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Shembo, defense shut down Michigan State

Andrew Gastelum | Sunday, September 16, 2012

In last season’s 31-13 win over Michigan State, junior linebacker Prince Shembo was notably absent after leaving the team to attend to family matters.

But he made sure No. 10 Michigan State felt his presence this time around, recording nine tackles, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hurries, one sack and a trademark sack dance in No. 20 Notre Dame’s 20-3 win.

“Every day we are just going to have to come out and prove,” he said. “We are not going to do [anything] different. It doesn’t mean anything [extra], it’s just another win in the books. So now we just have to get prepared for the next game and do what we’ve been doing.”

“[Defensively] the team’s identity is the whole defense [being] there for each other and improving every day. So we just have to keep pumping each other up and we’ll be good.”

The Charlotte, N.C., native recorded a career-high in tackles – in just the first half alone with eight. Coming into the game Shembo had six tackles on the season, but the linebacker excelled in extended playing time, especially on third downs as the Irish forced eight punts.

“[Third down] is pretty much pin your ears back and go,” Shembo said. “It was about stopping the run and forcing the pass.

“I just did what I could do to help the team. [Michigan State] just kept running at me.”

Shembo, along with senior linebacker Manti Te’o and his team-leading 12 tackles, shut down Michigan State’s Heisman candidate in junior running Le’Veon Bell. Bell entered the game averaging 140 yards per game and two touchdowns, including a 210-yard, 44-carry performance in a 17-13 season-opening win over No. 24 Boise State on Aug. 31.

Saturday, Bell rushed for 77 yards – his longest run coming in at 15 yards.

“Their weapon was No. 24 [Bell],” Te’o said. “If we can stop their weapon, they’re going to have to do something that they are not comfortable doing. And so [we knew] if we could stop what they like to do, that will be our best bet and our guys did a good job in focusing and coming to play.”

Shembo had a slightly more simplified reason for stopping Bell.

“He’s a big guy, I’m a bigger guy,” Shembo said.

In their last two meetings, the Irish defense has held the daunting Michigan State rushing attack to 79 total rushing yards. In the second half Saturday, the Spartans actually lost 24 rushing yards, mostly because they abandoned the running game while playing from behind.

“We had a gameplan going in. The whole thing was just everybody getting to the ball,” Te’o said. “Everybody having that tenacity and working together and doing their job. It was just about having that edge about them.”

Shembo wasn’t the only fresh face lining up against the Spartans, as the Irish received major contributions from a young secondary and a flurry of freshman.

“I think the young guys came out and did a lot of things,” junior defensive tackle Louis Nix said. “[Freshman safety] Elijah Shumate broke up two passes on third-and-long that could have been first downs. [Freshman defensive end] Sheldon Day came up with a big sack. [Sophomore defensive tackle] Tony Springmann came up with a big sack. I think the young guys came out and did a very good job for us.”

Meanwhile, Shembo attributed the defense’s standout performance to the unit’s togetherness under a familiar mantra.

“We’ve talked about starting well and finishing well,” Shembo said. “The three F’s: faith, focus and finish.”

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu