It was a highly-anticipated game Saturday night in East Lansing between long-time rivals Notre Dame and Michigan State. Unfortunately for the Spartans, an ugly start ultimately leads to their demise at home in a 38-18 loss at the hands of the Fighting Irish.

Certainly not as many positives as we’d like to see from MSU but here are the three biggest things we were able to take away from the game on Saturday.

1. SLOPPY SPARTANS

If one were to look at just the box score, one would see that Michigan State bettered their opposition in almost every phase of the game… almost. They outgained Notre Dame in yardage, they had the ball longer than Notre Dame, and they converted more first downs than Notre Dame.

However, the “almost” part comes in when looking at the penalties and turnovers for both times, which swung HEAVILY in favor if the Irish in this one.

MSU committed three turnovers that led directly (or eventually) to three touchdowns for Notre Dame, including a pick-six in the first quarter. Turnovers had been an issue for the Spartans despite a 2-0 start, they entered Saturday’s contest with a -3 in turnover margin and matched that mark in the 60 minutes vs. the Irish.

Conversely, penalties were not an issue for Mark Dantonio’s bunch in their first two contests. MSU was flagged just seven times for 40 yards against Bowling Green and Western Michigan. On Saturday alone, they had nine penalties for 97 yards, including four personal fouls. One was also an offside call early in the third quarter on a play where MSU stopped the Irish on third down. But the penalty extended the drive and allowed them to go down and score.

While the penalties are definitely uncharacteristic of this team early on, that and the turnovers are certainly things that need to be addressed before the Big Ten opener next weekend at home against Iowa.

2. DEFENSE STILL STANDING STRONG

This was without question Michigan State’s toughest offense they have faced in a very small sample size of work. But considering what Notre Dame had done in some of their previous games, the Spartans held their ground.

Entering the tilt on Saturday, the Irish logged at least 400 yards rushing and 600 yards of total offense in two of their first three games.The outlier was when The Georgia Bulldogs stoned them for just 55 rushing yards and 265 yards of total offense.

Michigan State was certainly much closer to the latter, allowed 182 rushing yards and 355 total yards (MSU had just a tick under 500 yards of offense in this game, by the way). The box score doesn’t do them justice so it’s fair to give Notre Dame credit for capitalizing on mistakes by the Spartans and being efficient when need be.

But as far as the MSU defense is concerned, they have showed early on that they can force opponents to perform in parts of the game that are sometimes foreign to them. Unfortunately, the final score and overall sloppy play will do them some disservice.

3. BRIAN LEWERKE STILL IMPROVING

Statistically, Brian Lewerke had a nice game against Notre Dame, throwing for an early season-high 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He showed glimpses of his calm demeanor in the pocket and ability to make the non-routine throw at times.

Having said that, the redshirt sophomore also did have some instances in the game against the Irish where growing pains are still very much evident. Lewerke was single-handedly responsible for two of Michigan State’s three turnovers in the game.

In the first quarter, he virtually telegraphed the interception-turned-touchdown, making it an easy play for Notre Dame defensive back Julian Love. Then there was a crucial fumble early in second quarter where he scrambled out towards the sidelines and tried to do too much to evade a tackle before a defender jarred the ball loose. Both the pick (directly) and fumble (eventual) led to 14 of Notre Dame’s 28 first-half points.

Obviously MSU is not going to consider pulling the plug on Lewerke or anything to that degree. He had costly mistakes where at times where he forced the issue too much and/or made cardinal sins for any quarterback. It’s all part of the growing pants with a quarterback who played in just his seventh collegiate career game on Saturday.