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Irish defense must play to potential

Published September 21. 2013 09:00AM

Notre Dame managed to regroup enough in the second half last week against Purdue to give the developing Irish offense time to make some plays. The end result was that ND rallied for a 31-24 win over the Boilermakers. It wasn't pretty, but some times you've got to take what you get.

For ND, trailing most of the game to a team that was a 20-point underdog, it was not a very good performance. The Irish defense has fans and, I'm sure, head coach Brian Kelly wondering what's going on.

Coming into the 2013 season many, including this writer, thought the defense was going to have to carry the offense through the first three or four games. The offense had to make an adjustment to quarterback Tommy Rees from the projected starter Everett Golson, who was kicked out of school for the fall. Golson offered a problem for opposing teams. He was a good passer, could run the roll-out and was certainly able to turn on the speed and run for some yardage when needed. Rees is not a runner, so Kelly and his staff had to bring the offense back to where it was before Golson arrived on thescene. That's what the Irish offense is doing, making progress with Rees. But the defense, the keystone of the 2013 season, is the big disappointment.

Purdue took the playbook of Temple and picked the Irish apart with its short passing game. The Irish struggled with it. Michigan did almost the same the week before with its passing game.

ND's defense has got to step up this week as the Irish host Michigan State.

Thanks to the efforts of Cam McDaniel, the Irish were able to rally in the fourth quarter to tie the game and eventually take the lead. An interception for a score by the Irish defense contributed to the cause as the defense did play well in the final quarter to hold Purdue in check.

Today the Irish face a Spartan team that found its offense last week against Youngstown State. Quarterback Connor Cook had four touchdown passes in the first half en route to a 55-17 win for MSU. The Spartans are also led on offense by receivers Macqarrett Kings, who has eight catches for 99 yards this season, and Aaron Burnbridge with eight for 80. Their top rusher is Jeremy Langford with 208 yards on 44 carries and Nick Hill with 181 on 25. Langford also has four TDs.

But the biggest problem for the Irish is the MSU defense. It is ranked number one in the country right now. MSU is first in pass defense and fourth in rush defense. That means the Irish defense really has to step up and hold the Spartans in check to give Rees and company plenty of time to run the offense.

Through three games the Spartans are averaging 209 yards rushing per game and 160 passing. Not real impressive but getting better.

MSU was 6-7 last year. The other wins this year for the Spartans include a 26-13 win over Western Michigan and a 21-6 victory over South Florida. All three games have been played in East Lansing.

ND leads the series 47-28-1. ND has won the last two in a row. ND is 28-13 in games played in South Bend.

The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 3:40 p.m. kickoff.

IRISH NOTES: Some game stats from last week. Rees was 20 of 33 passing for 309 yards and two touchdowns. His 82 yard completion to DaVaris Daniels and a TD was the longest in his career. Cam McDaniel ended up with 56 yards on 16 rushes and a TD, George Atkinson had 27 on five, and Amir Caslisle 11-16. Receiving leaders were Daniels with eight catches for 167 yards and two TDs and TJ Jones four for 57. Carlisle caught three for 16. Kyle Brindza hit on his only field goal try, a 20 yarder .... Rees had no turnovers and the Irish won. That is a key for ND. When he doesn't turn the ball over the Irish usually win .... ND's defense was simply horrible on third down plays. Purdue was eight of 29 going into the game on third down plays. In the first half they were five for five coverting on plays of one, seven, seven, 11 and 12 yards .... Jones made a big mistake in calling for a fair catch at his own four. Most players would have stepped aside and let the ball go into the end zone .... Senior LB Kendall Moore and junior safety Eilar Hardy, two defensive backups, did not make the trip and were suspended for the game for violating team rules, Kelly said .... The same 14 freshmen who made the roster and trip to Michigan, were at Purdue. Frosh QB Malik Zaire was there but did not play. He reportedly has been cleared to play following his bout with monoucleosis .... Receiver Jones has 30 starts in his career but none so far this season. Daniels and Daniel Smith started the Purdue game .... ND dropped in the AP poll to 22nd but remained 21 in the USA Today coaches poll .... Teams that challenge for the BCS title usually are ranked in the top five or so on defense, which led the Irish to the title game a year ago. If the "D" doesn't pick it up there will be no BCS game at all for Notre Dame this year, and I'm not talking the national title game .... Nationally, Atkinson is ranked 16th in kickoff returns, while Daniels is 25th in receiving yardage. ND is ranked a miserable 119th out of 123 teams in kickoff coverage .... MSU's offensive coordinator is former Lehighton High School standout Dave Warner .... In my preseason picks I had the Irish winning today. However, with how poorly the defense has been playing, and the fact MSU has the best rated defense in the country facing a Irish offense that is still in the learning stage, this is now a toss-up game. If the Irish can run the ball and keep possession away from the Spartans then it could be a Irish victory.

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