By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
It wasn’t a beauty contest, but Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly didn’t expect it to be one.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won a good old fashioned grind -it-out type of college football by a score of 17-13 over the Michigan State Spartans Saturday afternoon at Note Dame.
“This was the type of game we expected,” Kelly said. “Michigan State has a great physical defense. We knew someone would have to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter to win. We did and managed to keep them out of the end zone.
“Late in the game I wanted to throw the ball so bad, but we wanted to put our defense on the field and not give Michigan State’s defense a chance to win the game.”
Final game statistics showed the Spartans with advantages in total offense (254-224), first downs (19-14) and time of possession (30:38 to 29:22).
“It was a great football game. Well played by both teams in terms of intensity and enthusiasm, which is what you expect in a rivalry game,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “As far as Michigan State is concerned, we you get down in the red zone you have to get touchdowns.”
The Spartans got in the red zone four times, but two of their three scores were field goals.
Notre Dame broke a 10-10 at 14:44 of the fourth period on a 7-yard run by junior Cam Daniels.
“We knew this would be a tough game. We just didn’t know what the score was going to be,” Daniels said. “Michigan State’s defense flies to the ball. You have to give some credit to our offensive line and the receivers for their blocking.”
The Irish rushed for 82 yards on 32 carries and passed for 142 yards.
“You have to win throwing the ball against Michigan State,” Kelly said. “Those safeties are downhill. Those linebackers are in the box. Those nine guys are hawking the ball. It’s tough sledding in there. You are not going to win running the ball against them.”
Senior quarterback Tommy Rees completed 14 of 34 passes for 142 yards. He tossed a 2-yard TD to senior wide receiver TJ Jones at 7:43 of the second period as the Irish took a 7-3 lead.
“Tommy did a good job of throwing the ball away in the fourth when he did not get the look he wanted,” Kelly said. “Taking care of the ball was at a premium today.
“Tommy would also tell you he missed some receivers in the first half. They were open he just missed them.”
Rees said, “Obviously we weren’t as efficient on offense as we wanted to be. Michigan State did a lot of things to challenge us offensively.
“We found a way to get the ball in the end zone twice.”
The Irish have won the last two games by a total of 10 points.
“We know how to win close games,” Rees said. “That’s something we’ve done for a while now. I think all the guys understood what it took to close out a close one.”
Kelly echoed his quarterback’s thoughts.
“Just a tough-minded group,” he said. “We’ve got that instilled within our kids. The way we coach them, the way we go to practice, the way we work day in, day out. That’s the way we want them to play the game.”
The two teams were flagged for a total of 18 penalties. Michigan State had 10 for 115 yards and Notre Dame eight for 86.
The Spartans were called several times for pass interference in crucial situations.
“I felt we played the ball the way we teach them to play the ball,” Dantonio said. “That’s how we play the ball. Beyond that I’m not going to have any comments on. That’s for other people to comment on in private.”
Kelly acknowledged the offense has an advantage in that area.
“The receiver knows where the quarterback is going to throw the ball the defensive back doesn’t so obviously that gives the offense an edge,” he said.
The victory extends Notre Dame’s home winning streak to 10 games.
“We want to build off this momentum,” Daniels said. “The home steak is nice. This is our house and we want to make it a tough place to play.”
Junior kicker Kyle Brindza was awarded the game ball for the Irish. He put his team on the scoreboard first with a 41-yard field goal at 3:30 of the first stanza and averaged 42.8 yards on four punts.
“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 allowed them to play on a long field,” Kelly said.
“I was glad to put our defense in a good position,” Brindza said. “Field position was a point of emphasis all week in practice.”
Brindza did miss a field goal and had a punt blocked.
“A missed field goal or a blocked punt is just another play,” he said. “I love pressure. I just go on to the next play.”
It was the first punt the Irish have had blocked since the Boston College game in 2008, ending a streak of 254 straight punts without a block.