We are continuing our quest to review the 2017 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season. I’m sitting down and randomly re-watching each Notre Dame game (for like the 4th or 5th time) and taking new notes with some fresh eyes, hindsight, and a neat glass of bourbon.
We documented the season real “neat” as well with a stream for each game, and a homepage for all of those streams. YAY organization! You can find that HERE.
Today’s re-watch is Notre Dame’s 38-18 victory over the Michigan State Spartans.
THE NOTRE DAME STAT LINE
- RECORD: 2-1
- RANK: Unranked
- STREAK: 1 (W)
It was still very early in the season, and no one really knew what to make of the Irish - or the Spartans for that matter. Both teams were coming off horrendous seasons in 2016, and this game could prove to be a pivotal point for either team to finally put last season behind them.
Notre Dame was on the road again after a 500 yard rushing performance in a 49-20 win over the Boston College Eagles. Brandon Wimbush was still struggling to find a groove in his passing game, but his legs were absolutely fierce.
Notre Dame was looking for more than just another win to start the season, it was looking for revenge for the loss to Sparty in South Bend last season. It was a loss that not only forced the Irish to cough up the highly coveted Megaphone Trophy (Brian Kelly speaks of this piece of hardware quite a bit), but also because it was this game that really set up the blueprint for disaster in 2016. Everyone in Blue And Gold was looking to finally put the past behind them.
- TIME: 8:00
- NETWORK: FOX
- ANNOUNCERS: Gus Johnson & Joel Klatt
I like Gus Johnson a lot. Some may get a little annoyed with his play by play style, but if it’s a good game, a big game, or both - he really knows how to lift the game up to the proper level of excitement for the viewer. Joel Klatt on the other hand... comes off as a bigger know-it-all than even the most arrogant of announcers. I don’t like him, and neither should you.
I’ll give FOX credit though... they really talked this game up quite a bit. In all honesty, they did a much better job at quickly propping this game and this rivalry up in the pregame with a focus on tradition, great games, and the Megaphone Trophy. Finally a Notre Dame / Michigan State game that was properly hyped - AND NEITHER TEAM WAS RANKED.
Johnson actually gave a tame performance, but was solid for the most part. Klatt kept saying ridiculous things like “watch them do this ________ right here” and we watched as the team did nothing that even came close to what Klatt suggested.
The one really annoying thing was how much love they were giving Sparty quarterback Brian Lewerke. They were singing so many praises of him and his play that I thought we might actually be at the Temple of Lewrke and giving prayers. Even after the interception that Julian Love took for a touchdown, and the fumble he had that led to anoher Irish touchdown, they were in love with what he was doing. That was until the 4th quarter when Klatt took a 180 degree turnaround and said, “lack of quarterback play is really hurting Michigan State right now.”
Through it all, I actually enjoyed the broadcast, and if it were up to me... I’d like to see more Notre Dame away games on FOX.
THE 28-7 BUM RUSH
The game was over and done with after 25 minutes and 13 seconds of play in the first half.
It’s hard to tell if the first drive from the Irish was a thing of beauty or a thing of luck. It was awfully pass-happy, and Notre Dame’s receivers (especially Equanimeous St. Brown) made some spectacular catches, and also chipped away at the defense. Despite Brandon Wimbush’s early proficiency, it was his legs that put the Irish on the board first with a 16 yard TD run.
So now Michigan State and their awesome quarterback have the ball after the kickoff and are ready to match the Irish. Instead, Lewerke throws the pick 6 to Julian Love on a 3rd and 6 throw to the flat. The funny thing, is that on 2nd and 6 Michigan State tried running what was basically the same play out of a different formation, and if the the ball hadn’t been batted at the line, Julian Love was in position to the exact same thing. Why u testing our Love bro?
Michigan State battled back with So Totally Awesome Brian Lewerke and his 52 yard run. A few plays later, Darrell Stewart caught an underthrown ball over Julian Love to help make the game 14-7.
After some punting contests, Sparty was once again had the ball and looking to tie the game up. However, So Totally Awesome Brian Lewerke tried to bring the ball up over the head of an Irish defender on a run, and Greer Martini promptly popped the ball out of his hands. Daelin Hayes fell on the ball and the Irish were in good position to score another touchdown. So Totally Awesome Brian Lewerke really does do some awesome things.
Dexter Williams seizes the opportunity, and makes a somewhat spectacular catch in the endzone for a touchdown (the one and only touchdown reception from a Notre Dame running back for the entire season). 21-7 IRISH.
Sparty and So Totally Awesome Brian Lewerke waste little time and march the football down the field on their next possession. It looked like a “hands thrown up in disgust” moment when L.J. Scott ran the ball towards the goaline - BUT OH MY GOD SHAUN CRAWFORD YOU ARE BRILLIANT! Shaun Crawford stripped Scott of the ball right before the endzone, and then Crawford fell on the ball for the touchback. It was just an incredibly huge play because instead of 21-14, it remained 21-7 for a few minutes longer.
In less than two minutes after the fumble, Notre Dame made it 28-7 via a 14 yard touchdown run from Dexter Williams. Both Josh Adams and Durham Smythe made huge plays on the drive as well to make the 21-14 / 28-7 swing (before halftime) the nail in the coffin for Sparty.
SPARTY BEING SPARTY
Michigan State has always been known as a physical program, but they have also been known as a fairly undisciplined program as well - some say dirty.
Sparty committed 9 penalties that night for almost 100 yards. They were penalties that not only hurt them in yards, but so many came at critical points of a drive. Three of them were late hits (of course) and one was an offsides call that allowed Notre Dame to continue a touchdown drive instead of being stuffed on 3rd and 1.
It was so typical.
TARGETING THE OFFICIALS
It’s pretty much the norm by now. Notre Dame will be the victim of a targeting penalty that won’t be called. It seems to happen quite bit anymore, and against the Spartans, we saw it one more time.
In the first quarter, as Brandon Wimbush was face down on the ground, Michigan State linebacker Chris Frey jumped over a guy and came down helmet first on Brandon Wimbush’s helmet.
It wasn’t called on the field, but more importantly, it wasn’t replayed by the booth. Like... what the shit is going on up there? They won’t take a moment to review that, but they had the audacity (also known as stupidity) to review a non-fumble TWICE... TWO DIFFERENT TIMES. They absolutely lacked anything that resembled good judgement or control.
This was a big game for Notre Dame, but it was an even bigger game for Brian Kelly. In more ways than what we probably know, Brian Kelly hates Michigan State and places that game just one small rung below the rivalry against the USC Trojans (while at the same time placing it above the whatever we have with the Michigan Wolverines).
Sparty was a good team in 2017 and proved that their performance in 2016 was a fluke (a 3-9 campaign that saw a win over the Irish).Notre Dame needed to prove to everyone (including themselves) that it can win on the road against a good team. No one gave them much credit at the time, but as the season wore on, it was certainly a highlight and a booster on the resumé.
It was a 20 point win against Michigan State in East Lansing. Notre Dame basically shutdown their running game, and forced Sparty to throw 53 times. Sparty put up a bunch of yards, but the threat was long gone in the first half.
It was a solid win, and it brought the Megaphone back home.