Opportunistic Irish handle Michigan State
EAST LANSING (AP) — Brian Lewerke threw toward the left side of the field and Julian Love broke to the ball.
“I really don’t remember the rest,” the Notre Dame cornerback said.
Love intercepted the pass and had open field in front of him, scoring on a 59-yard return in the first quarter that gave the Irish a comfortable early lead in their 38-18 victory over Michigan State on Saturday night. Notre Dame was outgained but never trailed. The Irish took control by forcing three crucial turnovers in the first half.
Brandon Wimbush threw for a touchdown and ran for one for Notre Dame, and Dexter Williams caught a touchdown pass and ran for a TD. Deon McIntosh added a scoring run for the Irish (3-1).
It was the first time Michigan State (2-1) went an entire regular-season game without leading in over five years.
Michigan State hadn’t allowed an offensive touchdown through its first two games, but Notre Dame put an end to that run by driving 78 yards in 1:55 on the game’s first possession. Wimbush opened the scoring with a 16-yard run, and then Love picked off Lewerke’s pass and ran it back to give the Irish a 14-point advantage.
“We got the pick-six and got up 14-0, then we were able to control the football a little bit,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Then when you get a lead on the road, I thought that Brandon Wimbush did a really good job of controlling the offense. And then again I think like everything else, if you take care of the football, which we did today, good things happen.”
Lewerke broke free for a 52-yard run on what looked like a simple quarterback sneak on third-and-1. That set up his 4-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Stewart. But in the second quarter, Lewerke fumbled while trying to scramble out of trouble on third down, giving Notre Dame the ball at the Michigan State 24. Wimbush threw an 8-yard TD pass to Williams to make it 21-7.
“The interception was just a bad decision. On the fumble I’ve got to keep the ball tucked in,” said Lewerke, who threw for 340 yards and two TDs. “The fumble shouldn’t happen. The interception shouldn’t happen, either.”
The Spartans were still very much in the game, but they couldn’t overcome their next giveaway. LJ Scott was about to score when Notre Dame cornerback Shaun Crawford forced a fumble and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Williams scored on a 14-yard run to give Notre Dame a 28-7 halftime lead.
Crawford intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in a win at Boston College last weekend.
The last time Michigan State went a whole regular-season game without leading was Sept. 15, 2012, in a 20-3 loss to Notre Dame.
Notre Dame: The Irish rushed for 515 yards in that win over Boston College. Michigan State provided more resistance, but Notre Dame still showcased a balanced running game and avoided mistakes. It was a poised performance on the road in a tough environment.
“To come in here against a team that’s nationally ranked defensively, and take the football away like we did and to be opportunistic, I’m really, really pleased with the results,” Kelly said.
Michigan State: The Spartans didn’t look overmatched in this game, but they made crucial mistakes. The turnovers obviously hurt, and Michigan State was also penalized nine times for 97 yards.
“We had nine penalties. We had six in our first two games,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “But ultimately the turnovers are what crush you.”
Notre Dame: The Irish received 57 votes in the most recent AP Top 25, finishing five spots out of the ranking. There probably won’t be enough shuffling for them to move in next week, but a comfortable win on the road won’t hurt.
Michigan State has paid dearly for turning the ball over this season. The Spartans have already allowed four return touchdowns — two fumbles, a kickoff and the interception Saturday.
Michigan State has lost six fumbles, including three by Scott, who has fumbled twice near the opponent’s goal line.
Notre Dame scored touchdowns on all four of its trips to the red zone. The Irish are now 19 for 19 in the red zone this season with 15 touchdowns.