Michigan State-Notre Dame: Spartans Suffer Heartbreak for Second Straight Week

Joe GSenior Writer ISeptember 20, 2009

SOUTH BEND, IN - SETPEMBER 19: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Michigan State Spartans throws a pass against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 19, 2009 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

All good things must come to an end, six-game winning streaks in South Bend included.

Spartan fans could do without the heartbreak, though.

Notre Dame took home the Megaphone Trophy for the first time since 2006 with a nail-biting victory over Michigan State that came down to the last minute.

The Irish survived Larry Caper, wide-open in the end zone with just over a minute left, and sealed a 33-30 victory with an interception on the last play. You could hear the Irish fans in Notre Dame stadium collectively exhaling in relief after the pick, because it looked like the Spartans would be the second team in two weeks from the state of Michigan to snatch a last-minute victory over Notre Dame.

This was a game with four different lead changes, two 300-yard passers, and nearly 900 yards of total offense.

After their first two drives, it looked like Notre Dame was going to walk out of the stadium with a blowout victory. They were up 13-3 and moving the ball with ease on offense. Then, Blair White caught a touchdown pass from wide receiver Keshawn Martin on a beautifully-executed trick play.

That's when things really got weird.

On the ensuing kickoff, Brett Swenson caught the Irish by surprise with a perfect onside kick. His kick barely went 10 yards, then took an MSU bounce and rolled back toward the Spartans. Michigan State jumped on the kick, and the stadium got quiet as the Irish fans sensed a momentum shift.

The Irish forced a turnover later in that Spartan drive, essentially negating the successful onside kick. But, all they could manage was a field goal. Just a couple minutes later, Larry Caper was plowing through a mass of bodies at the goal line to give the Spartans a touchdown and a one-point lead heading into halftime.

Notre Dame opened the second half with two straight scores. One was a trick play of their own, a five-yard touchdown pass by Armando Allen out of the Wildcat formation. Nick Tausch tacked on a field goal, and it was a 26-17 game. Advantage Irish, once again.

Larry Caper would answer the bell once again, with a seven-yard touchdown run on a sweep off the left side of the line. Some great blocking by fullback Andrew Hawken allowed the true freshman to score for the second time in the game. Notre Dame did manage to dull the celebrations a little bit by blocking Brett Swenson's extra point attempt. 26-23 to the Irish after three quarters.

The fourth quarter opened with yet another lead change. Kirk Cousins found Blair White for his second TD catch of the game just over five minutes into the fourth. The Spartans held a four-point lead, but it wouldn't hold.

Jimmy Clausen led an eight play, 73-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a 33-yard pass to Golden Tate, who celebrated by taking an unnecessary dive into the Spartan Marching Band. The Irish held a three-point lead with just five minutes to play.

Fast forward to the final Michigan State drive of the afternoon. A Notre Dame punt left the Spartans on their own 30 yard line with three minutes left. Kirk Cousins decided to take matters into his own hands, marching Michigan State 52 yards down the field in under two minutes. He was 7-for-8 on the drive as the Spartans lined up at the Irish 18 yard line.

Cousins took the snap, and saw Larry Caper wide open in the end zone. No player, Spartan or Irish, was within 20 yards of Caper. Cousins launched a pass toward Caper, but it sailed just out of his reach. The pass fell incomplete, when a catch would have likely sealed a seventh straight win in South Bend for the Spartans.

On the very next play, defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta sent a blitz, forcing Cousins to rush a throw down the center of the field. It was picked off by Kyle McCarthy, and the Irish could celebrate for the first time since 1993. An effort by the Spartans that would have been good enough to win on most other days had fallen three points short.

The Controversy

If, like me, you were watching the game on NBC, you no doubt noticed the controversial incomplete pass to Michael Floyd late in the first half. Floyd was injured on the play with a likely broken collarbone, but the announcers seemed to feel that justice had not been served. Despite the fact that Jeremy Ware had a hand on the ball, preventing Floyd from gaining solid possession, the NBC announcers seemed to think that the Irish had been robbed of a touchdown.

According to the NCAA rulebook, that's not the case. From the interpretations section, "Airborne receiver A85 grasps a forward pass and in the process of going to the ground, first contacts the ground with his left foot as he falls to the ground inbounds. Immediately upon A85 hitting the ground, the ball comes loose and touches the ground. RULING: Incomplete pass. An airborne receiver must maintain control of the ball while going to the ground in the process of completing a catch."

Even after the replay official shared this with the announcers, they still felt robbed. The Irish didn't need the touchdown in the end, but it would have been nice to do without such obvious bias in the booth.

Game-changing moment

On the final Irish scoring drive, Jimmy Clausen heaved a deep ball toward where Golden Tate was supposed to have been. Tate had stopped his route, but MSU cornerback Chris L. Rucker was positioned to intercept the pass. Instead, the ball slipped through his hands and just five plays later, Tate had scored the winning touchdown. Had Rucker made the play, we would likely be looking at a seventh straight win in South Bend for the Spartans.

The Good

Kirk Cousins

Cousins seems to have a very solid grip on the starting quarterback job after a great performance against the Irish. Yes, he threw the interception that sealed the win for the Irish, but before that he was 23-for-35 with 302 yards and a touchdown. His numbers would have been even better if not for the three dropped passes in the first two Spartan drives.

Mark Dell

In his return from a shoulder injury, Dell dropped the first pass thrown at him, and then caught six for 121 yards, including a 57-yard gain on a simple slant that set up a Spartan score.

The Bad

Notre Dame penalties

One week after penalties cost the Irish dearly against Michigan, they were again undisciplined. Notre Dame was called for 11 penalties, including a pair of late hits and a personal foul late in the game that could have forced the Irish to punt from deep in their own territory.

After Washington's upset of USC, Notre Dame's upcoming schedule just got a lot tougher, so they'll need to clean up the penalties if they hope to improve on last season's total of seven wins.

The Ugly

Missed tackles by Michigan State

In all honesty, this is where the Spartans lost the game. They repeatedly missed chances to wrap up Golden Tate and Armando Allen. Irish drives were frequently extended by missed tackles, and it looks to be another long week of practice for a defensive unit that was already under a lot of fire after losing to Central Michigan.

Helmet Stickers

Kirk Cousins—Enjoyed his first ever 300-yard game, looked like a seasoned veteran instead of a sophomore starting his third game.

Mark Dell/BJ Cunningham/Blair White—White was his usual solid self, with six catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Mark Dell turned in a great performance that no doubt made MSU wish he had been able to go last week. And Cunningham, in addition to his seven catches, made a highlight-reel catch on the final drive after a Cousins pass had been deflected by a Notre Dame defender.

Jimmy Clausen—In his third season, it looks like he's finally ready to justify the hype. Playing with a right big toe injury for the entire second half, Clausen led the Irish on several scoring drives and had a lot of success with the deep ball. He's thrown for over 300 yards in every game this season.


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