Last night's game was incredible, and an amazing testament to the talent of this team when they play like a team.
In the first half of yesterday's game, this didn't look like a team. Defenders were overpursuing and losing contain on Stanton because they weren't trusting their teammates to make a play. They weren't communicating. On offense, the offensive line wasn't working as a unit, and the receivers were running uninspired routes. Quinn looked like he was still thinking about the meltdown from last week, and was trying to play conservative to not lose the game. We spotted the Spartans 17 points before we got our feet back under us. Here we go again.
However, the Irish regained some composure and traded scores with the Spartans. They had their moments late in the first half where they looked like they could get back in it, but then somebody would make a stupid mistake and we'd be staring at the business end of a 3-score lead again. In fact, after the scuffle on the Notre Dame sideline, this team got pissed off, and looked like they were ready to take over this game. But then, Brady's DUMB DUMB DUMB interception pass that was returned for a touchdown deflated the team, and was the low water mark for this team in the Weis era. At that point, we were wondering out loud whether this team would even go to a bowl game, much less National Championship and Heisman aspirations.
While the Irish were looking lost, the Michigan State Spartans looked better than Michigan. In fact, if history didn't tell me that MSU will start their annual skid in the next couple of weeks, I'd say that this Michigan State team is better than Michigan, and the balance of weapons on this team make it very difficult to defend. If you focus on stopping the pass (as the Irish did - we completely shut Matt Trannon down), they will beat you on the run. And then, to defend the ru, you have to pick your poison. If you rely in speed to get to the ball, man-beast Jehuu Caulcrick will bowl you over. If you stack the box, speedster Javon Ringer will run around you. If you sell out against the run, Stanton beats you with the pass. If you manage to control the run while still maintaining pass defense, then Stanton will beat you on his feet as well. This offense is sick, and we were flat out getting beat in the first quarter. We made adjustments, and traded scores in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, but couldn't get back in it.
At halftime, Coach Weis laid down the gauntlet. He looked his team in the eye, told them that he'd call the plays to put them in a position to win, and that they had a responsibility as a team to step up and decide where they wanted their season to go. If they play as a team and execute, he;ll lead them to victory.
The Irish came out in the 2nd half a changed team. We started to move the ball better. However, the Spartans hadn't given up yet. They decided to sit on their 3-score lead, and started pounding us on the ground. By game's end, the Spartans had racked up an impressive 248 yards on the ground. But as we realized that John L. Smith had put in his "just don't lose" offense, the defense began to slow down this potent offense.
And then Brady finally remembered that there is a reason he was the preseason Heisman favorite. He put this team on his shoulders, and carried them back into this game, clawing, scratching and playing with a fire I haven't seen since the USC game last year. Brady did have the one pick early in the game, but once he got through the Michigan hangover, he threw for FIVE touchdowns. He threw for over 300 yards. This comeback is the type of performance that can single handedly vault a player back into the Heisman race.
The Irish defense did their part, too, dictating the game in the final quarter. They ripped the ball out of Stanton's hands to set up an Irish score, and a combination of pressure and aggressive pass defense forced an interception which Terraail Lambert returned for a touchdown. The pick wasn't a stupid mistake by Stanton (like Brady's pick in the first half was a stupid mistake for Brady), it was this defense forcing the issue. We DOMINATED the Spartans in the fourth quarter.
But then the anti-ND spin machine got its gear turning. Without level-headed Kirk Herbstreit in the studio (he provided color commentary for the ND game), Fowler, Corso, and Desmond Howard proceeded to completely deny the awesome display of tenacity and grit that the Irish showed in snatching victory from the claws of defeat. Desmond Howard, the Michigan homer, was quick to blame the win on Michigan State, calling them the only team in football that could lose that game. He said that Michigan State gift-wrapped the win for Notre Dame. In fact, while Corso and Fowler both initially agreed with Howard, eager to spin the Irish victory as a Michigan State loss, Howard's bias became so obvious and pervasive, that Fowler and Corso backtracked, not wanting to lose credibility as analysts. In all honesty, Howard was worse even than John Saunders in his blatant anti-ND agenda.
I was pissed, and I had to drive home, so I flipped on the radio to 1490 am, hoping to catch the Weis post-game presser. Instead, I had to suffer through some no-name hack who wouldn't even call the game a Notre Dame victory. It was the "Michigan State loss" and "Michigan State snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory" and "Michigan State made mistakes that handed the Irish the game." He even slipped once to call it an Irish victory, then quickly corrected himself, reframing it as a Spartan loss.
Now, I'm not sure what game they were watching, but the credit for the win yesterday is all on the Irish. They dictated the terms of the fourth quarter, quite literally ripping the victory out of the hands of the Spartans. And even more impressive, the Irish did it by throwing the ball in a torrential downpour.
If you turn off ESPN and just watch this game, this battle was as epic as last year's USC game (without the national title implications). Notre Dame didn't get lucky bounces and miracle plays (except perhaps the interception to ice the game with :30 left). They simply took the game in their hands and beat the Spartans.
And Coach Weis kept his promise to the team. Like I said last week, the honeymoon was over for Weis after last week's game, and he earned his paycheck last night. He not only called the plays needed to win the game, he managed the entire game situation. While we were watching the game, Weis didn't panic and spend timeouts to stop the clock while we were still down two scores with 5:00 left. He let the clock run, placing the onus on his defense to get the stop on 3rd and 5, saving the timeouts for the Spartan's last drive. The defense made the stop, and the Irish got the ball back, scoring quickly.
The go-ahead interception, which all of the haters want to use as evidence of the Michigan State meltdown, occured on third down deep in their own territory and also occurred with over 2 minutes left on the clock. With the way Brady Quinn was playing, did anyone doubt his ability to lead the game-winning drive with over two minutes left on the clock? If anyhting, the interception return kept the door open for the Spartans, allowing Drew Stanton the opportunity to come back and preserve the victory with a heroic 2-minute drive.
The other evidence of Michigan State's so-called meltdown is the final interception. That interception, however, wasn't even the first interception of that drive. If not for an admittedly legitimate incidental facemask by Vic Abiamiri, the game would have been over on the second play of that drive when Tom Zbikowski intercepted Stanton's pass. Also, the defense had bottled up the Michigan State receives and were in Stanton's face the entire drive. They forced Michigan State to dink and dunk their way down the field. In fact, Michigan State had to convert a fourth and 1 to even be in a position to throw the interception, and they were still 15 yards from field goal range with time running out when they threw the interception. Also, Abiamiri had Stanton in his grasp when Stanton threw the pass, and Stanton threw it into disguised double coverage. While the bounce was lucky, if you watch the replay, Wooden almost had the interception himself, and his tip is what allowed the pick. This wasn't Michigan State making dumb mistakes, this was Notre Dame dictating the game to the Spartans.
Make no mistake, this was Notre Dame winning, not Michigan State losing.