September 17, 2011

What went wrong on kickoff coverage?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - In addition to the three points that Michigan State left off the board via the botched fake field goal, the Spartans also allowed an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, yielding a 10-point swing directly on special teams breakdowns during Saturday's 31-13 loss to Notre Dame.

The kickoff return expanded a 7-3 Irish lead to 14-3 with 1:20 left in the first quarter.

A block by Notre Dame senior walk-on Chris Salvi took out Michigan State's Taiwan Jones and Jeremy Langford, the Spartans' two players widest to the left on the coverage team. This created a seam for Irish return man George Atkinson to go the distance.

Salvi's hit took Jones out first, causing Jones to fly into Langford, taking him out like a bowling pin.

"The one big kickoff return in the first half obviously was a huge play," Dantonio said. "I thought the guy got ambushed, sort of pinballed into another guy. And they were off to the races.

"We felt we needed to have one special teams play that would be explosive to help us win the football game and they got that play rather than us."

Jones had not come to balance when Salvi hit him, clearly not anticipating contact at that time, and/or from that angle.

On MSU's next kickoff, Jones was lower and in balance earlier while running down on coverage, but the damage had been done.

"It was not an illegal block but a guy coming to ambush a guy," Dantonio said. "So he's coming from the far sideline and coming to hit a guy, hit him in the front. He pinballed him into our contain guy. So they took two-for-one right there. I think our safety (the Spartan on the other side of the field who should be peeling back, deep in case of a problem) got caught up in the flow a little bit. So our safety on the kickoff wasn't able to fold over.

"They got Isaiah (Lewis). Sort of sealed him off a little bit. When they knocked down the two guys with one guy they were sort of off and running. They made a nice cut and got the edge."

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly on the return:

"There are schematics that we thought we'd employ this week that were different from what we've done in the past and we felt like we had an opportunity to create a small, very small, seam. We talked about it during the week at practice; it was going to be open and close, going to have one shot at it. And you've got to beat it with speed.

"That's what prompted us to go with George."

It was Atkinson's first kickoff return of his career.

"We felt if we could get him a sliver he was going to be able to make a big play."

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