ND Opponent Watch Week 2: Three New Lessons

Marc HalstedCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2009

First Things First

First down efficiency will tell the story against Michigan State. 

In the first half against Central Michigan, a team with a talented passer, two good receiving targets, speed on the outside, and a pedestrian run-game (sounds like ND to me) MSU blitzed on over 75 percent of their defensive first downs in the first two quarters. 

Dan Lefevour, the excellent Chippewa signal caller, handled the first half pressure admirably (if not brilliantly) and kept Central Michigan in the game, down by just four at half. In the second half MSU blitzed only twice in fourteen first down opportunities. Consequently, Lefevour was able to settle in, go over the 300-yard mark for the day, and get downfield for two scores and the comeback win.

Expect Mike D'antonio to order an aggressive attack against Jimmy Clausen on Saturday. MSU couldn’t sit back against Lefevour, and they can’t afford to sit back against the talented stable of receivers wearing blue and gold.

Offensively, the two young MSU quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, have talent. Cousins is further along as a pocket passer and handled the bulk of the work on Saturday.

Enter Dr. Tenuta.

The ND Defensive Coordinator is at his best when there’s a pocket and an actual quarterback somewhere in that pocket. Tate Forcier sent the Irish defense into a frenetic panic and didn’t allow ND to create first down pressure and that much-desired second-and-long situation. As a result, ND hearts were heard breaking from South Bend to Bristol (see Dr. Lou).

Kirk Cousins will not be able to do what Forcier did and the that means a more aggressive blitz package for the hungry young Irish linebackers. If ND gets to Cousins on that all-important first down it will be a long day for Sparty.

First down will not only set the tone in the 2009 version of MSU v. ND, it will determine who controls momentum, who produces the big points, and who can plant the flag when the fourth quarter clock hits zero.

Gettin’ Off The Porch

I live in the northeast, or as we call it, the land without football. Where I live, BC and UConn are the best tickets I can get without driving seven-plus hours on a Saturday morning. To be honest, up until Saturday I don’t think I would have driven to Storrs if the tickets were free.

Now I might ride my bike or hitchhike to get to a Husky game. Ignore the final score against North Carolina, because it doesn’t tell the whole story. The UConn Huskies have come off the proverbial front porch with a whole pack of angry dogs on defense.

The only thing preseason magazines and website had to say about UConn was that they had an excellent no-name defense for the Big East. That’s like being the prettiest girl on “The Biggest Loser.” 

It’s time to get to know defensive end Lindsey Witten (five sacks) and linebackers Lawrence Wilson (20 tackles and a sack), Greg Lloyd (17 tackles), and Scott Lutrus (106 tackles in ’08 and 6 in ’09).

The Huskies shut down North Carolina all day long last Saturday despite a talented offensive crew form Chapel Hill. Shaun Draughn is a legit ACC running back. T.J. Yates is a veteran quarterback with a few big pelts on the wall. Greg Little was an Irish turncoat on signing day who’s become a successful run/catch threat.

In other words, UNC was a legit offense and a top-25 team. UNC pulled it out in the end (12-10), but UConn deserves the full attention of Charlie Weis come November 21st. 

The Connecticut Huskies' defense is flying off that porch and it doesn’t look like many cages or chains can hold them back in a Big East full of very average offenses. This game isn’t just about Zach Frazer anymore.

Trojan Truth

They are beatable.

Ohio State had to replace four starters on defense, including their top two tacklers and big play guys like James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins. Even with all that NFL talent in the lineup, the Trojans embarrassed OSU last year, 35-3.

USC put up just 313 yards on Saturday at the Horseshoe. The vaunted Trojan running back depth gained less than three yards per carry. Matt Barkley looked like a freshman at times, going 15-31 with one pick. These are all good things for Irish fans to hear.

Notre Dame will not be as fast as Southern Cal and the ND defense has much to prove after the Michigan Wolverines went up and down the field all day long on Saturday. This isn't Matt and Reggie, or Mark and “the stable.” These guys are human.

Will Notre Dame beat USC? Heck, I’m not even sure if the Irish will be less than three touchdown ‘dogs. But, like Jim Carey said in that cinematic classic Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance. YEAH!”

There it is, Irish fans: Three more facts that may give you a little more hope over the next few weeks. 

And let’s face it, we all need a little hope right now.


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