Welcome to the weekly Irish Blogger Gathering, brought to you by the best Notre Dame blogs in the entire solar system. This week, Keith Arnold from NBC's Inside The Irish was kind enough to provide the rest of the IBG with some questions. I was kind enough to sidestep a few of those questions, and answer others only mildly.
Thanks again to Keith, and now let's get this IBG rollin'...
1) Status check: How deflating was the loss to Michigan? I could argue that Crist's injury makes this loss both easier to swallow and even more maddening for Irish fans.
Deflating? It was soul-crushing. Nothing- NOTHING made this loss any easier on me. Maddening... maddening, you say? After a lifelong pledge of loyalty to Notre Dame, I have grown used to the maddening nature of Fighting Irish football. But, I guess that is the nature of college football in general. Expect the unexpected and bask in the glory when you are lucky enough to have that sun shine upon your wrinkly old ass.
The injury to Crist was a massive blow to the Irish and probably cost us the game, but what are we going to do? Cry about it while we slam more 40's of Mickeys than should be humanly possible? Well, OK, I did that, but I have moved on and accepted the loss for what it was. It turned this team from being an undefeated up-and-comer toa 1-1 team going on the road to get its respect. I can handle that.
2) How critical is this Saturday's game? Walk away 2-1 and the Irish can feel good about taking on a very able Stanford squad at home next weekend. Walk out of East Lansing with a loss..?
Unfortunately, this game always seems to have this kind of drama. Well, since Lou Holtz was stalking the sidelines picking grass anyways. Critical... maybe. For this season, of course it's critical. The Irish are trying to win every game left, and hell, if they can do that, I'm pretty sure that would mean a BCS bowl bid.
As for the program as a whole, a victory would do a lot to help improve the image of Notre Dame football, but it would be fleeting. Only a victory over U$C and a win in a major bowl game would get this program over a 15+ year hump.
3) Why does the rivalry with Michigan State seem to get so little respect?
It's because Michigan State is Michigan State. It's a major school, with a good history, but compared to Michigan and U$C it might as well be Ball State. I actually take this game very, very seriously. It's hard for me to fathom that any Irish would look at MSU at just some other team. This is a game that is always physical, and always nasty in some way or another, and as an early season matchup, it gives you a good sense of what type of team the Irish really have for the rest of the season.
Without blowing this game to much out of proportion, I have to say that it is the #3 game on my scale- every year. I hate them, yet not as much as Michigan and U$C. Notre Dame is different than any other school in the country because so many teams look at their game against ND as the #1 or #2 game on their schedule each year. When you look at the team that is widely considered the #3- it has a tendency to get overlooked a bit by fans, and by the players.
4) It's hard to draw too many conclusions from victories over Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic, but what do you expect this Saturday night in Spartan Stadium?
I'm really not sure. I feel that I m inclined to say that this game will be physical and will be closer than the spread is listed (which is around 3.5 right now), but I just don't know. I'm pretty sure that Kirk Cousins won't have 250+ yards rushing, so that's some good news, but MSU is able to run the ball really well, which opens up play action, which keeps a defense on its heels. Can Notre Dame move the ball effectively without putting Crist in situations that could allow a hard-hitter like Greg Jones to knock him senseless? Will Notre Dame flex its rush defense muscles against a team that does not have a freak from hell calling the signals?
I'm just not sure what to expect exactly, but I am certain that after the game is over, we will have a better understanding about Brian Kelly, this team, and what the season may have in store for us all.
5) Best case, worst case, most likely: The Irish's record after the first six games.
BEST CASE: 5-1... The Irish use the Michigan game as motivation to improve each week. Dayne Crist blows up nationally, and the old cliche's about Notre Dame football (post Holtz) begin to fade away.
WORST CASE: 1-5... After taking a hard hit to the head early in the MSU game, Crist suffers from concussions and is unable to play football until cleared by doctors. The Irish are unable to move the ball on the ground because of a lack of danger in the air which leads to the defense being out on the field for far too long- which leads to losses. Basically 2007.
MOST LIKELY: 3-3... I really wanted to put 4-2 here, but I have been witness to this type of thing too many times before. This team is still learning and has a tough schedule, so to say that they slip up 2 more times in the next 4 games is not a reach.
6) Let's leave Michael Floyd out of this for a second. What Irish player needs to step up and play better football?
I have to go with the obvious here in Dayne Crist. As we saw last week, he is the key to this Irish Football team and not just with his play, but with his leadership as well. However, you can't be a leader when you are unable to play- it just doesn't work like that. As good as Crist can be at times, he still shows his inexperience and makes mistakes that leave yelling out, "WTF?!" So, yeah, Crist. Of course, he could use some help...