EAST LANSING, Mich — With both teams looking to put their rough seasons from a year ago behind them, Notre Dame came into Spartan Stadium and throttled Michigan State 38-18 in the battle for the Megaphone trophy.
“The first thing that we have to do now is get ready for Iowa,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “We open our Big Ten play next week and need to be ready for that.”
Brian Kelly’s head coaching seat has been getting warmer and warmer ever since his team took a nosedive last season, going 4-8 in 2016 after going 10-3 with a Fiesta Bowl trip the season before. After dropping a one-point contest with a very good Georgia Bulldogs team, the Irish are 3-1 as they enter a very competitive next four games, including a home game with fifth ranked USC and at North Carolina.
After a huge showing last weekend at Boston College, the Irish offense picked up where they left off, going 78 yards on seven plays in just under two minutes on their opening drive. A 40-yard Equanimeous St. Brown reception set the Irish up in the red zone, and quarterback Brandon Wimbush capped off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown scamper, his seventh rushing score on the season.
On the Spartans’ opening offensive drive, quarterback Brian Lewerke’s pass was intended for Darrell Stewart, but was picked off by sophomore Julian Love, who ran it back 59 yards untouched into the endzone, giving the Irish a 14-0 lead just 4:27 into the first quarter.
“I was just kind of expecting him to be open and threw a bit behind him and he [Love] played the ball really well,” Lewerke said. “The worst part of it was being down 14-0, my confidence level was fine and I tried reassuring the guys it won’t happen again.”
Facing third and six inches on the next drive, Lewerke kept the ball on a quarterback sneak and popped of a 52-yard dash inside the Irish 15-yard line. Darrell Stewart finished the drive, scoring from four yards out on a beautifully thrown back shoulder fade from Lewerke.
Turnover woes continued for the Spartans as Lewerke scrambled for the first down, but coughed up the football, giving the Irish great field position, inside MSU’s 24-yard line. Wimbush made the Spartans pay for the fumble, hooking up with Dexter Williams on an 8-yard touchdown throw, extending the Irish lead to 21-7.
“I tried reaching the ball over, and tried to make a little extra play,” Lewerke said. “I was trying too much to make an extra play, I just gotta keep the ball tucked in.”
Looking to pull within a touchdown before the half, LJ Scott had a fumble that took the wind out of the Spartan sails, losing the ball before the crossed the Irish goal line, resulting in a Notre Dame touchback with 6:21 to play in the first half. The Irish pounced on the Spartans’ blunders yet again, going 80 yards in 1:34, with Williams’ second score of the day coming on a 14-yard run, giving the Irish a 28-7 lead at the half.
“We’re put in enough situations in practice where we should be able to come out in a game and not allow a score following a turnover or a punt,” linebacker Chris Frey said. “We’ve done that multiple times this year, we just failed to do that tonight.”
The Spartans shot themselves in the foot on too many occasions, with three first half turnovers, resulting in 21 Irish points. Turnover woes have been a problem for this young team and those, thrown in with some inopportune penalties really shot any bit of momentum the Spartans were looking to grab. The Irish didn’t do a whole lot, they didn’t have to, but they were able to take advantage of the Spartan mishaps and make them pay when they needed to.
“We were a team who led the turnover margin in ‘13,’14 and 15’,” Dantonio said. “Bottom line was -3 (in turnovers) and two of them impacted the score, and that’s very difficult to overcome.”
This was a big game for the Spartans, and they came out with an underwhelming performance and a laundry list of things to improve upon. This team has talent, albeit raw and inexperienced, but talent is sprinkled throughout the team. MSU needs to clean up a whole lot of personal errors before opening their Big Ten slate when they host the Iowa Hawkeyes next weekend, a team who took fourth ranked Penn State to the last play of the game and lost, bringing their record to 3-1. Next week’s game will be on Fox, and will kick off at 4:00 p.m.