The Irish defense was at the mercy of Drew Stanton and the Spartans all afternoon. Notre Dame did more than enough on offense to win the game. The defense did not hold up their end of the bargain.
For a unit that played well in the first two games, the defense took a giant step backwards versus the Spartans. Notre Dame allowed 488 yards of total offense. And the blame can be spread around. The secondary had no answer for Stanton, who completed only 16 passes but for 327 yards. That is an average of over 20 yards per completion. The Irish gave up plays of 18 yards or more 12 times in the contest. The ground game also gave up 161 yards, including the last 19 to Jason Teague for the winning score in overtime.
"We're going against a good offense," Weis said. "Obviously, I don't think anyone on the defensive side of the ball would be happy with how things went. We had periods in the game where we shut them down. But consistently as the game went on, they just made too many plays."
"We didn't make the plays we needed to make to win. We just to come back and get better," Irish safety Tom Zbikowski said. "They were just making big plays. We allowed them too many big plays. I don't think there was a drive where they were just dominating us. It was just the big plays that we gave up."
And about that last big play given up to Teague: "It was an option play. The receiver came up and cut me. I almost got to the ball but didn't make the tackle."
The overriding question now is what defense is the true defense. Is it the one Irish fans saw against Michigan and Pittsburgh or the one on display versus Michigan State?
*With Rhema McKnight out with a knee injury, the offense was in desperate need for someone to step up and fill his void. Maurice Stovall heard the call and responded in a big way. The 6'5" senior, highly heralded coming out of high school, has been inconsistent during his time at Notre Dame. On Saturday, he lived up to the expectations with his best game in an Irish uniform.
Stovall caught eight balls for 176 yards and a touchdown to relieve some of that pressure with McKnight being gone. Brady Quinn looked for him early and often, and if a few more balls would have been thrown in the proper place, Stovall easily could have gotten 200-plus yards. Weis knew coming into the game the long balls would be there for the taking.
"He made a bunch of big plays," Weis said of Stovall. "He had almost 200 yards. He had a lot of big down the field plays. We figured we would have to throw the ball down the field today because we figured that they were going to load them up."
"I was making plays down field," Stovall said. "I was making plays when called upon. I was trying to execute my game."
*Notre Dame played a sloppy game. They committed 12 penalties for 92 yards and turned the ball over twice. One of those turnovers was a critical missed opportunity. After Darean Adams picked off Quinn for a return touchdown in the third quarter, the score was 31-17. The Irish quarterback marched his team down the field to the MSU one-yard line. But with Rashon Powers Neal not playing, freshman fullback Asaph Schwapp took the handoff, bulled into the line and fumbled the ball. The Spartans recovered the ball and instant replay upheld the call. Weis wasn't perplexed about Schwapp not getting into the end zone but by about his forward progress being stopped.
"First of all, I would have never overturned it either," Weis said. "They went to the up to the review. I would not have overturned it. What I felt is that the play should have been blown dead. I said they're not reversing this call. But the guy was stopped for like five seconds and then he gets pushed back and then the ball comes out. Did everyone of you miss that or is it just me?"
*News and Notes had one of those stats this week that just jumps out at you after reading it. Coming into the game, a lot was made of the fact that Michigan State had won four times in a row at Notre Dame Stadium. But with the Irish jumping into the Top 10, it also tested a stat the Spartans have accumulated since 1997. Between that year and 2005, Michigan State was 8-1 against teams ranked in the Top 10. After Saturday's performance, their winning percentage moves to .900 against these highly ranked teams.