It was rivalry renewed on Saturday night in South Bend, as the Michigan State Spartans (1-0) took on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1-1) for the first time since 2013. After defeating FCS-level Furman to open the season, the Spartans would get their first major test of the season against the Irish.
Notre Dame won the toss and chose to receive first as sophomore C.J. Sanders returned it all the way for what looked like a touchdown. However, a holding penalty would bring the play back. Both defenses would prevail first as the Irish and Spartans were forced to punt on their first drive.
Deep in their own territory, Notre Dame junior QB DeShone Kizer led a masterful drive highlighted by a 48-yard catch and run by sophomore WR Equanimeous St. Brown. Kizer would later cap off the 91-yard scoring drive with a run of his own as he scrambled for a 14-yard touchdown.
(THRU 1ST: ND LEADS 7-0)
After beginning the game by trying to establish their ground attack, Michigan State senior QB Tyler O’Connor took to the air and drove the Spartans into Irish territory. Facing a 3rd and 10 at the Irish 22-yard line, O’Connor made his first mistake of the game as he threw into double coverage and was intercepted on a tipped ball by Notre Dame freshman safety Devin Studstill.
Although the Michigan State defense would stand tall as sophomore linebacker Andrew Dowell sacked Kizer on 1st and 10, with the drive ending in a three and out for the Irish. The Spartans could not take advantage of the defensive stop as they too went three and out, but a massive mistake by Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin on the ensuing punt resulted in a fumble and recovery for MSU. The offense did not waste time seizing the opportunity as O’Connor connected with freshman wide receiver Donnie Corley Jr. for a 38-yard touchdown. Following the score, head coach Mark Dantonio who has been known for his trick plays in the past, called a fake on the extra point. Holder Matt Macksood found senior tight end Josiah Price for the 2-point conversion and the lead.
The Fighting Irish took over looking to get some momentum back on their next drive, but just one play into that series they lost the ball on a fumble forced by a punch out from junior LB Jon Reschke. Both teams would trade punts on the next two drives as Michigan State got the ball back with 4:35 left in the half at their own 12-yard line. The next drive would be a thing of beauty as O’Connor directed the Spartans down the field, meanwhile chewing the clock to prevent Notre Dame from getting the ball back with too much time before halftime. 92 yards and 11 plays later, senior wide out R.J. Shelton took a quick behind the line of scrimmage pass and ran for a 10-yard touchdown with just 0:23 left in the half. The Irish attempted a hail mary before the half, but the play ultimately ended with an incomplete as MSU enjoyed a 15-7 lead at the half.
(HALF: MSU LEADS 15-7)
With the game resembling a defensive slugfest in the 1st half, it was no surprise that Michigan State and Notre Dame once again exchanged punts to begin the 3rd quarter. Later on in the quarter Dantonio continued his gameplan of controlling the time of possession as the Spartans went 75 yards in 10 plays, bleeding 4:35 off the clock and once again finding the endzone. This time it was junior halfback Gerald Holmes on a 3-yard run to push the MSU lead to two scores.
Trailing by just 15 points the game was certainly not over for the Irish, but they needed a scoring drive to stop the Spartans momentum. This drive would not be what the doctor ordered as Kizer was picked off by the standout LB Reschke. Just three short plays later, MSU hit paydirt once again with a 9-yard touchdown run by sophomore HB L.J. Scott to increase the lead to three touchdowns.
The Michigan State defense would continue to shut down Notre Dame’s offense as they forced yet again a three and out. The Spartans knowing they could not take their foot off the gas against a desperate Irish squad, handed the ball off to Holmes who broke through the line and sprinted 73 yards for his 2nd touchdown of the night.
Notre Dame facing the realization that their College Football Playoff hopes were fading, went to work on the next drive. Kizer completed a deep pass to Torii Hunter Jr. for 47 yards and later capped off a touchdown drive with a 15-yard pass to St. Brown who barely had just enough room to get his toe down inbounds.
(THRU 3RD: MSU LEADS 36-14)
Notre Dame’s defense would get the ball back for Kizer and company as the Irish would not surrender to the Spartans. With still a whole quarter to play, the Notre Dame quarterback engineered another quick scoring drive, this time 80 yards in just 2:33. A 3-yard QB keeper by Kizer suddenly brought the Irish within 15 with 11:45 to play.
Michigan State continued to chew the clock as they were able to pick up a 1st down, but the drive would stall with 7:47 left. The Irish took over at their own 31-yard line trailing by two touchdowns. Utilizing a pass interference call on the MSU defense, the Irish offense once again found themselves in the redzone with a chance to truly make this a ball game. Kizer would find his senior tight end Durham Smythe for a 12-yard scoring strike. What was once a blowout for Michigan State was now a 1-score game with 6:02 left.
Could the Spartans ice the game with a long drive? Facing a 3rd and 5, O’Connor’s pass to R.J. Shelton would fall incomplete and stop the clock with 4:18 remaining. After a quick 8-yard completion to St. Brown, Notre Dame face what would most likely be the biggest 3rd down of the game. Kizer dropped back to pass, but was sacked by freshman DT Raequan Williams to force an Irish punt with 3:30 left.
With just one timeout remaining for Notre Dame, the Spartans needed a time-consuming drive. Once again Michigan State faced a 3rd down. This time though, O’Connor found the freshman Corley wide open on the right sideline for 28 yards and a 1st down. On the ensuing set of downs, MSU faced a 3rd and 3 with a chance to end the game. The Spartans went with a jet sweep to Shelton who went 23 yards for the game-ending conversion.
(FINAL: MSU 36, ND 28)
- T. O’Connor (MSU): 19/26, 241 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
- G. Holmes (MSU): 13 carries, 100 yards, 2 TD
- D. Kizer (ND): 20/37, 344 yards, 4 total TD, 1 INT
- J. Reschke (MSU): FF, INT