This is how a plan comes together.
Fierce defense, great quarterback protection, zero turnovers and a dominating win over a Top-10 opponent.
This is what Irish fans have been waiting for.
Michigan State entered the contest a five-point home favorite, expecting to physically handle an Irish squad which struggled with Purdue's front a week ago.
Most expected running back Le'Veon Bell to pound the Irish front, and defensive end William Gholston to harass Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson all night.
Le'Veon Bell did carry 19 times for 77 yards, but was held scoreless. Gholston's name was only heard once—a fourth-quarter arm tackle of Notre Dame back Theo Riddick.
Notre Dame dominated the supposedly more physical Spartans for the second straight year and improved its record to 3-0 for the first time in a decade. Unlike the Irish last team that began with an undefeated run—Tyrone Willingham's first season in South Bend—Notre Dame didn't win this game because of self-inflicted wounds by the opposition.
They did it by playing great football.
The Irish spent more time in the Michigan State backfield than did Michigan State running backs, constantly hurrying or hitting Spartans' quarterback Andrew Maxwell, limiting the junior QB to just 187 yards on 23 completions.
The Irish came in with the game plan to make Maxwell beat them with his arm. They stacked the box and bet that taking the running game away would drastically hamper the Spartan offense. The plan worked perfectly as Michigan State was held to just 50 yards rushing, and managed only a first-half field goal.
Offensively, Notre Dame found yardage difficult to gain in the early going, but eventually began using its advantage on the edge, exploiting single coverage on Irish receivers who caught a combined 11 balls for 162 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson placed his mobility on display early, often escaping pressure and proving that he is a throw-first quarterback, as more than once he connected on the move after the pocket broke down.
No play was bigger than his first-quarter touchdown strike to John Goodman. Rolling right on the play, Golson had to break a pair of tackles then throw across his body to Goodman in the left corner of the end zone for the 36-yard score.
Not many quarterbacks can make that throw.
Golson also ran for his second score of the year, a second-quarter scramble that further demonstrated the kind of excitement that he brings to the Irish offense. Most importantly, against a tough defense, he never telegraphed his passes nor did he force any throws.
All-everything tight end Tyler Eifert was held without a reception, and was targeted only three times, once drawing an interference penalty. With the Spartans focused on taking away Eifert, Golson looked elsewhere, connecting with five different receivers.
Hitting on only 14 of 32 attempts for 178 yards and a touchdown, Golson's numbers aren't overwhelming.
But his performance was.
He was consistently calm, frustratingly elusive, and he seemed to always make the right throw, even when the right throw was to put the ball into the stands. The only two balls that were in danger of being intercepted were tipped and both, luckily, were dropped.
On the other side of the ball for Notre Dame, it was Prince Shembo, Manti Te'o and Elijah Shumater—not the name of the big Spartan, Gholston—whose names were called all night.
Shembo and Shumate had career days, with Shembo proving to be unblockable for the Spartan offensive line and Shumate being in all the right places and making several key breakups.
Manti was Manti, playing sideline to sideline and punishing Le'Veon Bell seemingly every time he touched the ball.
Rounding out the complete team victory were the special teams units. Notre Dame had it's best night kicking the ball in a long, long time.
Punter Ben Turk averaged 42.4 yards, consistently pinning the Spartans deep in their own territory. He also drew a key roughing penalty that maintained field possession and helped keep Michigan State backed up. Kicker Kyle Brindza seems to have recovered from an ugly start to the season, hitting both extra point attempts and fourth-quarter field goals of 29 and 47 yards that ultimately put away the Spartans.
Most of all this win is credit to Brian Kelly.
There was an obvious speed advantage on the field tonight, and for the first time in years against a ranked opponent it was on Notre Dame's side.
Only on the defensive front were Michigan State's players comparable. Everywhere else Notre Dame was simply too fast for Sparty to beat.
Kelly made it a point to recruit speed as soon as he got to Notre Dame, especially on defense where the Irish were notoriously sluggish. He also showed faith in his young talent, allowing his players to make plays rather than turning too conservative.
He made a gutsy call with eight minutes remaining and an 11-point lead going for, and converting, a fourth down just inside Michigan State territory that most likely was the dagger. Conventional wisdom says punt and place the game in the hands of your dominant defense. But sometimes you simply must coach to win, rather than not to lose.
Tonight, Kelly's team did something that few Irish squads had done in recent years. They went into a hostile environment, as underdogs to a Top-Ten opponent, and physically destroyed them.
Notre Dame didn't need to run out to the middle of the field at Spartan Stadium and plant a flag to announce that they owned the day.
The stunned silence of the Michigan State faithful as they left the stadium early on the banks of the Red Cedar was all that anyone needed to hear.
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