Week 3: Michigan State
Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, September 16, 2012
It was a simple second-and-10 in the third quarter.
Michigan State junior running back Le’Veon Bell took a handoff and cut to the right before Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o brought him down in the backfield for a one-yard loss. Te’o rose and pointed to the sky. It was third-and-11.
Te’o rebounded from a week in which he lost both his grandmother and his girlfriend to record 12 tackles and lead the No. 20 Irish to a 20-3 win over No. 10 Michigan State.
“That was for them,” Te’o said. “That was for my girl and my grandma and all my loved ones that have passed on. I know they’re all watching. It was a happy moment.”
The victory marks the first time since 2005 the Irish (3-0) topped a top-10 opponent since 2005, snapping a nine-game losing streak in the category. Notre Dame is also 3-0 for the first time since 2002, when the Irish started 8-0.
In the win over the Spartans (2-1), Notre Dame beat a top-10 team on the road at night for the first time since 1983. The Irish beat Michigan State in back-to-back years for the first time in nearly two decades.
“It’s a big leap. It’s a signature win. There’s no question that when you go on the road against the No. 10-ranked team in the country and you beat them, it’s definitely going to build some confidence in that locker room,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “They believe if they do the little things the right way … this win will help in that development.”
Notre Dame stifled Bell and the Michigan State running game, allowing just 50 rushing yards on 25 carries. Bell settled for 77 yards on 19 attempts.
“Obviously we felt like if we can get him under control and force [Michigan State] to throw the football, we would much rather have that scenario than him grinding the football at us,” Kelly said. “I think once they started to throw the football more, that was exactly where we’re hoping the game would kind of shift towards, and it did.”
When the Spartans did throw the ball, the Irish harassed junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Notre Dame sacked Maxwell four times as he finished the game 23-for-45 for 187 yards.
“We didn’t run the football, we didn’t protect the quarterback very well and we had some drops. We need to have more explosive plays on offense,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said.
Michigan State started 12 drives inside its own 30-yard line and did not enter the red zone, rolling up just 237 yards of total offense. The Spartans’ three points were the fewest they have scored at home since 1991, and the loss snapped their 15-game home winning streak.
Michigan State’s only points came on a 50-yard field goal by senior kicker Dan Conroy.
“I think we had a pretty good performance but at this point in time, I think we can get better. That’s the good part about it,” junior defensive tackle Louis Nix said. “We did a pretty good job with this team. They’re a great team, great running back, great offensive line.
“A shutout would be fantastic so you can get even better.”
Junior linebacker Prince Shembo had nine tackles, including two for loss and a sack, while sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt compiled four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Tuitt now has five sacks in three games.
The Irish offense struggled early – they lost five yards and a timeout before they snapped the ball – but bounced back to pile up 300 yards of offense. They scored the first two offensive touchdowns surrendered by the Spartan defense in 2012.
After Notre Dame and Michigan State exchanged punts on their first drives, the Irish struck first when sophomore quarterback Everett Golson found graduate student receiver John Goodman for a 36-yard touchdown.
Golson evaded pressure in the backfield and rolled out to the right before lofting a cross-field pass to Goodman, who hauled in the throw despite a pass interference call on Michigan State junior cornerback Johnny Adams.
“That’s who I was looking for. It wasn’t really designed in the play,” Golson said. “I think that’s one of the things I talked about previously about improvising. I think me and Goodman kind of connected a little bit and we scored a touchdown.”
Golson finished the game 14-for-32 for 178 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown for the second straight game when he snuck inside the front pylon for a seven-yard run in the second quarter. The score gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead.
“I don’t have to win the football game every play,” Golson said. “We believe we’re going to make enough plays so we just have to keep the course. My main focus was to clean up my mistakes and really just manage the game.”
A week after rushing for just 52 yards in a 20-17 win over Purdue, the Irish ground game racked up 122 yards on 34 attempts.
Senior running back Cierre Wood returned to the lineup after a two-game suspension held him out of games against Navy and Purdue. Wood rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries, highlighted by a 26-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that helped put the game away.
Notre Dame faced a second-and-one from its own nine-yard line when Wood received the handoff, ran left and cut back against the grain before being pushed out of bounds. Wood also converted on fourth down later in the drive.
“I thought we had a good play. I thought we had a play that matched what [Michigan State] was doing [defensively],” Kelly said. “Generally, if I feel like we’ve got a good play call against it, I want to try to win the game there.”
The Irish marched 84 yards in 12 plays, taking 6:35 off the clock on a drive that culminated with sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza’s 29-yard field goal. Notre Dame controlled the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the fourth quarter.
“Right before the drive started, we told the line, just give us a couple seconds and that’s exactly what they did,” Wood said. “We started from our own four[-yard line], drove it all the way down and got some points out of it. That’s what good teams do and that’s what we did.”
Senior running back Theo Riddick had 12 carries for 30 yards while sophomore running back George Atkinson had 43 yards on five attempts. Senior receiver Robby Toma led the Irish with five catches for 58 yards.
“We just wanted to come out and make a statement. Michigan State was a great team and we thought this could be a great platform to show the nation what we could do,” Toma said.
Toma went to the same high school as Te’o and has known him since the pair was young.
“Growing up, football has always been our outlet. Manti is comfortable in this type of atmosphere and it showed tonight,” Toma said. “Earlier in the week, he told me he needed me.
“He’s a really strong guy, spiritually, mentally, physically. I was there to be his backbone.”
The Irish return home next weekend for another rivalry game, this one against Michigan (2-1).
Notre Dame and the Wolverines will face off Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Notre Dame Stadium.
Contact Matthew DeFranks at firstname.lastname@example.org