NOTRE DAME, Ind. - In a game that was plagued by penalties, Notre Dame managed to do enough to hold off Michigan State for a 17-13 victory Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Michigan State outgained Notre Dame 254-224 in total yardage, but the Spartans had 115 yards worth of penalties to ND's 86.
"We knew it was going to be this kind of football game," Brian Kelly said afterward. "Somebody was going to have to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter. We were able to get the touchdown and hold them from scoring."
The two teams played to a stalemate after Michigan State's final field goal with 10:40 to play in the game. The Irish went to the running game on its last four drives after that, but they punted three times before finally ending the game by kneeling down in victory formation.
"I wanted to throw the ball so bad on those last few drives," said Kelly. "But we wanted to put our defense back on the field and not give Michigan State, because they've been so opportunistic defensively, an opportunity to win the football game on defense."
The win is Notre Dame's third straight over the Spartans - the first time the Irish have accomplished that feat since a 1992-'94 stretch.
Winning the Close Ones
The four-point victory improved Notre Dame's record to 7-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less over the last two seasons. They have also won 10 of their last 11 such games, including last week's seven-point road win over Purdue.
"Just (a) tough-minded group, you know," Kelly said of how his team is able to win close games. "We've got that instilled within our kids - the way we coach them, the way we go to practice (and) the way we go to work day-in and day-out. It's the way we want them to play the game and we talk about it."
A halfback pass by R.J. Shelton that was intercepted by Matthias Farley proved to be the only turnover of the game. It led to Cam McDaniel's seven-yard touchdown run with 14:44 to play in the game.
"We had to make some adjustments on some of their spot routes," Kelly said of his secondary. "I thought we did a very good job of playing a little bit more trail coverage. We mixed things up a lot better."
The Irish are now 12-0 in Kelly's tenure when they do not commit a turnover. Notre Dame led the game 3-0 after the first quarter. It marks the sixth straight year Notre Dame has held Michigan State without a first quarter score.
Kyle Brindza missed a 37-yard field goal in the second quarter, but he also made one from 41 yards out in the first quarter. He was even more invaluable though with a pair of 51-yard punts on back-to-back fourth quarter possessions with the Irish deep in their own territory and nursing the four-point lead.
"He got the game ball for us," Kelly said of Brindza. "He flipped field position for us in the fourth quarter, which to me was as important as anything that happened today."
Brindza's first punt attempt in the first quarter was blocked. It snapped a streak of 254 consecutive ND punts without a block. The streak stretched back to the Charlie Weis era in 2008.
"It just was a poor effort situation," Kelly said of the MSU block. "Those don't normally end well when you have a punt blocked, but he battled through it and came up with two great punts in the fourth quarter for us."
Michigan State's Kevin Muma missed a 30-yard field goal after the blocked punt. Brindza averaged 42.8 yards on four punts in the game. Alex Wulfeck also punted once for 49 yards.
Of Notre Dame's 169 first half yards, 103 were accounted for by freshmen Corey Robinson, Will Fuller and Tarean Folston. Fuller had a 37-yard catch, the first grab of his career, in the first quarter, Folston had four carries for 12 rushing yards and Robinson had three catches for 54 yards.
"He's a big target," Kelly said of Robinson. "He tracks the ball so very well. If you can keep the ball in a position where he can play six-six, he's very difficult to defend."
After spraining his right ankle last week against Purdue, defensive end Sheldon Day missed Saturday's game against Michigan State.
"He could have played today," said Kelly. "He would not have been one hundred percent. We think we'll get him at one hundred percent next week."
Day had his ankle taped and went through pre-game warm ups, but was eventually a scratch. With Day out Jarron Jones and Tyler Stockton saw more defensive snaps.
The Tuitt Tally
Stephon Tuitt sacked Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook in the fourth quarter for his second sack of the season and the 16th of his career.
"He's rounding into the kind of shape we all want him to be in," Kelly said of Tuitt. "We're getting that push. We're seeing that from (Prince) Shembo. We're starting to see those guys really start to round into that kind of presence that we saw last year. It's getting better."
The junior needs just half a sack to tie Bert Berry for 9th in Notre Dame history.
After three consecutive 300-plus yard passing games to start the season, Tommy Rees was just 14-for-34 for 142 yards against the Spartans.
"He just missed open receivers," said Kelly. "I mean, we had guys open. He just didn't hit them. He's not going to shy away from it. He had guys open and he didn't connect."
He didn't connect, but he also did not throw an interception in the game. He also connected with T.J. Jones on a two-yard TD pass with 17 seconds left in the first half. Rees now has 1,111 passing yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions and has completed 56-percent of his passes through four games this season.