East Lansing — Michigan State got away with giving up the ball in its first two games of the season, its penchant for putting the football on the turf overcome in wins over two MAC opponents.
On Saturday night against Notre Dame, that tendency to turn the ball over bit the Spartans in the backside as Notre Dame scored touchdowns off three Michigan State turnovers and cruised to a 38-18 victory in front of 74,023 at Spartan Stadium to recapture the Megaphone Trophy in a series that dates back more than 100 years.
“When you talk about turnovers, we talk about it and talk about it and talk about it,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “When they happen, bad things come about or good things, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.
“Ultimately, it’s the turnovers that crush you.”
Entering the game, Michigan State had turned the ball over five times. On Saturday, the damage was done by halftime as Notre Dame (3-1) returned an interception for a touchdown, then forced a pair of fumbles that led to scoring drives, the last putting the Irish up 28-7 at halftime.
The bad news for Michigan State (2-1) began quickly as quarterback Brian Lewerke threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on the Spartans’ first drive. In the second quarter, his fumble deep in Spartans territory led to an Irish score while running back LJ Scott’s fumble at the goal line later in the first half not only negated a Michigan State score but led to Notre Dame extending its lead to three touchdowns just before halftime.
Detroit News writers Matt Charboneau and John Niyo break down Michigan State's 38-18 loss to Notre Dame. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Add nine penalties for 97 yards and Michigan State did its best to beat itself. The Spartans actually outgained the Irish 496-355 and held a significant edge in time of possession — 34:03-25:57 — but the mistakes were too much to overcome.
“Turnovers,” senior center Brian Allen said shaking his head. “But that’s been the story of our season. You can get away with that stuff against Bowling Green, but when you play a good team like Notre Dame they end up making you pay for it. We get rid of those and it’s a whole different game.”
Lewerke finished 31-for-51 for 340 yards and two touchdowns, while Scott gained 61 yards on 11 carries and Darrell Stewart caught six passes for 41 yards.
However, no one was taking solace that the Spartans looked good on the stat sheet.
“It’s irrelevant, it really is,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “The turnovers stick out like a big sore thumb and because of that we ended up throwing the ball (51) times, and if we’re throwing the ball that many times we’re not going to be successful offensively.”
Notre Dame struck quickly, going to the air to slash through the Michigan State defense on the opening drive as quarterback Brandon Wimbush went 4-for-5 for 62 yards, including a 40-yard pass to Equanimeous St. Brown. That play set up a 16-yard touchdown run by Wimbush that put the Irish up 7-0 with 13:05 left in the first quarter.
Lewerke then committed his first turnover of the game as his pass to Stewart on third-and-6 was intercepted by Julian Love and returned 59 yards for a touchdown to put Notre Dame up 14-0 with 10:33 left in the first quarter.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio discusses the loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night. Matt Charboneau
The Spartans bounced back however, putting together a 75-yard drive highlighted by Lewerke’s 52-yard run on a quarterback sneak on third-and-1 from the MSU 34. Four plays later, Lewerke connected with Stewart on a 4-yard touchdown pass to cut the Notre Dame lead to 14-7 with 6:33 left in the first quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Lewerke committed his second critical mistake, fumbling in Michigan State territory on a scramble. The ball was recovered by Notre Dame’s Daelin Hayes at the Spartans 24. The Irish responded by scoring their second touchdown off a turnover as Wimbush hit Dexter Williams with an 8-yard TD pass for a 21-7 lead with 9:32 left in the second quarter.
Michigan State appeared to have the answer, marching down the field to the Notre Dame 15 before the turnover bug bit again. This time, Scott burst through the line and was headed into the end zone when he was hit at the goal line by Notre Dame’s Shaun Crawford and fumbled. Crawford recovered in the end zone for a touchback on Scott’s third lost fumble of the season.
The Irish then went 80 yards in five plays, pushing the lead to 28-7 with 4:47 left in the first half on a 14-yard touchdown run by Williams.
“Good win for our kids, any time you go on the road,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We win back-to-back weeks against Power Five teams, it's hard to win on the road anyway, and to come in here against a team that's nationally ranked defensively and take the football away like we did and be opportunistic, really pleased with the results.”
Michigan State's Chris Frey, Brian Lewerke and Brian Allen talk about the loss to Notre Dame. Matt Charboneau
Michigan State added a field goal to open the second half, getting a 40-yarder from Matt Coghlin — the first of his career — to trim the deficit to 28-10. However, Notre Dame answered, effectively putting the game out of reach with an eight-play drive that was capped with a Deon McIntosh 9-yard touchdown run to make it 35-10 with 7:46 left in the third quarter. Justin Yoon capped Notre Dame’s scoring with 4:51 to play on a 46-yard field goal.
Michigan State added a late score when Lewerke hit Gerald Holmes with a 25-yard touchdown pass, then hit Cody White for the two-point conversion with 3:09 left.
“We’re not broken,” Dantonio said as Michigan State gets set to open Big Ten play next week against Iowa. “There were times in this football game where it looked like we were gonna make a play and then something happens. But you’ve got to execute and got to execute consistently. But we’re not broken. I think this football team will win a lot of football games.
“We're going to live and learn a little bit with the young players sometimes. We're going to make some mistakes, but we're got to be able to overcome those mistakes.”