The Irish offense sputtered and stumbled most of the game. The Irish opened their first drive with three plays and a punt—something Irish fans have grown accustomed to. The Irish still haven't scored a touchdown in the first quarter since the Florida State game in 2002.
The next two series saw five plays in the first aided by a Michigan State holding penalty and another three-and-out. The offense couldn't seem to find a rhythm for much of the first half.
The Irish defense once again set up the Irish offense in great field position in the first quarter. Cedric Hilliard stripped the ball from Spartan running back Jaren Hayes giving the Irish offense first down at the Michigan State 16 yard line. Notre Dame couldn't capitalize on the great field position and settled for a Nicholas Setta field goal.
The first half ended much like the previous two games--the score tied 6-6 and the Irish with 44 rushing yards and 91 passing yards.
The Irish found some light in the second half moving the ball well. Carlyle Holiday was back at the helm and led the Irish on a 12-play drive before Irish running back Marcus Wilson fumbled at the Michigan State 32 yard line.
The Irish defense forced a Spartan three-and-out giving the ball right back to the Irish offense but the offense couldn't move the ball forcing a Setta punt.
Spartan running back Jaren Hayes then took off on his 71-yard run blowing through the Irish defense to give the Spartans the 13-6 lead.
Holiday then led the Irish on an 11-play drive down to the Michigan State 12 yard line but the Irish were forced to settle for a field goal narrowing the lead 13-9.
The critical play in the game came with 6:55 left to go in the fourth quarter as quarterback Carlyle Holiday was intercepted by Spartan defensive end Greg Taplin who returned the ball 40 yards for a touchdown giving the Spartans the 22-9 lead. The play put the Irish into a hole they could not dig out of.
Quinn entered the game late in the fourth quarter and led the Irish on a scoring drive hooking up with Rhema McKnight on a middle screen for 29 yards narrowing the lead 22-16. The Irish tried an unsuccessful on-sides kick and never got the ball back into Quinn's hot hands as the defense could not stop the Spartan offense from running out the clock and sealing the 22-16 Spartan win.
Coach Tyrone Willingham said he felt playing Holiday in the second half was the right decision at the time. "I thought with the time that he sat out, it gave him a fresh look at it to be able to do some things," said Willingham. "I think initially that went very well."
Quinn looked like the best quarterback on this day. Quinn finished the game 7-17 for 103 yards but also led the team on a touchdown drive—something Holiday hasn't been able to do much this year. Quinn appeared to have a better command of the offense while under center.
Quinn was asked the throw the ball while playing and Willingham says they have a lot of confidence in Quinn's ability to throw the football. "We've said that all along that his progress has been very well. He continues to get better, seems to get stronger and that gives us a reason to have great confidence in him."
Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick also was pleased with Quinn's performance. "I thought that he came in and did a good job both in the second quarter and as well as the fourth quarter," Diedrick said of Quinn's performance.
Diedrick has talked openly with Irish Eyes about playing freshman quarterbacks. Diedrick says it's difficult for any freshman to play well at quarterback but "I believe that he has" was his response when asked if Quinn has played as well as any freshman quarterback he has coached previously.
Willingham says the coaches will evaluate practice and game film before naming a starter at quarterback next week. "We'll make that decision as we get later into the week. When asked if he knew who the starter was now, "I do not" was his response.
Willingham decided to try an on-sides kick after the McKnight touchdown and said he wanted to try to get the ball back. "We thought about it but we wanted to see if we could get our hands on the ball because you are never guaranteed that you can get it back."
The Irish offensive line has had problems lately picking up the blitz and running the ball but Willingham said he saw some improvement this week. "My assessment is that there's some improvement but I think in all areas we still need to improve. We did not put enough points up on the board. We did not have enough execution in all areas. It wasn't just the offensive line because the offense line did some things well today."
The Irish did bounce back in emotion and effort against Michigan State. Willingham says they will build on that effort. "I think our team is determined and I think you saw that as the way they finished the football game. I think they fought right down to the very last second to try to get the (win). Losses hurt, they hurt coaches, they hurt players, they hurt the fans and everybody in the program but we'll be back."
Defensive coordinator Kent Baer was pleased with the way his defense competed. "Losses hurt, it's disappointing, I'm proud of how hard we played and I'm proud we don't give up," said Baer
Baer saw a lot of positives in this game and will focus on the positives next week. "I think we still need to build on the positives because there's a lot of positives and I'm excited about some of the things we did."
The Irish defense played very well against the run but did surrender the Hayes 71 yard run and that was the one thing that really bothered Baer. "Disappointing, I thought we did too but one run kills you. We pride ourselves on doing a good job against the run and that one hurt us. I'm not quite sure what happened but, other than that, I thought we defended the run pretty well."
Justin Tuck didn't start the game but did play some. Bear said Tuck has been nursing an injury and his absence was felt. "He's been a little banged up, I think it did," said Baer of Tuck's absence hurting the pass rush. "If you really look, that balls out in a hurry. It was a very controlled passing game and they didn't ask him to do a lot. They didn't want him to take any hits and they did a nice job of doing that. You're disappointed you didn't get any sacks but I think we had some good pressure on him."
The secondary did an excellent job holding Michigan State to just 119 yards passing and Baer said he was pleased with their performance. "I think they improved today. I thought our secondary stepped up and did what we're supposed to do. I'm proud of how we played. I'm pleased we played that hard. I'm disappointed about one play."
Diedrick said they coaching staff saw some things at halftime and made the adjustments. The offense seemed to open up in the second half. "Some things that we saw in the first half that we tried to come out and take advantage of," said Diedrick. "Just some things we saw that we felt we could exploit."
The offensive line has a ways to go according to Diedrick. "Not anywhere close to where we'd like to be" was his response when asked where he thought his offensive line was at this point.
Quinn said his first touchdown of his career was exciting but he's not happy with loss. "It gave me a decent amount of confidence," said Quinn of his touchdown pass. "We still needed to get one more and we didn't. It was a good feeling but we still needed one more and that was more what I was focused on. Any time after you lose, it's never really a good feeling."
Quinn said the read he made on the play was easy. "It's a play we practice a lot and Rhema runs a great route. They brought pretty much everyone on that particular play. It was actually a pretty easy read for me. It was probably the easiest throw on that drive."
After Quinn led the scoring drive, he gathered his offense line. "We still need one more" was what he told his offensive line. "I was just getting everyone focused that we're probably going to do an on-sides kick on the next kickoff and everyone needed to be focused and ready to go back out there."
Quinn says he's still learning but the coaches have coached him well. "I feel like the coaches have prepared me pretty well so far. I really don't have the game experience like Carlyle. Right now I still need more game experience and more reps," said Quinn when asked if he was ready to be the starter.
Carlyle Holiday said he was concerned about the loss and the quarterback situation is far from his mind. "The quarterback situation, that's not a big concern to me. I think the main thing is losing the game. When you look over at some of the seniors on the team, they're crying, that's what really hurts. It was a really painful game."
Holiday did throw two costly interceptions and took the blame for the first one. "The first one, that was a stupid mistake, I lost track of the linebacker. The second one, that's just credit to the defense. They popped the defensive end out at the last second and he came over. We work on that play a lot in practice and they just got us on that one but I think the first one was a little bit foolish."
Holiday said his protection was better today. "The pressure was fine. I think we picked it up pretty well. There were occasions where they slipped through—those are going to happen—for the most we were able to pick up the pressure pretty well."
The Irish fans booed Holiday many times on Saturday and he said he's been hearing it for a while. "I've been hearing the booing since the first game and that is not a big concern to me. It's going to happen regardless of what you do. You've got to try to look past that."
Linebacker and team-leader Courtney Watson said his defense needs to focus. "It's tough when you give up a 73-yard touchdown run, that's what you don't do as a defense. Not being able to get them stopped on third down and get off the field."
Watson says this team needs to win the individual battles on the field to be successful. "Football is a game of individual battles. If every individual on your side of the ball wins that battle then you have a very good chance of winning the game and we haven't been able to do that the last couple of weeks."
The Irish now enter the most difficult stretch of their schedule. They travel to Purdue next week and face a Boilermaker team that has lost three straight times to the Irish—all very close games. The Irish will have to bounce back against the Boilermakers if they hope to get their season back on track.