Defense carries Irish to rare win over top-10 foe

Dana Gauruder, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Notre Dame's defense didn't get fooled again by Michigan State.
The 20th-ranked Irish held the 10th-ranked Spartans to their lowest home output in 21 seasons in a 20-3 victory at Spartan Stadium on Saturday night. It was the fewest points by Michigan State for a home game since Sept. 14, 1991, when the Spartans lost 20-3 to Central Michigan.
"The whole thing was just everybody getting to the ball, everybody having that tenacity and working together and everybody doing their job," Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said. "Just having that edge about them. Our guys came out to play. We went up against a good team, and I'm happy we came out with a win."
Te'o played despite the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend earlier in the week. He had a team-high 12 tackles and a fumble recovery.
"Football allows me to be in a little realm, to be in a little world where I know I can just honor them by the way I play," he said.
The Irish's last victory over a Top 10 opponent was 17-10 over No. 3 Michigan on Sept. 10, 2005. They had lost nine straight to Top 10 teams entering Saturday's game. The last time they defeated a Top 10 team in a road night game was Oct. 8, 1983, when they topped No. 7 South Carolina 30-6.
"It's a big leap. It's a signature win," coach Brian Kelly said. "No question when you go on the road against the No. 10-ranked team in the country and you beat them, it's definitely going to build the confidence in that locker room."
Notre Dame's last trip to East Lansing in 2010 ended with one of the most memorable plays in recent seasons. The Spartans won in overtime on a fake field goal, as holder Aaron Bates threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Gantt for a 34-31 Spartans victory. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack minutes after the game.
Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson threw for one touchdown and rushed for another during the first half for Notre Dame (3-0). Kyle Brindza added field goals of 29 and 47 yards in the fourth quarter. The Spartans (2-1) didn't give up an offensive touchdown in their first two games.
Golson completed 14 of 32 passes for 178 yards. Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed 23 of 45 attempts for 187 yards, while top back Le'Veon Bell was held to 77 yards on 19 carries.
The Spartans defense failed to produce a turnover that could have changed the momentum.
"They kept us off-balance. They got us out of our tempo a little bit," Dantonio said. "We hung in there on defense, but we didn't come up with turnovers, and there weren't a lot of negative-yardage plays."
Notre Dame's defense held the Spartans to 121 total yards and sacked Maxwell three times in the first half as the Irish took a 14-3 halftime lead.
The Irish struck first when Golson rolled to his right, then threw across the field to wide receiver John Goodman for a 36-yard touchdown. Goodman fought off interference from cornerback Johnny Adams on the play to complete a 51-yard drive. Goodman's only previous scoring reception came in 2009 against Washington State.
Michigan State's next possession came up empty when Dan Conroy missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt.
Golson gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead on a 6-yard scoring run with 10:50 remaining in the half. He scrambled out of the pocket when he couldn't find an open receiver, saw daylight to his left and took off. That score was set up by George Atkinson III's 32-yard run.
"It's always frustrating when you don't make the play," Spartans defensive end William Gholston said. "We were there (to make the stops), we've just got to do it. We've got to practice a little harder and turn it up another level."
Conroy finally put the Spartans on the board with 3:43 left in the half with his fifth career 50-yard field goal.
NOTES: Nine of the previous 12 games in the series were decided by seven points or fewer. ... The Spartans rank second among opponents in all-time victories over Notre Dame with 28. Only Southern Cal (35) has more wins over the Irish. ... Michigan State was 8-4 in its 12 previous night games at Spartan Stadium. ... Spartans starting offensive tackle Fou Fonoti broke his left foot in practice, and he could miss the remainder of the season.