Notre Dame dominates Michigan State in statement win
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org September 15, 2012 11:32PM
EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 15: John Goodman #81 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a first quarter touchdown next to Johnny Adams #5 of the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on September 15, 2012 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Updated: October 17, 2012 6:53AM
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Sheldon Day grabbed his helmet with both hands and leaped high in the air, stomping his feet into the ground two, no, three times. He couldn’t believe he didn’t come up with what possibly could have been a pick-six. Instead, all the true freshman lineman did was athletically break up a third-down swing pass. This, after recording a 9-yard sack on the previous play.
And he was furious with himself.
Yes, the bar officially has been raised.
Notre Dame changed the conversation on its season with a 20-3 victory at No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday night. No longer a team loaded with question marks and facing a Quixotic schedule loaded with college football gargantuans, the No. 22 Irish are suddenly 3-0 with a sizable notch on their belts, apparently legitimate players on the national stage.
“It’s a signature win,” ND coach Brian Kelly said.
Beating Michigan State at its own game, the Irish defense held the Spartans without a touchdown by suffocating star tailback Le’Veon Bell (77 yards); pressuring inexperienced junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell into relying exclusively on simple, short, easy-to-defend passes; and not yielding any big plays.
Linebacker Manti Te’o, playing just days after he lost his grandmother and girlfriend in a devastating 48-hour span, did exactly what coach Brian Kelly expected him to do — “rise to the occasion.” The All-American had two big pass break-ups, a late interception and his 20th career double-digit tackle game (with 12), moving up to sixth on the Irish’s all-time tackles list. Notre Dame fans and Michigan State fans alike showered him with love late in the game when he pointed to the sky.
“That was for them,” Te’o said. “That was for my girl and for my grandma and all my loved ones who’ve passed on and brought me to this point. It was a very happy moment.”
His teammates had his back off the field all week, and they pitched in plenty on the field, too. Linebacker Prince Shembo was everywhere in the first half, with eight tackles, two for loss, and a sack. Day made his presence felt by singlehandedly stopping that second-quarter drive on back-to-back plays. And the maligned Irish secondary held its own despite losing safety Jamoris Slaughter to a leg injury on the first snap of the second half.
In all, the Irish held the Spartans offense to just 237 yards, most of it on short, non-threatening swings and flares from Maxwell.
“We were aware that their weapon was No. 24 (Bell),” Te’o said. “If we can stop their weapon, they’re going to have to do something they’re not as comfortable doing.”
Meanwhile, Everett Golson — like Maxwell, making just his third career start — kept backup Tommy Rees on the bench until mop-up time (a very different kind of closer role than last week against Purdue) with an effective outing, shouldering the offensive load as Michigan State’s stout defense predictably kept the Notre Dame ground game in check.
After a shaky start — a false start penalty and a burned timeout — Golson settled down and hit John Goodman for a pretty 36-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, then ran it in from 6 yards out early in the second quarter. Golson finished 14-of-32 for 178 yards and the touchdown. Until a clock-killing, game-clinching 84-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with the first of two Kyle Brindza field goals, Golson got very little help from his trio of tailbacks, aside from a 32-yard run by George Atkinson III on a nifty delayed counter play that set up Golson’s touchdown run. Cierre Wood, returning from a two-game suspension, had 56 yards on 10 carries — 45 of them on the fourth-quarter field-goal drive.
Golson’s two scores — the first two touchdowns the vaunted Spartans defense gave up this season, after dominant performances in wins over Boise State and Central Michigan — were all the Irish needed, as the Spartans sputtered against what can now be officially described as a formidable Irish defense.
It was the fewest points ND allowed against a Top 10 team on the road since a 51-0 win over USC in 1966.
But the bar has been raised. The Irish think they can do better.
“It’s OK, man,” nose guard Louis Nix III said. “You know, a shutout would be fantastic.”