MSU Football: Three Takeaways from Notre Dame

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No. 12 Michigan State held off a furious 4th quarter rally and prevailed over No. 18 Notre Dame, 36-28 Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Spartans survived yet another game that went right down to the wire. They held a comfortable 36-7 lead late in the third quarter before the Irish clawed their way back to within one score.

MSU would get the ball back and run out the clock, propelling them victorious over the Irish in South Bend for the first time since 2007.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from the epic showdown:

1. Tyler O’Connor is more than a game manager

O’Connor used the week two bye to his full advantage, evidenced by his 73% completion percentage for 241 yards with a pair of scores.

Despite a red zone interception, O’Connor made a touchdown saving tackle in the open field, showing a glimpse of his resiliency, which was a sign of things to come.

Midway through the second quarter, O’Connor took a deep shot and connected with receiver Donnie Corley on a 38-yard touchdown strike. The sensational true freshman not only made the catch, but also prevented a takeaway by ripping the ball out of Irish defensive back Cole Luke’s hands. MSU captured all the momentum on that one play alone.

This was the beginning of a 36-0 scoring run by Michigan State that lasted until the late third quarter. After throwing a pick, O’Connor gained tremendous confidence and fell into a nice rhythm by making precise progressions and exhibiting spot on accuracy. His mobility and awareness allowed him to escape the pocket when things broke down.

The captain was on the money with the deep ball, as he torched the vulnerable Irish secondary with his longest gains of 38, 33 and 23 yards on two separate occasions. His most popular target was R.J. Shelton, who finished the night with eight receptions for 88 yards and a score.

Even in bleak moments, O’Connor delivered on the big stage. Notre Dame was within a touchdown with just over three minutes in regulation. The Ohioan knew there was no room for error, as he maintained his poise and composure by hooking up with Corley on a critical third down which sealed the deal for Michigan State.

O’Connor notched a big time win at Notre Dame Stadium, which is something that quarterback legends Connor Cook and Kirk Cousins couldn’t even do during their time at MSU.

2. Domination at the line of scrimmage

It didn’t take long for the offensive line to establish its presence in South Bend. Not only did they severely cut back on penalties, but they also paved the way for 260 rushing yards. Because of the successful passing attack, they opened up monster holes for Gerald Holmes (100 yards) and LJ Scott (98 yards).

First year starters David Beedles and Miguel Machado maintained their ground in pass protection, while veterans Brandon Clemons and Benny McGowan had a huge impact on the rushing attack as they consistently maneuvered their way to the second wave.

Kodi Kieler and Brian Allen dominated the Irish up front because of the balanced approach and effective communication. The Spartans had the ball for almost 40 minutes of play as a result.

On the other hand, the defensive line anchored by Malik McDowell overpowered Notre Dame’s offensive line. The Spartans dialed constant pressure behind Riley Bullough and Chris Frey, forcing several false starts and holding calls against a disoriented offensive line.

Michigan State’s front seven shut down Josh Adams and the ground game (2.3 yards per carry), forcing the Irish to lean heavily towards the aerial attack. The Spartans overwhelmed the rattled Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer with defenders right in his grill.

The penetration from McDowell and Demetrius Cooper created openings for newcomers like Raequan Williams, who dropped Kizer in the backfield on a crucial third down late down the stretch, making that the Irish’s last offensive possession after deciding to punt back to MSU.

The fact that O’Connor didn’t even get sacked optimizes the overall progress for the offensive line. And limiting Notre Dame to 57 rushing yards reflects the defensive line’s primary strength.

3. Jon Reschke wreaks havoc   

After sitting out of the Furman game due to a minor injury, Reschke is back and better than ever. It’s almost as if the star linebacker never got hurt because of his terrific performance.

The unforeseen hero made two standout plays to keep the momentum rolling for the Spartans.

After MSU finally got on the scoreboard with just under ten minutes remaining in the first half, the Spartans needed to keep up the intensity.

Kizer completed a screen pass to wideout C.J. Sanders who eluded defenders to move the chains, but the ball was punched out by Reschke and recovered by Montae Nicholson.

Fast forward to midway in the third quarter, where the Spartans were nursing a comfortable 22-7 margin. Kizer dropped back to pass and eyeballed one receiver the whole way through, and who else but the do it all Reschke making the easy read and corralling the interception.

The junior put on a show by collecting eight tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. It goes to show that he didn’t even need the warm up game back in week one to be in midseason form.

Michigan State scored 15 points off of three total turnovers that all occurred in Irish territory, setting up the Spartans in favorable field position. With a bunch of playmakers at every defensive position, expect the stingy unit to gather more turnovers as the season progresses.