MSU-ND grades: Spartans linebackers control game

The biggest takeaways and highest-graded players from the Spartans' win over the Irish on Saturday night.

| 9 months ago
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

MSU-ND grades: Spartans linebackers control game

Michigan State Spartans 36, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 28

Here are the biggest takeaways and highest-graded players from the Spartans’ 36-28 win over the Irish on Saturday night:

Michigan State Spartans

Quarterback grade: Tyler O’Connor, 60.6

Mistake-free game is all that was needed from O’Connor 

The grade isn’t pretty, as O’Connor was fairly inaccurate when asked to target the ball down the field, but it mattered little for the Spartans. This one was all about the run game and O’Connor got some nice padding of his stats from jet sweep tosses. Seven of his completions and 45 yards came on targets behind the line of scrimmage.

Top offensive grades

C Benny McGowan, 80.5
WR R.J. Shelton, 79.2
WR Donnie Corley, 77.9
G Brian Allen, 72.4
FB Prescott Line, 71.8

O-line has its way with ND front 

Down block, pull, five yards. Rinse. Repeat. That was the Spartans game plan against Notre Dame and it was executed to a ‘T’. 52 carries for 260 yards with a mere three missed tackles on the day. Amazing figures for the Michigan State offensive line that saw all but Kodi Kieler grade out well.

It’s also worth noting the work that R.J. Shelton and Donnie Corley did in the passing game. Shelton had multiple impactful jet sweeps while Corley’s stolen touchdown grab was one of the turning points of the game.

Top defensive grades:

LB Jon Reschke, 86.8
DT Malik McDowell, 82.7
LB Chris Frey, 79.8
LB Riley Bullough, 79.1
S Montae Nicholson, 74.3

Linebackers take control of game

Jon Reschke, Chris Frey, and Riley Bullough may as well have had the Notre Dame playbook the way they consistently read the Notre Dame attack. They played downhill snap after snap and almost never let Notre Dame offensive linemen get cleanly into their pads. On one draw play in the middle of the third quarter, Bullough seemingly calls it out with a hand motion right after the snap before ducking inside the tight end and making a tackle for loss. The difference in the linebackers for each team was the difference in the game.


Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Quarterback grade: DeShone Kizer, 69.6

Tale of two halves for Kizer

Two halves is a bit of a misnomer as the opening two series’ of the second half were easily Kizer’s worst consecutive of the season. He missed his target on three different throws and then capped it off with a misread interception. Once he loosened up though down 29, the true potential came out. Kizer hit multiple receivers 25+ yards downfield in stride and looked much more in command. It was too little, too late though as he took off prematurely on a 3rd down right into a sack and it would be his last snap of the game.

Top offensive grades:

G Quenton Nelson, 85.1
T Mike McGlinchey, 77.0
WR Torii Hunter Jr., 76.2
T Alex Bars, 72.8
WR Chase Claypool, 70.6

Running backs stopped in their tracks

Don’t blame the double team duo of Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson for the non-existent rushing attack Saturday night. They weren’t the issue. It was center Sam Mustipher and right guard Colin McGovern doing their fair share of blowing up runs. Michigan State did a great job of spilling to the unblocked man with their linebackers and the Notre Dame backs couldn’t make them miss. On 16 combined carries, Adams and Folston failed to break a single tackle.

Top defensive grades:

LB Greer Martini, 81.6
DT Jarron Jones, 81.1
LB Te’Von Cooney, 76.3
CB Julian Love, 74.6
DT Jerry Tillery, 71.2

Too many breakdowns to single one out

As good as the Michigan State linebackers were at sniffing out runs before they got started, the Notre Dame corps was the exact opposite. Michigan State ran the same power concept over and over again and I can’t recall a single time that an ND linebacker met a pulling guard at or behind the line of scrimmage. Any sort of split flow or ghost motion only made matters worse and it was as if four yards was a baseline for Michigan State runs.

Of course the linebackers weren’t the only group with issues. The defensive backfield was as much of a mess as they were against Texas. Most notably Cole Luke, who had an interception stolen away from him for a touchdown early in the game and then gave up the backbreaking 3rd down conversion on the final drive. On that play he decided to cover no one in the Notre Dame cover-3 scheme and completely abandoned his zone. Ugly day all-around.

PFF Game Ball winner: Michigan State LB Jon Reschke

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

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