The Michigan State Spartans and Notre Dame Fighting Irish football game was exactly what most were expecting out of it, physical and low scoring. Both teams had to earn their scores, especially Michigan State.
On their three scoring drives, the Spartans piled up the plays and ate up the clock in doing so. Their touchdown drive took 14 plays, covered 79 yards and ate up 5:46 of the clock. They tied the game up on the opening drive of the first half by taking up more than half of the third quarter with a 15-play, 75-yard drive lasting 8:39. Their final scoring drive was 10 plays for 51 yards in 4:04.
The key there was the amount of plays they ran, in all three possessions, they ran 10 or more plays, and those three possessions were the only drives that ended up with 10-plus plays. The Irish also only scored on three possessions, the difference was the extra touchdown instead of field goal they scored.
The defense did their part, obviously, especially in the running game. The two team’s combined for 63 rushes (subtracting the QB kneels throughout the game) and only ran for 207 yards (3.3 YPC).
Neither team was expected to have too much success with the run, as both team’s featured a strong rush defense. It wasn’t just the run defense as both quarterbacks combined for only 277 passing yards, making the combined offensive yardage between the teams 484.
That is 252 yards less than what the Baylor Bears average per game.
So, did the defenses play that good, or did the offenses, who have struggled most of the year, play bad enough to make the defenses look better?
It’s true that despite putting up some good numbers at points in the season (Tommy Rees back-to-back 300-yard passing games, Michigan State putting up 55 points against Youngstown State), that the offenses have struggled to establish themselves as legitimate threats.
Rees has not shown the ability to throw the ball consistently making teams stack the box in effort to isolate the running game which in turn makes Rees have to throw the ball more. He missed on every one of his deep ball throws. save a few that the receivers made a great play to adjust to the bad throw.
Michigan State played a three-headed quarterback merry-go-round to start the year until settling in on Connor Cook, who was replaced later in the game for Andrew Maxwell, who yielded even worse results.
Cook’s 50 percent completion percentage was the highest total of the game, as Maxwell went 0-for-3 and Rees only completed a putrid 41 percent of his passes at 14-of-34. Altogether, the quarterbacks completed 43 percent as a unit. They overthrew and under threw receivers, almost forcing their team’s to try and run the ball, something that everyone knew neither team was going to be able to do.
Another physical instalment of The Battle For The Megaphone Trophy will look like the defense dominated the game, which they did, but the game was really won because the Fighting Irish’s offense was the least bad.