Unlikely heroes emerge in win over Notre Dame

A trio of unlikely heroes emerged for MSU in the upset win over Notre Dame. Running back Jaren Hayes, safety Eric Smith and punter Brandon Fields all played key roles in the win, while kicker Dave Rayner is quickly establishing himself as one of the all-time great kickers in MSU history. Rayner is on pace for a record setting season.

Saturday's 22-16 upset win over then #23 Notre Dame was sort of a coming out party for sophomore strong safety Eric Smith.

Smith was all over the field, disrupting the Irish passing game while playing tough against the run. The sophomore had 12 tackles including three for loss. He also provided two sacks of Notre Dame quarterback Carlyle Holliday.

On offense, sophomore Jaren Hayes, who was not expected to play a feature role in the MSU running attack, has emerged as the feature back. Hayes rushed for 113 yards on just 19 carries including a 71-yard scamper that helped break the game open for the Spartans. It was Hayes' second 100-yard rushing game of the season.

"It was a zone play and I read it pretty good. I got pretty good blocking from our receivers, and I found a hole and ran for the end zone. I was just trying to redeem myself for the fumble I had earlier; I was a little mad inside. I wanted to make a big play, and I did."

"Our running game is getting better and better each week," said Spartan coach John L. Smith, "and we are continually taking steps to get better. To look at Jaren's [Hayes] touchdown is a big boost for our running game down the road."

Special teams also got a huge contribution from freshman punter Brandon Fields. Fields understood that in close games field position often plays a huge part in the outcome. "Field position plays a big role in games like this. Dave Rayner did a good job kicking off, and I punted well today. It's hard for offenses when they have to start on their own 20-yard line."

Fields underscored that point when, with the game tied at three and MSU forced to punt at their on 21-yard line, he uncorked a booming punt that eventually bounced out of the back of the Irish end zone, forcing them to start with a touchback at their own 20 yard line.

"I was under a little pressure, but it was a good snap, and I had enough protection. I was able to get it off and have it be a good one." Instead of Notre Dame getting the ball on a short field, the Irish were forced to start in their own territory. On the next change of possession, it was the Spartans who got the ball on a short field at the Notre Dame 49-yard line. That led directly to a 30-yard Dave Rayner field goal.

The play of Rayner and Fields bodes well for MSU as they begin the Big Ten schedule this Saturday against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Rayner now has 12 field goals on the season, his career high and with eight games to go, ranks 10th all time for most field goals in a season. The duo gives the Spartans a huge edge over almost any other team in the conference in the kicking game.

SPARTAN PRIDE: While Notre Dame claims its rivalry with the University of Southern California as it's biggest, they might want to reconsider. No team has won more games in Notre Dame stadium than the Spartans who have gone into South Bend and come out 11 times with the "W", including four straight.

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