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Sloppy third quarter makes Notre Dame’s comeback impossible

| Monday, September 19, 2016

As DeShone Kizer’s Hail Mary slipped through the outstretched fingers of freshman receiver Chase Claypool, Notre Dame ended the first half trailing Michigan State 15-7, despite having played far from its best football.

Within striking distance in a one-score game, the No. 18 Irish (1-2) looked to make their necessary half-time adjustments and retake the lead they had previously enjoyed in the first quarter. That didn’t happen however, as the Irish gave up 21 straight points to start the second half and failed to answer on time offensively, digging themselves too deep a hole to climb out of as No. 12 Michigan State (2-0) held on late to win, 36-28.

Senior linebacker James Onwaulu tackles the ball carrier during Notre Dame's 36-28 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Senior linebacker James Onwaulu tackles the ball carrier during Notre Dame’s 36-28 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.

In college football, momentum can be a devastating weapon, and Michigan State took full advantage of it in the third quarter, capitalizing on a variety of mistakes from the Irish, and eventually opening up the floodgates on offense, scoring on three straight drives and ballooning the lead to 29 points.

The damage started on Michigan State’s second drive of the quarter, as senior Spartan quarterback Tyler O’Conner engineered a methodical 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped by junior tailback Gerald Holmes’ 3-yard touchdown run to make it 22-7. The Irish offense did not respond well, as Kizer was promptly intercepted on the second play of the drive by junior Michigan State linebacker Jon Reschke.

The Spartans offense took over inside Notre Dame territory, and it took sophomore tailback LJ Scott just three plays to rumble into the end zone, stretching the lead to 29-7 and swinging whatever momentum was left on the Irish sideline towards the Spartan one. The Irish offense again could not stay on the field long, responding with a three-and-out, and a tired defense was quickly sent out to once more try and weather the storm. Lightning soon struck in the form of Holmes, who sprinted 73 yards untouched into the end zone, an exclamation point on a dominant stretch of football by Michigan State.

“You know, [we] got too far behind and certainly when you get yourself in that kind of hole, it’s hard to dig out against a really good team,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “[We] put ourselves in a position to do some things in the second half and then g[a]ve up too many big plays defensively, and offensively never got anything going until a little later in the third quarter.

“We’ve been down twice big against two really good football teams, and we put ourselves back in a position to win both games, and we couldn’t because we made too many mistakes. We’re sloppy as a football team.”

That sloppiness was often apparent in the Notre Dame defense, which once again faced issues with tackling, particularly in the secondary. However, the defensive line also had their share of struggles, as they failed again to register a sack and were pushed around by the Spartan offensive line to the tune of 260 total rushing yards. Senior defensive end and captain James Onwaulu noted the defenses play was flawed and inconsistent.

“We gotta play tough, consistently — that’s really the biggest thing,” Onwualu said. “There are drives that a couple guys slip up, or one guy misses a tackle, and it’s a big play and we miss it. [We] gotta play consistently tough.”

Overall, the Spartans proved the tougher of the two teams, dominating the Irish by continually pounding the ball and outrushing them 164 to 5 in the third quarter alone, while nearly doubling the the time of possession in the quarter, 9:52 to 5:08.

Kizer’s interception and two costly 15-yard penalties added insult to injury for the reeling Irish, who finally managing to right the ship with 3:45 left in the quarter, as the offense shook out of its slump with a 65-yard drive capped by a difficult catch by Equanimeous St. Brown in the end zone. Ultimately, the offense proved to have found its rhythm too late, with Kizer taking full responsibility for the third quarter lull.

Irish junior linebacker Nyles Morgan dives to tackle the ball carrier during Notre Dame's 36-28 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish junior linebacker Nyles Morgan dives to tackle the ball carrier during Notre Dame’s 36-28 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.

“We were running great plays, but as a commander of the offense, I failed to execute my job,” Kizer said. “In the third quarter when we hit that low, that’s 100% on me, from communication errors to balls in the dirt to not making the plays on my feet like I’m supposed to. I take this 100% on my back.”

In a game of ebbs and flows, of momentum swings and stretches of domination, what ultimately doomed Notre Dame was their third quarter execution. From special teams gaffes such as sophomore Nicco Ferrati’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, to the sluggish offense, to the inept defense, Notre Dame made too many mistakes and was pushed around on their home field. Kelly summed up the night accurately.

“This is everywhere, and this is on me,” Kelly said. “We gotta clean up everything. We are a sloppy football team.”

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About Joe Everett

Joe is a senior PLS major and hails from the thriving metropolis of South Bend, IN. In addition to formerly serving as Sports Editor at The Observer, Joe is a RA in Stanford Hall and a past champion of the Observer's Fantasy Football league.

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