Taking some revenge from last year’s home to defeat to Michigan State, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish improved its season record to 3-1 with an impressive 38-18 victory over this year’s edition of the Spartans. Unlike Notre Dame’s two previous wins this year, the team’s offense managed to offer a balanced attack that saw 182 yards on the ground and 173 through the air.
The Irish defense also managed to shine, allowing only a single touchdown until garbage time kicked in with the Irish holding a commanding 38-10 lead. Ironically, Michigan State won the total yardage battle 496-355, with Notre Dame taking advantage of ill-timed mistakes on the part of their opponent.
Visions of a Passing Game
Entering this important contest, the expectation was that Notre Dame would stick what had delivered the first two wins of the season: a potent running game. That thinking was immediately eliminated when Brandon Wimbush connected on four passes for 62 yards on the opening drive of the contest, which culminated in a 16-yard scoring run by the quarterback.
A pair of other scores were set up by passing connections that haven’t been heard much thus fair in 2017. Just prior to the fourth touchdown by the Irish, tight end Durham Smythe made a leaping grab in traffic for a clutch third down conversion. Score number five was aided by Chase Claypool‘s reach and footwork that put the ball in the red zone and led to Deon McIntosh scoring run.
Another good sign with the awakening of the pass offense was the fact that Equanimeous St. Brown seemed to come out of hiding, finishing with four catches for 61 yards. Two of those came on the opening drive, including a 40-yard grab that set up the first score. Yet despite not collecting much after that, St. Brown didn’t seem to be as invisible as it had seemed during much of the first three games.
Making Them Pay
Any analysis of this contest will look at the three costly turnovers that Michigan State committed, simply because the Irish were able to turn them into 21 points. The first of these came on a pick-six off a pass from Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke.
Julian Love snagged it and gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead after less than five minutes of action. A short while later, Lewerke fumbled the ball at the Spartan 24, which Daelin Hayes recovered and Dexter Williams converted into an eight-yard touchdown reception.
However, the most costly turnover committed by Michigan State came when LJ Scott had seemingly scored to cut the Spartan deficit to 21-14. However, just before Scott reached the goal line, Shaun Crawford was able to force a fumble, which he recovered in the end zone. The Irish then moved down the field and Williams scored on a 14-yard run to send Notre Dame into halftime with a 28-7 advantage.
Red Zone Magic
Getting in the red zone is one thing, but scoring from there is a necessity if a team expects to win. Against the Spartans, Notre Dame continued its spotless production in this department by converting on all four of its attempts, reaching the end zone each time. An opening drive capped by a Wimbush run, followed by a pair of scores from Williams and McIntosh’s second half score afforded the Irish the necessary breathing room.
That spotless mark now stands at 19-for-19 on the year, with 17 of the scores coming on touchdowns. By comparison, Notre Dame last season managed to score on 40 of 48 efforts in this department, which is still an impressive 83.3 percent. The problem was that only 30 of those scores were of the six-point variety, which translates into just 62.5 percent, a number that might help explain why the Irish started out 1-3 last year and now find themselves sporting a 3-1 mark.
Turning the Tables
Prior to the opening kickoff, Michigan State had only committed seven penalties for 55 yards, which put them in fourth place among all Division I schools. In just the first 30 minutes, the Spartans managed to nearly match the total penalties while surpassing the yardage as they racked up 67 yards from their six penalties.
Two of those miscues came on personal fouls and by the time the final whistle had sounded, the Spartans had been flagged nine times for 97 yards. The last of those mistakes was yet another personal foul at the end of a 32-yard Wimbush run, adding 15 more yards and helping to set up a Justin Yoon field goal.
For only the third time ever, the Irish will line up against a MAC team, this one being the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks. Notre Dame’s two previous contests against this conference came against Western Michigan in 2010 and Massachusetts in 2015, with both of those home contests resulting in victories of more than three touchdowns.
The RedHawks are 2-2 entering this clash, having opened up MAC play on Saturday with a 31-14 road win against Central Michigan. Miami’s central component on offense, quarterback Gus Ragland, threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns to lead his team to victory.