Charlie Weis’ goal of restoring Notre Dame as a storied program encountered a major setback last week.
The Fighting Irish look to bounce back from last week’s devastating loss and try to end their struggles against Michigan State when they meet at Spartan Stadium on Saturday.
No. 12 Notre Dame (2-1) suffered its most-lopsided home loss in 46 years last Saturday, as it lost to Michigan 47-21. It was the second-most points ever scored by an opponent at Notre Dame Stadium, and the Wolverines led 26-7 before the Irish had their initial first down.
“They stopped us in the passing game. They stopped us in the running game. They beat our defense. They really just beat our complete team,” Notre Dame tailback Darius Walker said. “It was a complete team loss.”
Brady Quinn, touted as a Heisman Trophy favorite, completed only three of his first 13 pass attempts for 14 yards, and finished with three interceptions.
“With as many mistakes we made as a team, I don’t think anybody would have overcome that,” Quinn said.
The loss dropped the Irish 10 spots from No. 2, and hurt their chances of returning to a BCS bowl game for the second consecutive year.
“I was surprised that we collectively, from me on down, laid an egg,” Weis said. “I expected us to have a better performance.”
Notre Dame gave up 34 first-half points, the most allowed in any half by an Irish team since 1998, when the they gave up 42 points in the first half of a 45-3 loss at Michigan State (3-0).
Notre Dame has lost seven of its last nine meetings with the Spartans, but has won its last two visits to East Lansing.
At home, the Irish used a 21-point second-half comeback on Sept. 17 of last season to send the game to overtime, but Michigan State prevailed with a 44-41 overtime victory. The win was the Spartans’ fifth straight at Notre Dame Stadium, and they celebrated by sticking their flag into the turf at midfield.
“Here is what I think we have to do,” Weis said. “I think we have to put the flag incident and Michigan behind us because if we sit there, and when you use something like the flag incident, try to use that as your motivation for the game, that lasts for about five minutes once the game starts. Once you start hitting each other in the mouth a few times in the game, that stuff is over with.”
However, asked if the Spartans’ celebration last year was still on his team’s mind, Quinn replied: “I guess I’d be lying if I told you no.”
Quinn threw for a career-high 487 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in last season’s loss to Michigan State. He has thrown for 805 yards and seven touchdowns in three career games against the Spartans, and has thrown for 767 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions in his first three games of this season.
Walker rushed for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns last season, but has rushed for only 180 yards and one touchdown in three games this year. The junior rushed for just 25 yards on 10 carries against Michigan.
The Spartans have allowed just 123 rushing yards in their last two games, and held Pittsburgh scoreless during the second and third quarters of a 38-23 victory on Saturday.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we’re one of the top defenses in the country,” defensive lineman Clifton Ryan said. “We’ve got a ways to go. We’re making improvements. But we didn’t play a complete game on the defensive end. We’ve got to build on the things we do well and correct the things we didn’t do so well.”
While its defense is playing well, Michigan State’s strength continues to be offense. The Spartans are ranked third in the nation in total offense (506 yards per game) and seventh in the nation in scoring average (39).
Drew Stanton has thrown for 677 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions this season, and passed for 327 yards, three touchdowns and one interception last season against Notre Dame.
After falling behind 10-0 to the Panthers last Saturday, Michigan State scored 38 unanswered points as Stanton led second-half drives of 75, 64, 83 and 99 yards.
“I really thought we faced adversity well,” Spartans coach John L. Smith said. “You’re going to have adversity in every ball game, and we’ve had it in every game. And we’ll continue to have it in every game.”