SOUTH BEND, Ind. — After getting caught in a Texas twister in its opener, No. 18 Notre Dame faced a virtual elimination game when it took on No. 12 Michigan State on Saturday night.
The College Football Playoff doesn’t look kindly on teams with two losses.
The Spartans, meanwhile, were a bit of an unknown. They had only played one game, a lackluster nudge past Furman.
The Irish know now. And so does the rest of the college football world.
On the 50th anniversary of their historic 10-10 tie, Michigan State smacked Notre Dame in the mouth early and then held on for a 36-28 upset win.
If the Irish had their back to the wall, they didn’t manage to play that way until the third quarter was winding down. After falling behind 36-7, ND scored a pair of touchdowns to close to 36-21 with 11:45 left in regulation.
When DeShone Kizer found tight end Durham Smythe open up the middle for a 12-yard score, ND was down 36-28 with 6:02 left. And it was game on.
At that point, Kizer had thrown for a career-high 336 yards as the Irish played catch-up.
The Irish forced a three-and-out, but couldn’t move the ball when they got it back and had to punt. MSU added another dagger, with a 28-yard catch from Tyler O’Connor to Donnie Corley on third down.
With the win, the apparently under-rated Spartans (2-0) not only left Notre Dame (1-2) with its season on the brink. They announced to their Big Ten brothers that, despite all the love given to Ohio State and Michigan, they intend to defend their conference championship with grit and smarts as well as speed and muscle.
Leading 15-7 after a first half in which it was the aggressor, Michigan State struck for two lightning-like touchdowns in 80 seconds to open a 29-7 advantage with6:28 left in the third quarter.
The TD that put MSU ahead 22-7 was set up by a 14-yard pass from O’Connor to R.J. Shelton at the Irish 3 yardline. Shelton also drew a pass-interference call on the drive from veteran ND cornerback Cole Luke, who had a rough night.
On ND’s next possession, Kizer was intercepted at the Notre Dame 39 yardline on a second-and-10 play. Three L.J. Scott rushes later, Michigan State was in the driver’s seat 29-7.
Pouring it on, Gerald Holmes broke open for a 73-yard TD run that put MSU on top 36-7 with 3:45 left in the third quarter.
Holding a 36-14 lead, the Spartans had outgained Notre Dame 421-264 going into the fourth quarter. MSU had controlled the ball for 28 of 45 minutes and had converted 6 of 13 third-down plays while ND was 3 of 8.
The Spartans also kept their mistakes to a minimum, while Notre Dame made two costly second-quarter turnovers.
On the first givewaway, the Spartans recovered a punt that bounced off the foot. of Miles Boykin. On the next play, O’Connor threw a 38-yard touchdown to Corley, who out-battled Irish DB Cole Lake for the ball in the endzone.
Notre Dame’s second turnover came on its next possession.
C.J. Sanders coughed up the ball as he went down at the end of a 19-yard pass play from Kizer.
Notre Dame had taken a 7-0 lead with 3:07 left in the first quarter on a 14-yard run by Kizer that capped a 91-yard, 10-play drive.
It was the third time the Irish had crossed the goal line in the game. They had a possible TD return with the opening kickoff called back by a holding penalty that left them starting at their own 10 yardline.
And a potential three-yard scoring run was wiped out by a personal foul on the play before Kizer’s touchdown run.
Those were ND’s only two penalties of the first half.
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