Offensive MVP: The Yellow Flag82 rushing yards. 142 passing yards. And a whopping 115 due to penalty.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio noted post-game he teaches his defenders to play the ball a certain way: that method earned the group four pass interference penalties and a defensive holding infraction Saturday. The aggregate was 70 yards added to quarterback Tommy Rees' unofficial total with two of the four penalties aiding Notre Dame's only two touchdown drives.
"We did what we had to do in terms of defensively I felt we played the ball the way we teach them to play the ball. That's how they played the ball," said Dantonio in his opening post-game statement. "Beyond that, I'm not going to have any comments on. That's for other people to comment on in private."
The Spartans ill-timed, repeated violations weren't a surprise to head coach Brian Kelly or his quarterback.
"That's something we had in the game plan," said Tommy Rees. "We know we're going to get a lot of man coverage, on-on-one matchups. Their corners are aggressive, they like to play physical.
"Just giving our receivers a chance to put the ball where they can go make a play, if it's not complete, try to get a P.I. 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 expose if they were getting held out there."
Offensive Game Balls: Senior wide receiver T.J. Jones was the only perimeter player of impact for the Irish, making the most of his two receptions and 15 yards, first collecting a third-down touchdown grab from three yards out, then later securing a 13-yard gain on 3rd and 10 to move the chains early in the second half.
Junior Cam McDaniel led the Irish in rushing for the third time in four weeks, gaining 44 yards and a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown on 16 carries. McDaniel lost 13 aggregate yards of the initial 57 gained as Michigan State hammered the Irish running game with athletes, numbers, and crashing pads in the box.
McDaniel's rushing score was his third of the season and second straight week in which he's hit pay dirt.
Defensive MVP: Stephon TuittSix stops including one for loss, a sack, another sack overturned by penalty, and a quarterback hurry. Saturday's effort by the junior defensive end was the most productive of his season to date.
"He's rounding into the kind of shape we all want him to be in," said Kelly in reference to Tuitt's weight gain following sports hernia surgery last winter. "We're getting that (pocket) push. We're seeing that from (Prince) Shembo (too). We're starting got see those guys really start to round into that kind of presence that we saw last year. It's getting better."
Defensive Game Balls: Aiding Tuitt's effort was Notre Dame's much-maligned secondary, led by sophomore cornerback Keivarae Russell's three pass break-ups (including one to force a Spartans punt on their penultimate possession) and four tackles, only one of which occurred after first down yardage.
Russell also played a part in the game's only turnover, showing blanket man-to-man coverage down the Irish sideline on a Spartans half-back pass intercepted by teammate Matthias Farley.
"That should have been mine," Russell joked. "I knew from how the receiver came off (scrimmage) it was going to be a double pass. I turned and saw Matthias, I looked at the receiver, and I just waited to see if the receiver could catch it and if he could, I was going to knock it down. I didn't want to mess up Matthias' pick. I helped him get that."
"I think if you look at their reps, they all played a great deal of football," said Kelly of the increased defensive rotations. "We're just trying to get the right mix and the right lineup and the right guys in the right place."
Farley worked his way back into the mix after consecutive poor outings with quality coverage throughout the contest, playing often in the base defense and always in the nickel and dime packages.
- Fifth-year senior linebacker Carlo Calabrese finished with eight tackles including one for lost yardage. He leads the Irish with four stops behind the line this fall. "They're a big physical team and we knew that coming into the game. It was a middle linebacker kind of game, definitely.
- Senior nose guard Louis Nix finished with a season high six tackles while adding two pass breakups, the latter helping to stop Michigan State late in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams MVP: Punter Kyle BrindzaThe junior triple-threat earned the team's official game ball for his efforts as a punter, changing field position in the fourth quarter to allow the Irish defense to salt away the contest late.
"He got the game ball for us," Kelly said. "He flipped field position for us in the fourth quarter which to me was as important as anything that happened today, pinning Michigan STate back twice in field position that tilted the field in our favor and (put them) on a longer field."
Brindza had a punt blocked (the result of a hideous no-show blocking effort by Jarron Jones) and also missed one of two field goals on the day. His four-punt day including two in excess of 50 yards for a 42.8 yard average.
"It was a boost for confidence. A lot of people try to portray me as a clutch kicker, but now it's time to put that toward my punting. It's something I work so hard on, I'm glad I was able to do that for my team. A missed field goal, a shanked punt or whatever, that's just out of my head (as soon as it's over). Go out and do your thing."
Just the Facts- After not allowing more than two touchdowns in 26 of 32 contests, the Irish allowed eight total (5 and 3, respectively) in back-to-back outings at Michigan and Purdue. The unit righted its ship today, yielding just one touchdown and 16 points.
- The Irish defense has however surrendered 10 touchdowns this fall, or one more than it yielded during the duration of the 12-game regular season in 2012.
- Michigan State finished with 254 yards total offense. After giving up 362, then 480 yards to start the season vs. Temple and Michigan, Notre Dame has held consecutive opponents under 300 yards and 11 of its last 17 to 300 or fewer dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season.
- The Irish improved to 28-4 when rushing more than 30 times in a contest during the Kelly era…
- Notre Dame's 82 rushing yards was the second-lowest total in victory during the 43--game, 31-win Kelly era. The Irish rushed for just 52 yards in a Week Two win over Purdue last September but managed to pull out a similarly low-scoring, 20-17 victory.
- Tommy Rees played without an interception for the eighth time in the 23 games in which he's been Notre Dame's main quarterback. Rees had one interception overturned by a pass interference penalty. He's now thrown 67 straight passes without an interception dating back to his final throw in the Week Two loss to Michigan.
- The win marked Notre Dame's 10th straight, the first such streak since the Irish won 10 consecutive under head coach Bob Davie, (October 1997 through the season-opener of 1999).