Irish turn tables on Michigan State
SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- The team Brian Kelly thought he had during training camp finally showed up Saturday. An efficient offense, smothering defense and a big play on special teams helped Notre Dame defeat 15th-ranked Michigan State and keep their dreams of participating in a Bowl Championship Series bowl alive.
The Fighting Irish (1-2) will likely have to win all their remaining games to be assured of a BCS bowl berth, but that possibility seemed less far fetched after Kelly's team came up with the key turnover instead of committing it and beat Michigan State 31-13 at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.
Ten turnovers --- including five in the red zone --- and 17 penalties plagued the team in back-to-back losses to South Florida and Michigan. While there is still work to do in both areas after the Fighting Irish had three more turnovers and six penalties against the Spartans (2-1), it was cornerback Robert Blanton who made a key interception and returned it 82 yards to put the game away.
John Goodman muffed a punt with 4:28 left, allowing Michigan State to recover on Notre Dame's 21. The Spartans had a first-and-goal on the 3 when Blanton made a bobbling interception of a Kirk Cousins pass and raced downfield to help the Irish do what they have struggled to do in recent years: Finish an opponent.
in its first two games, Notre Dame had three turnovers and six penalties against the Spartans (2-1).
After blowing a 17-point lead against Michigan last week, the Irish made an 18-point advantage when quarterback Tommy Rees threw a 22-yard strike to Michael Floyd to set up a beautifully thrown 26-yard scoring pass to TJ Jones with 9:30 left in the third quarter. This time, they made it stick by holding Michigan State to three second-half points.
Notre Dame wasted little time moving the ball against a Michigan State defense that allowed only one first down against Florida Atlantic last week. Running back Cierre Wood carried the ball six times for 59 yards on the opening drive. His 22-yard touchdown scamper with 10:41 left in the opening period gave Notre Dame a lead it would not relinquish.
An interception by Rees resulted in a 40-yard field goal by Dan Conroy to cut the lead to four late in the period. On the ensuing kickoff, George Atkinson III became the first freshman since Rocket Ismail in 1988 to return a kickoff for a touchdown when he raced 89 yards to give Notre Dame a 14-3 lead with 1:20 left in the first.
Michigan State pulled to within four when Cousins hit tight end Dion Sims in the back of the end zone with 11:57 left in the second.
A 33-yard pass from Rees to Michael Floyd was the key play in a 92-yard drive capped when Wood ran six yards before running over a Michigan State defender en route to Notre Dame's third touchdown of the first half with 3:36 left before halftime.
Notre Dame hasn't forgotten the fake field goal that beat Notre Dame in overtime last season. The play, called "Little Giants," resulted in holder Aaron Bates taking the snap and throwing a 29-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Gantt. Trailing 21-10 late in the second period, Dan Conroy lined up for a 19-yard attempt and again Spartan coach Mark Dantonio called for a fake.
This time, holder Brad Sonntag attempted a shovel pass that was fell incomplete. Notre Dame ran out the clock and took the 11-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
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