Notre Dame played perhaps its best game under Brian Kelly Saturday night, physically dominating No. 10 Michigan State for a 20-3 win in East Lansing.
We've provided lived game grades and analysis throughout the evening, and have now graded each Irish position group's performance from the victory over the Spartans.
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Everett Golson wasn’t spectacular, but he had no treason to be with how well the Irish defense was playing.
He finished just 14-for-32 with 178 yards and a touchdown, but made plays with his feet on both Notre Dame touchdowns, one a 36-yard cross-field pass to John Goodman and the other a six-yard run similar to his touchdown run last week against Purdue.
Golson continues to grow while at the same time avoiding turnovers. That’s the perfect recipe for success.
The numbers weren’t pretty for a second straight week, but the Irish did go over 100 yards thanks to a number of strong fourth-quarter runs by Cierre Wood, who led the team with 10 carries and 56 yards.
While Theo Riddick had an off night with just 30 yards, George Atkinston III was more active tonight than he was a week ago, including a nice run on a counter draw play to help set up Notre Dame’s second touchdown.
Both John Goodman and Robby Toma continue to be pleasant surprises, both making key catches for the second week in a row. Despite being interfered with, Goodman used one hand to make a brilliant catch to put Notre Dame on the board in the first quarter, his only catch of the night.
Toma’s five catches were a team high. Tyler Eifert was shutout of catches, and rarely targeted. There wasn’t a ton of post-catch yardage, but the Irish receiving corps came up with the catches when it needed to.
The running game struggled at times for the second straight week, but the line did a solid job of keeping Golson upright and avoiding penalties. Spartans defensive end William Gholston was a relative non-factor in the game.
When Notre Dame needed a play on the ground, the line came through, including a key fourth down conversion by Wood in the fourth quarter. This wasn’t a great performance, but given the situation and the talent of the opposition, the line should hold its head up high.
That was as close to a perfect performance as you’ll see. The Irish routinely pressured Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell with just three or four rushers, sacking him three times in the second quarter alone.
Stephon Tuitt continues to be a physical mismatch for opponents, and true freshman Sheldon Day keeps growing before our eyes, finishing with a sack and a knocked down pass. Throw in Prince Shembo, who had his best game of his career lining up with his hand on the ground for the majority of the snaps, and you have a defensive line performance normally reserved for an SEC team.
Often times the brilliance of Manti Te’o goes unnoticed because he doesn’t force many turnovers, but the Irish captain was his usual tackling machine on Saturday night despite dealing with the death of his grandmother and girlfriend earlier this week.
Moving Dan Fox back to inside linebacker after a brief stint outside paid off, as Danny Spond and Ben Councell were both effective at the Dog position. Tackling was fundamentally sound all night long.
Despite again having to play without Jamoris Slaughter for much of the game, the Irish secondary was stellar, holding Michigan State to just 187 yards passing. This wasn’t an elite receiving corps by any stretch, but when tested, cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell made the plays they needed to make.
True freshman Elijah Shumate was the breakout star of the night, knocking down a number of passes thrown over the middle.
It was a very solid night for Kyle Brindza and Ben Turk. Brindza routinely placed his kickoffs out of the end zone, while Turk had only one shaky punt, pinning the Spartans inside the 20-yard line four times.
The return game did little, although Davonte Neal did manage a 12-yard return to set up a drive that would culminate with a Notre Dame touchdown. Neal did fumble one punt, but quickly recovered the ball.
Despite some early snafus resulting in a penalty and a timeout before the first offensive snap, Notre Dame’s game plan was highly effective. The Irish ran the ball more than they did a week ago, but took some shots downfield early, one going for a touchdown to Goodman.
Defensively, Bob Diaco doesn’t like to bring a ton of pressure other than from the front four, and didn’t have to on Saturday night. It didn’t seem possible that Notre Dame could physically whip Michigan State, but that’s exactly what happened.