Return to glory on hold for Notre Dame

September, 20, 2008
9/20/08
9:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
 Jimmy Clausen was 24-of-41 for 242 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in Notre Dame's 23-7 loss to Michigan State.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The wackiness of the Michigan State-Notre Dame rivalry often leaves the losing team feeling bitter and angry.

Notre Dame was steamed after an overtime loss in 2005, and Michigan State never recovered after blowing a big lead against the Fighting Irish the next year.

Notre Dame's 23-7 loss on Saturday at Spartan Stadium stirred different emotions. The defeat was definitive, and though the Irish had their share of chances, there were fewer "what-ifs" and widespread disappointment.

"We didn't deserve to win," head coach Charlie Weis said. "We had a chance to win the game, but we didn't deserve to win."

Teams that deserve to win run the ball effectively. Notre Dame didn't. Teams that deserve to win stop the run. Notre Dame didn't stop Javon Ringer enough.

Teams that deserve to win convert in the red zone. Notre Dame failed on its only two chances.

"Across the board in that locker room there were a lot of people that felt accountable," said Weis, who stood the entire game on the sideline in obvious pain after tearing two ligaments in his left knee last week. "Really, it all starts with accountability. If the players feel they're part of the problem, usually you can fix it. But they have to feel they're part of the problem. They weren't guys that were in the tank. They were guys that were really, really disappointed."

Notre Dame came here 2-0 largely because of its opportunistic play. The Irish converted Michigan's miscues into points and emerged with a heartening win last week.

But many of the same problems that plagued the team last season surfaced Saturday. The offensive line allowed its first three sacks of the season and quarterback Jimmy Clausen was under constant pressure.

Remove a 24-yard end around by dynamic wide receiver Golden Tate and Notre Dame finished with minus-8 net rushing yards. Running backs James Aldridge, Robert Hughes and Armando Allen combined for just 30 rush yards on 15 carries.

"They shut us off up front and we just weren't able to get anything going," tackle Sam Young said.

Notre Dame essentially abandoned the run after halftime, operating mainly from the shotgun with no backs and four or five wide receivers. The strategy clicked at times as Clausen found a groove with Tate (5 catches, 83 yards) and promising freshman wideout Michael Floyd (7 catches, 86 yards, TD).

But repeated mistakes plagued the unit, which didn't score until the first play of the fourth quarter.

"We always talk about, 'Make a team one-dimensional,'" Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Well, they came out and tried to establish the run game against us early in the game. And the second half, [Notre Dame had] probably three or four rushes on draws on third down and 12, and I could care less if they gain 11, to be honest with you.

"If you're an offense and you've got to throw it every down, you're in trouble."

The Irish showed signs of promise, especially from Tate, who made the play of the game in the fourth quarter when he took a hit from cornerback Ross Weaver, kept his knee off the turf and then cut back to convert a third-and-18.

Floyd had a crucial fumble but displayed tremendous athleticism, and the defense got solid play from linebacker Brian Smith (10 tackles, TFL, forced fumble).

"We fought today," Tate said. "I don't think we ever gave up. They just came out and played a little harder than we did."

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