Talent Evaluation

Let us take a moment to evaluate the talent level for each team that participated in the “Game of the Century”. To use a baseball analogy, were any of these players good enough to make it to the “show”. I compiled the below chart using the starters from each team’s offensive and defensive platoons. As you can see, there are some household names on this list with a combined 163 years of professional football experience.  Several of these players were deemed the best at their position by being selected to the All-Pro team or selected by their peers to participate in the Pro Bowl. Alan Page was 6x All-Pro, 9x Pro Bowler and his bust resides in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Jimmy Raye was a coach in the NFL for 36 years, he was an offensive coordinator for seven different teams. In addition, several of these players played on Championship teams. I usually do not give much love to Miami Dolphins players, but Bob Kuechenberg is the exception to the rule. He was a tremendous offensive guard and he was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. Bob was seven years younger than my dad, however, my father was awfully close friends with his brother Rudy. I can recall numerous times over my youth that Rudy would be at our house during family get togethers.

Pro History

Notre Dame Offense (Pro Slot)

ND (Pro Slot or Doubles)

Notre Dame Offense: During my film study, I was shocked to see the Irish use a spread concept. The formation they are in is called Pro Slot Right or Doubles. This formation is the staple of today’s pro and collegiate game, however, it is primarily used with 11 personnel (1 running back/1 tight end). The Fighting Irish remained in their 21 personnel but positioned Rocky Bleier as the flanker (flanks the tight end, see top left of image). This is primarily a passing formation used on situational downs, however, they ran a few draw plays and a screen pass from this set.

Michigan State Defense: The Spartans remained in their base 5-2 defense but notice how the weak-side inside linebacker (#38) shifted out of the tackle box to be able to cover the flat in pass defense and still be close enough to support against the run. Since we are unable to see any defensive backs, it’s safe to say they are playing some type of zone defense. Another indicator of zone defense is #38, notice his hips are turned towards the quarterback which is a tell-tale sign of zone coverage.

Notre Dame Offense (Slot)

ND (Slot)

Notre Dame Offense: The Fighting Irish are in 21 personnel (2 running backs/1 tight end) and the formation is called “Pro Slot Left” or “Slot Left”. Quick tidbit, the “I” backfield alignment is the default setting for the Pro formation, this is the reason this formation is not called “Pro I Slot Left”. In APBA Football, the base formation is “Pro Set” which indicates two wide receivers are aligned on opposite sides of the field and the running backs are in a split alignment positioned 5-yards behind the offensive guards.  Notre Dame primarily used this formation on neutral downs and either ran off tackle, counter treys or fullback dives. When they passed on early downs, it was primarily play action type passes or roll outs (sprint-option type).

Michigan State Defense: The Spartans base defense was the 5-2 Oklahoma defense created by Bud Wilkinson. This is a gap oriented defense where the nose tackle is responsible for one A gap and the inside linebacker positioned directly behind him is responsible for the other A gap (i.e., gaps left and right of offensive center).  The weak-side inside linebacker is responsible for the B gap (between guard and tackle). The defensive tackles are aligned on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles (5-technique) and are responsible for the C gaps (between tackle and tight end). The defensive ends are aligned in the 9-technique and are responsible for the D gaps. This defense allows four secondary men (two defensive backs and two safeties) allowing the Spartans to employ a wider array of coverages. Fun Fact, Bud Wilkerson was the analyst for this game in the booth.

A unique rule for the nose tackle on passing downs in this defense is to not attack the line of scrimmage but two-gap the center. This means he wants to get his hands on the center’s breast plate and have his head to a side to be able to look into the backfield and shed the block to either side to defend the run (primarily the draw play).

Notre Dame Offense (Pro Style)

ND (Pro Weak vs Over G Solid

Notre Dame Offense: During my film study, I was quite taken back how modern the Irish offense was. In the above image, Notre Dame is using 21 personnel (2 running backs/1 tight end) and in a “Pro Weak Right” formation. The “Pro” indicates that there is a flanker and a split end both in the game and positioned on opposite sides. The “Weak” indicates that the fullback is positioned directly behind the quarterback with the tailback lined up behind the weakside guard. From this formation, the Irish could release five players into the passing game or go with maximum protection and still have a two-man pattern. It’s equally effective in the run game, especially with a sweep to the field side (strong side) with a pulling guard and fullback providing blocks at the point of attack.

Michigan State Defense: The Spartans got out of their base 5-2 defense and shifted into a 4-4 Stack defensive alignment. The down lineman are in “Over-G” look, which means the play side defensive tackle (Bubba Smith) is aligned head up on strong side guard (2 technique) and the other defensive tackle is lined up over the opposite guard. The inside linebackers are in a stack alignment, directly behind the defensive tackles. The strong side outside linebacker is in a “solid” look, meaning lined up on the line of scrimmage able to set the edge in the running game or turn and run if the tight end release into a pass pattern.

Michigan State Offense (Unbalanced)

MSU (Unbalanced)

Michigan State Offense: The Spartans remain in 31 personnel but their offensive line is aligned in a “single-wing” look or “unbalanced” line. The tight end (#86) is at the top of the image on the line of scrimmage, quick guard (#67), center (#62), power guard (#68), in-tackle (#77), and out-tackle (#79). Of course this is a great running formation but Michigan State primarily passed from this formation. Gene Washington (not in image) is positioned at the lower portion of the image (boundary-side) to cover the out-tackle. Notice how Notre Dame’s outside linebacker (boundary-side) has been removed from the tackle box to counter Gene Washington being in the “open” look.

My film study showed that Michigan State like to use this look on third and long situations because this allowed them to release two receivers on each side of the field and still have two running backs to counter the “double A-gap” blitz that the Irish liked to bring in this situation.

Michigan State Offense (Full House)

MSU (Full House)

Michigan State Offense: They are using 31 personnel (3 running backs/1 tight end) and are in their Full House formation. The Full House backfield is primarily used for off tackle type runs since the blocking back is assigned an isolation block on the outside linebacker and the playside offensive guard can double team the defensive tackle with the center. This formation allows for some “Veer” concepts which is basically a four back attack with one player taking a dive course, one taking a pitch course and another being a lead blocker. Notice how the tight end (bottom right corner) is slightly flexed with the back in what is called a “nasty” look positioned on the inside hip.

MSU (Wing)

As you can see, Notre Dame continues to matchup against 31 personnel using the exact same defensive front. Through my film study, I realized that Michigan State used this formation primarily in passing downs to attack the short-side or boundary side of the field. They would use the “flood” concept with Gene Washington running a 15-yard out pattern with the back in the “nasty” look breaking into the flat giving Jimmy Raye a hi-low read.

Michigan State Offense (Power I)

Let us do a little scouting work on both team’s offense and defensive philosophies prior to replaying this classic matchup. After watching all available footage of this game on YouTube, I have compiled the most frequently used offensive formations for each squad.

Michigan State Spartan offense vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense

MSU (Power I)

Michigan State Offense: They are using 31 personnel (3 running backs/1 tight end) and are in their Power I formation. The Power I formation is primarily used in the running game, however, it easily allows two receivers two release to both sides of the field (boundary and field) and provided maximum pass protection.

Notre Dame Defense: The Fighting Irish are in their base 4-4-3 defensive alignment. Notice how both defensive tackles are slanted in a 3 technique (outside shoulder of the offensive guards), both inside linebackers are three yards off the line of scrimmage positioned in the both “A” gaps, the outside linebackers are positioned inside the defensive ends at the 8 technique and responsible for the offense’s “C” gap. The defensive ends are playing the “wide 9 technique” and are responsible for setting the edge in the run game and pressuring the quarterback in the passing game. The secondary players (not shown) are playing “Cover 3” which ensures the middle of the field is “closed” and in zone coverage.


“Game of the Century”

I can still remember the first time I heard the phrase “Game of the Century”, I was a young boy around eight-years old and my father who was a die-hard Notre Dame fan told me about it. I can remember we were Coho fishing in Lake Michigan on my grandpa’s rowboat with a 20-horse Mercury engine attached. I can still see and for that matter smell the pollution billowing from Gary US Steels smokestacks, but it was heaven to me because I got to hear my father’s recollection of the game. My dad always thought that Ara Parseghian was a great head coach, but he went into a profanity-laced tirade when telling me how Ara settled for a tie against Michigan State in this 1966 classic. So, since I have “College Football Great Teams Volume I” I would like to replay this classic game, however, it would be disrespectful to my father’s memory to just replay it without thoroughly researching this game first. Over the next few days, I will have a series of posts analyzing the offensive and defensive philosophies of each team, talent evaluation of both squads, and starting lineups prior to reliving this game on my tabletop.

I highly recommend that you take a few moments to read Wikipedia’s account of this game. The article provides an excellent introduction, scoring account, explains the controversy and fallout of this game.