South Bend, Ind. — As Mark Dantonio described it, the wave was starting to roll, and he didn’t mean it was going in the right direction.
It had been for almost two full quarters for Michigan State on Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium. The 12th-ranked Spartans were playing as well as they have in the past three seasons and the points were coming quickly, 36 straight to be exact.
But it’s not like No. 18 Notre Dame is any run-of-the-mill program, and the idea the Fighting Irish were going to fold up with a quarter-and-a-half of football to be played would have been foolish. It’s what kept Michigan State scrapping to the end, picking up two first downs in the final 3 1/2 minutes to ice the game.
It resulted in a 36-28 victory for Michigan State, its first in South Bend since 2007 and the first against Notre Dame since 2010.
“It's tough,” Dantonio said. “That wave starts to roll on you, just like it started to roll on them in the third quarter, and it's tough to stop 'em. They get their momentum going, and they're making some plays and made some nice catches, had good coverage on guys a couple times, made great catches, great throws, but we found a way.
“I thought a big play in the game was third-and-4 we sacked them and made it fourth-and-7, so it’s a punt and we were able to keep the football.”
Keeping the football was key at that point for an offense that had only picked up two first downs since it had taken a 36-7 lead midway through the third quarter. But that’s when Tyler O’Connor found freshman receiver Donnie Corley open for a 28-yard gain and three plays later, senior R.J. Shelton picked up 23 yards on a flip from O’Connor to put the victory away.
“It’s unbelievable,” said O’Connor, who was 19-for-26 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. “It’s almost surreal to come in here and play and start the game and then take a knee in Notre Dame Stadium, throw your hands up. It’s a tremendous win.”
It’s a win that was the result of two dominant quarters of football during which Michigan State (2-0) turned a 7-0 deficit into a 36-7 lead.
“I couldn’t tell you the last time (we played like that),” said Shelton, who had 80 yards receiving with a touchdown. “It’s so much fun being out there and having a great time scoring. As an offense you like to score touchdowns and we can do that at any time. We have so many guys that are explosive on this team and believe in one another.”
The Spartans finished with 501 yards of total offense, including 260 on the ground. Junior Gerald Holmes had 100 yards on 13 carries with a 73-yard touchdown run while LJ Scott gained 98 yards on 22 carries with a score.
Corley had four grabs for 88 yard, including his first career touchdown.
“We had a little extra time to work,” Dantonio said, referencing the Week 2 bye. “When you don't play well and people sort of write you off a little bit, you have a tendency to rise up a little bit. I think that's what we did. I think we came into this football game with something to prove, talked all along that we needed to measure up and I thought we did that.”
Quarterback DeShone Kizer threw for a career-high 344 yards and two touchdowns for Notre Dame (1-2), which scored 21 unanswered points before coming up short. He got the Fighting Irish on the board first with a 14-yard run with 3:07 left in the first quarter.
Mark Dantonio talks about MSU's win over Notre Dame.
But things started to go Michigan State’s way in the second quarter when a punt bounced off the leg of Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin and was recovered at the Fighting Irish 38 by long snapper Collin Caflisch. On the next play, O’Connor went deep to Corley, who pulled the ball from the hands of Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luke in the corner of the end zone to get Michigan State on the board.
“Huge catch in the end zone,” Dantonio said.
Michigan State added two points when holder Matt Macksood took the snap and hit Josiah Price for the two-point conversion and an 8-7 Michigan State lead with 9:30 left in the second quarter.
The Spartans were opportunistic on the next play from scrimmage when Kizer completed a 19-yard pass to C.J. Sanders. However, linebacker Jon Reschke knocked the ball loose from Sanders and the ball was recovered by safety Montae Nicholson.
Michigan State failed to convert on the following drive and was forced to punt, but the defense answered and made the Irish kick the ball away. A 71-yard boot by Tyler Newsome had the Spartans starting at their 8, but it didn’t take long for MSU to get rolling.
A 23-yard pass from O’Connor to Price got the initial first down while Scott had a 13-yard run up the middle. O’Connor scrambled for another first down and then hit Corley for an 11-yard gain to the Notre Dame 10. On the next play, O’Connor flipped the ball to Shelton, who scored to put Michigan State ahead 15-7 with 23 seconds left in the first half.
Halftime didn’t slow the Spartans as Holmes scored on a 3-yard run to make it 22-7 and Scott then scored on a 9-yard run after a Reschke interception to make it 29-7 with 6:28 left in the third quarter. Holmes capped the run with his 73-yard gallop with 3:45 to play in the third.
“Obviously a tough loss, guys battled real hard,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “You know, got too far behind and certainly when you get yourself in that kind of hole it's hard to dig out against a really good team. Michigan State, give them great credit, they came up with more plays today than we did.”
Notre Dame rallied as Kizer hit Equanimeous St. Brown with a 15-yard touchdown pass, ran one in from 3 yards out, then hit tight end Durham Smythe on a 12-yard strike with 6:02 to play. But after being forced to punt with 3:30 to play, the Irish never got the ball back.
“These are life moments for our players, so they will remember this when we came to Notre Dame and we did this, and we won,” Dantonio said. “This is a life moment for them, and this will be a great experience that they will draw on I think for the rest of their lives. That's the way these big games are.”