?
The answer is, of course, yes.
Last year we put up 50 in a win against a hapless Navy team. 2012 was a repeat performance with a much longer and strangely hazardous bus trip than usual.
Last year we beat a middle-of-the-road Purdue squad. Ditto 2012.
If the last vestiges of my memory serve me, last year we also convincingly beat down an undefeated MSU team that had several dominating defensive performances before matching up against a much more athletic ND team.
Déjà vu Monsieur Sparty 2012.
So if you think real hard and put down the fourteen buckets of Kool-Aid, we ain’t done nuthin’ much different than last year yet, and last year we ended up 8-5.
Note to self:
Dear Self, Last year we didn’t have Oklahoma and BYU on our schedule.
P.S. It also turns out the 2012 Stanford Cardinal is a hell of a lot tougher than we thought.
P.P.S. We still haven’t beaten Michigan since 2009 and they’ve sucked every year.
A very good argument can be made that despite a “signature win” against a “top ten” program, we’re not much different than last year, and neither is MSU.
There are many reasons to like what we see this year.
In a physical contest on the road, our newbie QB didn’t give up the rock to nobody and wasn’t intimidated by the desperate pitter-patter of Spartan booties. This was a dramatic contrast to last year when we were in a race to see if we could get to – 1,000 in turnover margin before mid-season and went fetal whenever our tackle lost the edge.
Our defensive line didn’t take no crap from nobody, nohow, and had several occasions when they almost hurt one another taking turns heaving bubble-butted Spartan lineman at MSU’s QB.
Our O-Line held their own and controlled play, which kept EG from having to press play, which let everyone just play.
Our linebackers filled gaps and hit. A novice secondary played solid coverage against a lot of play action.
Guys that were sorely confused two weeks ago ran to the ball and batted down pass after pass - after the last five years of ND defenses I wasn't even sure that was legal anymore.
Even the gawd-awful announcers noted the Irish had more speed to the ball than prior teams – and those clowns usually don’t even notice if they wore pants on any given day.
Special teams were solid, penalties were limited and no mascots of note were kidnapped.
If Jamoris Slaughter hadn’t gone down, there was very little to dislike on Saturday if you’re an Irishman at heart.
MSU isn’t Alabama, but it is a solid team.
While we haven’t done much different than last year, the way we’re doing it – with a solid defense and an offense that is growing right in front of us – is encouraging if not flat out exciting.
We beat a pretty good (not great) team on the road with a freshman quarterback and a three week old secondary.
Our QB was only 14-32 for 178 yards, and the O-Line and some hard running pounded out 122 yards rushing on 34 carries for an average of 3.6 yards per rush.
Everett Golson showed some more flashes of his athleticism, and a few more flashes of what a freshman quarterback looks like.
Not real impressive, but that was enough offense to ride a punishing defense to victory, and for that we should be thankful.
Thank you, Brian Kelly. Thank you, Manti. Thank you, Everett. And thank you, football gods.
In the scheme of things, this is not as big of a win as many would like to think, but it is a solid step in the right direction and a pleasant reprieve from the last two years when Notre Dame stumbled out of the gate.
Beat Michigan next week, and we can say we did something we didn’t already do last year.
Beat Stanford, and we are as BCS-worthy as anybody,
Beat Oklahoma, and we can say Notre Dame is back to national prominence.
Beat USC, and we get to see just how good ‘Bama really is, which is scary good, like Khloe Kardashian's face scary.
Give me a Michigan win and any one of the other three and we can all say the Irish have had a great year.
Right now we’ve just had a great start.
And that feels really great.