Lesar: Is this Notre Dame team good enough for Michigan State?

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Good. But … good enough?

Saturday’s 39-10 win over Nevada was a wash and rinse for the Notre Dame football team.

Get Texas completely out of its system, take a deep breath after a short, convoluted week, and start focusing on Michigan State.

Nevada played like a team that had to go overtime to beat Cal Poly Something last week. It wasn’t a fluke.

Even the most diplomatic of evaluators couldn’t spin that ineptitude into something positive; Re: Ahki Muhammad’s kickoff return/touchback/safety, one of the “knuckleheaded mistakes” Nevada coach Brian Polian talked about afterward.

“(The Irish) were better than us by a wide margin,” Polian said during his 10-minute apology for the performance to the media.

Dddduuuuhhhh.

There might be a wide margin between the Irish and the Wolf Pack, but where do the Spartans fit into that spectrum?

We’ll find out next Saturday night.

“It’s hard to…,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said, starting to analyze his team’s proximity to what was a College Football Playoff team a year ago.

“Here’s what I know, we’re going to get better each and every week,” Kelly said. “We’re a younger football team in certain areas. We’ve got enough guys who have played enough football that they know what it’s like to play a Michigan State.

“It’s not like we don’t have a bunch of guys who don’t know what it’s like to go up against a physical Big Ten opponent like Michigan State. There are other guys who don’t know what it’s like to get punched in the mouth by a big, physical team like Michigan State.

“There’s still growth that’s going to happen as we evolve. I like its will to prepare. I like its resiliency. We’ve got a really good quarterback. It’s always good to have one of those. As long as we continue to evolve defensively and get better there, I think we’ve got a fighting shot about anybody we play.”

Maybe Kelly and his Irish will get lucky and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and his staff will gloss over the part of the game film where cornerback Shaun Crawford went down with what has been reported to be a season-ending Achilles tendon injury (Kelly didn’t actually confirm it – yet).

…Moving ahead to further action in the first quarter.

After doing a spot-on imitation of Gary Gray against Michigan 2011 last week early in the Texas loss, corner Nick Coleman was mercifully taken off the field. Now, after the loss of Crawford, the Irish are out of warm bodies at corner. Coleman’s the guy, which can be scary.

Even with its slip-shod, mish-mash of an offense, Nevada was able to locate Coleman and beat him for a 44-yard gain.

Just think what an organized offense with quality athletes can do against a Notre Dame secondary overloaded with rookies that’s ripe for the taking.

Don’t worry about the Irish offense. With that quarterback Kelly was talking about and a running game that turned the Wolf Pack into a bunch of howling puppies (239 net yards), they can move the ball and score against anyone.

It’s the defense that has to keep the Spartans under half a hundred points and half a thousand yards, like it couldn’t do against Texas.

The most notable stats Notre Dame was able to post Saturday was 3-of-12 in third-down conversions and even a stop inside the red zone. Besides the victory, Notre Dame has nary a semblance of an identity to hang its helmet on.

The Irish dominated the game against Nevada in its base defense. As far as an identity is concerned, yielding 10 garbage points and 300 yards still didn’t enhance the personality of the unit. The jury’s still out.

Making amends for the carnage in Austin won’t happen until Michigan State comes to town.

That is … if the Irish are good enough.

Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly leads his team out of the tunnel prior to the start of the Fighting Irish's game against Nevada at Notre Dame Stadium, Saturday, September 10, 2016 in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ BECKY MALEWITZ