With a spotty running game against a stout Michigan State run defense, the Irish used their strong pass blocking to allow Tommy Rees to air it out.
The strategy worked for the Irish, but not because of completed passes – because of penalties.
"Their corners are aggressive," Rees said. "Just giving our receivers a chance to put the ball where they can make a play, if it's not complete, try to get a PI. That's something we've worked at throughout the year, really going after the ball. If we're not going to catch it, try to explosive if they were getting held out there."
Rees was 14 of 34 passing for 142 yards, but it was the penalties against MSU that kept Notre Dame moving as half the Irish's first downs came via penalty.
Coach Mark Dantonio said the defense played the ball like they are coached to, adding that in his 30 years of coaching he has never seen so many defensive pass interference calls.
"I felt we played the ball the way we teach them to play the ball," he said. "That's how they played the ball."
The penalties also came on critical plays, as four of the penalties came on either third down or fourth down. Senior linebacker Max Bullough said the drive-extending penalties are tough on the defense.
"Whether you agree with them or not, when you're on the field and it's third-and-long and they get a first down after an incomplete pass, it's tough," he said. "It's tough to bounce back from that and keep the team out of the end zone."
The first, on a third-and-9, was a holding penalty on Dennard that extended a Notre Dame which finished with a field goal. Waynes' first penalty was on a third-and-8, but that drive wound up with a missed field goal.
Waynes was caught again in the second quarter on a fourth-and-1 on a drive that was capped by a Notre Dame touchdown to take a 10-7 lead going into the half.
On the final Notre Dame scoring drive, which proved to be the difference, Dennard and Waynes each drew a flag – with Waynes' being the most questionable of the bunch. The latter set up the Irish at the MSU 7-yard line before scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a run by Cam McDaniel.
Dennard said it was frustrating, but he focused on encouraging Waynes to keep playing his game.
"It's very frustrating, but we've just got play our game," he said. "The refs call what they have to call. They thought it was pass interference. We've just got to continue to play."