SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It was a long two weeks between games for Michigan State. The Spartans hadn’t convinced many people of how good they could be with a sloppy 28-13 win against Furman in the season opener, and they were invisible during an awkward early-season bye last week
There are more eyes opened now after beating Notre Dame 36-28 Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium. Yes, the Spartans had to hold on for the win after building a 29-point lead in the third quarter, but hold on they did by making a couple of key plays on third down — one of defense, one on offense — in the final four minutes.
Michigan State’s No. 12 ranking from the AP is sure to climb after ending a three-game losing streak to Notre Dame.
Here’s the report from the game, graded on a scale from one star to five stars:
Offense (4 stars)
When you put up a 501-yard game, you’re doing something right. The offensive line didn’t like how it played against Furman, so it took its frustrations out on Notre Dame, opening up holes that produced 260 yards on the ground and never allowed Tyler O’Connor to be sacked.
O’Connor threw one interception but played with poise and confidence as he completed 19 of 26 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Donnie Corley caught a 38-yard touchdown and a game-clinching 28-yard throw from O’Connor late in the fourth quarter converted a third down and iced the game.
Defense (3 stars)
It was headed for a 5-star night before giving up 21 consecutive points that allowed Notre Dame to get back into the game. Still, the Spartans kept Notre Dame junior quarterback DeShone Kizer contained for a two-quarter stretch that helped produce a 36-7 lead.
Kizer still threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns, which just shows you how good he is. Defensive end Raequan Williams came up with a 4-yard sack of Kizer late in the fourth quarter that forced a punt, and Notre Dame never got the ball back. Linebacker Jon Reschke returned from injury to lead the team with 8 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
Special teams (4 stars)
A potential Notre Dame touchdown on the opening kickoff was negated by a penalty. Other than that, the special teams units did an outstanding job of controlling field position.
Punter Jake Hartbarger had a 38.0-yard average, which belies how good he was. He twice put punts inside the 10-yard line and didn’t let return specialist C.J. Sanders — who had the kickoff return touchdown wiped out — do any damage.
Coaching (5 stars)
Mark Dantonio and his staff put the early bye week to good use. After committing 10 penalties against Furman, the Spartans had just three penalties at Notre Dame.
There was aggressive play-calling from the start, like going on fourth down on the opening drive of the game, and that confident style permeated throughout the team. There was every reason to panic as Notre Dame made its rally, but Michigan State never did.
Overall (4 stars)
The Spartans will go into Big Ten play 2-0 and feeling much better about themselves than they did a week ago. This was a tremendous win on the road against a team that coming into the season was viewed as a legitimate playoff contender.
Many were wondering just how good this Michigan State team is. Saturday’s win gave them an positive answer.
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo