Notre Dame Stadium
South Bend, Indiana
The #8 Michigan State Spartans were vanilla in their nationally televised spring game. Despite the criticism from even their own fan base for staying vanilla to beat Furman in game one of the 2016 season, it paid off big here in South Bend tonight. Under the shadow of legendary Touchdown Jesus the Spartan came in and beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 36-28.
Besides coming off of an appearance in the college football playoffs, the Spartans have been over looked and disrespected all year. Even tonight, facing the #18 Irish, MSU was eight point underdogs. It didn’t matter because the Spartans never doubted themselves.
MSU showed new features on offense, defense, and special teams and played disciplined football that frustrated an Irish team who officially watched their season fall to irrelevance with their second loss of the year.
Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio said of his team’s effort that, “Great football game tonight. This was a signature win for us. We have to take it from here and develop and identity.” While Dantonio admitted the Spartans at times had a “Dominant performance,” he also acknowledged that, “We have to close it out.”
Dantonio’s reference to closing it out was because with 3:45 left in the third quarter the Spartans were dominant. They were leading 36-7 and in total command. Then the brakes came out and Dantonio went into survival mode.
Or as he described it, ‘You’re saying let’s play defense and milk the clock a little bit. Then (Notre Dame came back) and you have to play the game a little bit.” That is something we will talk a lot more about next week.
Early in the game, the Spartans had a much different attitude that led to the big lead. Dantonio went for it on fourth down and one on their own side of the field. Later in the second quarter when MSU scored its first touchdown of the contest Dantonio went for two and made it.
Dantonio said of the early aggression that, “Early in the game I just kept reminding everyone on the sideline that we came here to win a football game. Just win.”
Dantonio’s colleague on the other sideline, Brian Kelly was visibly frustrated with his coaching staff, even more than his players. “We are a sloppy football team. Tough loss. We got too far behind. When you get yourself in that kind of a hole it’s t0o difficult to dig out.”
Kelly added, “We can cry all we want to but we got to do what we got to do. If players can’t execute what we ask that is coaching. These are our guys. We recruited them.”
While MSU racked up 501 yards of offense, they did allow Notre Dame to get 401. MSU won the time of possession battle by a startling 38-22 minutes. That stat is a big deal to Dantonio, but not to Kelly.
MSU had two rushers go over 100 yards. Gerald Holmes ran for 110 yards and LJ Scott racked up 103. Holmes had two scores and Scott one.
On the receiving end, RJ Shelton had eight receptions for 80 yards and true freshman Donnie Corley had four catches for 88 yards and both young men had scores.
But the star of the night was the Spartans quarterback, Tyler O’Connor. The Spartan youngster grew up an Irish fan so to come to this stadium and get a win was a big deal, but not a dream. He told me, “Growing up I never even let myself dream of coming here and winning a game, so this was truly really special. Credit our success (36 points) to our defense getting us the ball in great field position.”
So, while there is plenty this team can work on to improve, Mark Dantonio’s decision to roll the dice and stay vanilla for Furman and the Green and White game paid off. Certainly his team moves forward in the pursuit of back to back Big Ten titles and they do what they nearly always do, “Just win.”