Notre Dame Football: Winners and Losers from the Week 3 Game vs. Michigan State
Amid the wake of celebratory proceedings following Notre Dame's 20-3 victory over Michigan State, there's room for analysis.
Like any other contest, the winners and losers were clear long before the clock struck zero at Spartan Stadium on Saturday evening. Those winners and losers were rather surprising, considering pregame expectations.
Let's have a closer look at those winners and losers.
Winner: Notre Dame Front Seven
For the second year in a row, Notre Dame won the battle in the trenches against, perhaps, the most physically dominant team on the schedule in Michigan State.
The Irish defensive front seven asserted its dominance from the start, on the way to yielding a total of 50 net rushing yards to a potent Spartan rushing attack led by running back Le'Veon Bell. Bell, who accumulated 210 net rushing yards against Boise State two weeks ago, was limited to 77 yards on 19 carries against a stiff Irish defense.
Notre Dame's "D-boys" also made a living in the Spartan backfield, sacking quarterback Andrew Maxwell four times and applying consistent pressure for 60 minutes.
Loser: Michigan State Offense
One statistic is required to validate this selection: Michigan State did not take a single snap inside the red zone on Saturday night.
And in the second half of the 20-3 loss, Mark Dantonio's squad only managed one play inside of Notre Dame territory. Yes, you are reading that correctly. It's no mistake.
Wasn't this supposed to be an offense that would assert its dominance by running the ball down Notre Dame's throat? Yes, that was the game plan, but the Irish successfully shut down Le'Veon Bell and the Spartan offense altogether.
And when the Spartans went to the passing game, they had nothing going, as first-year starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed 23-of-45 pass attempts for 187 yards.
Winner: Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly
Plain and simply, Brian Kelly needed Saturday evening's win. After piecing together a 16-10 record through two seasons in South Bend, Kelly had yet to earn a true signature victory.
That thought will no longer haunt the third-year head coach.
His squad's 20-3 victory over Michigan State was the defining moment of his tenure in South Bend, the first road win against a Top 10 team at night since 1983. Clearly, momentum has officially swung in Kelly's favor after two trying seasons that can be best described as maddeningly frustrating.
The win also vaulted the Irish to No. 11 in the AP Poll, the highest Notre Dame has been ranked since December of 2006.
Loser: Big Ten Conference
After an abysmal start to the 2012 season for the Big Ten Conference, Michigan State remained as the lone beacon of hope among the 12 member teams.
Defeating a Top 25 opponent during a nationally televised, prime-time contest would have gone a long way in gaining Jim Delany's conference a bit of credibility, but that opportunity went by the wayside once the Spartans closed the book on Saturday's loss to Notre Dame.
Making matters worse is the fact that the Spartans were the presumptive Big Ten Conference champions entering the season. That may not have changed, but any hopes that the Big Ten had of reaching the BCS National Championship game were dashed after just the third week of the season.
Winner: Manti Te'o
In the most difficult of times, Manti Te'o rose to the occasion. After losing his girlfriend and grandmother in less than 48 hours last week, Te'o had the option of returning home to Hawaii to be with his family in this time of mourning.
However, Te'o told Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick that he "needed to be with his guys" (h/t Mike Lopresti, USA Today).
All the credit in the world is deserved by the senior linebacker, who has been nothing short of a perfect leader of the Irish program during the past three seasons. He's a gentleman off the field, and a beast on it, particularly when he racks up double-digit tackles, as he did on Saturday night.
But Te'o has reminded us all that football is just a game. That's all it is. He has taught us that the most important things in life are spirituality and family. And I thank him for that.