NOTRE DAME, Ind. - It was not an aesthetic work of art, but Notre Dame managed to grind its ways to a 17-13 victory over Michigan State Saturday afternoon. The Irish managed just 224 yards of total offense while committing eight penalties for 81 yards, but held the Spartans to just 259 yards of their own in their third straight win in the series. Michigan State had 10 penalties for 115 yards.
The Irish (3-1) dodged an early bullet after going three-and-out on the first possession of the game. A high snap to Kyle Brindza led to a blocked punt that gave Michigan State (3-1) the ball at the Irish 31. The Spartans drove to the 13, but Michael Geiger's missed 30-yard field goal gave Notre Dame the ball back at their own 20.
Brindza scored the first points of the game when he banged a 41-yard field goal through the uprights on Notre Dame's third possession of the game. The Irish drive covered 57 yards in seven plays. The big one was a 37-yard pass from Rees to Will Fuller for the freshman receiver's first career catch. It moved the ball to the Michigan State 31 and the Irish scored four plays later.
The Spartans scored the game's first touchdown with 7:43 to play in the first half when Connor Cook hooked-up with Macgarrett Kings for a 13-yard score on 3rd and 13. The 79-yard drive took 5:46 off the clock and was aided by personal fouls by ND defensive linemen Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke. The second came on 4th and one at the Irish 41.
The Irish took a 10-7 lead into the locker room after Rees hit a leaping T.J. Jones in the back of the end zone for a two-yard TD on 3rd and goal. The nine-play drive covered 50 yards after a Spartan punt. It stayed alive when Spartan cornerback Trae Waynes was called for pass interference while covering Jones on a 4th and one pass attempt from the MSU 41.
Michigan State began the second half with the ball and was able to tie the score at 10-10 on Michael Geiger's 25-yard field goal. MSU used the first eight minutes and 19 seconds of the half before settling for three on the 15-play, 75-yard drive. It marked the longest drive in terms of both time and plays against the Fighting Irish this season.
The biggest break of the game came on the first turnover for either team when Matthias Farley intercepted a halfback pass by R.J. Shelton at the Irish 19. His 29-yard return was padded by a personal foul on the Spartans for a late hit out of bounds to give the Irish the ball at the MSU 37.
Five plays and two Michigan State pass interference penalties later, Cam McDaniel scored from seven yards out to put the Irish up 17-10 just seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Spartans answered with a 42-yard field goal by Geiger four minutes later to cut the ND lead to 17-13 with 10:40 remaining. MSU moved the Irish 14 on a 19-yard pass to Bennie Fowler, but a pair of penalties made the Spartans settle for the kick after facing 4th and 20.
The two teams traded punts after that field goal. Notre Dame punted three times in the stretch and benefitted from a pair of 51-yard kicks by Brindza to keep Michigan State pinned in its own territory each time it had the ball.
Michigan State was just 1-for-6 passing on its last two possessions combined. Andrew Maxwell, MSU's 2012 starter, replaced Cook for the last drive and was 0-for-3 before giving the ball back to the Irish on downs with 1:46 to play. Cam McDaniel's 14-yard run after a Spartan timeout was all the Irish needed to bleed the remaining seconds off the clock.
Rees was 14-of-34 for a season-low 142 yards and a touchdown. McDaniel led the Irish with 16 carries for 44 yards and the third TD of his career, while Robinson finished with three catches for 54 yards.
Cook was just 16-of-32 for 139 yards and a touchdown for Michigan State. Jeremy Langford led the Spartans with 14 carries for 68 yards. Bennie Fowler had three receptions for 39 yards. MSU's interception was the only turnover of the game.