SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s defense in Saturday’s 17-14 home win over Michigan State looked more like the unit that led the Irish to a 12-0 regular season last year.
The No. 22 Irish (3-1) held the Spartans (3-1) to 254 yards, and when Michigan State got the ball twice in the final four minutes, Notre Dame forced three-and-outs both times to seal the win.
We won the game on defense, said Irish linebacker Carlo Calabrese, who matched fellow linebacker Jarrett Grace with a team-high eight tackles.
The Irish’s 10th straight home win came with coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco mixing and matching personnel.
Starting defensive end Sheldon Day didn’t play as he recovered from a sprained right ankle, putting Kona Schwenke is his spot. Safety Elijah Shumate started over last year’s starter Matthias Farley, and Grace replaced Dan Fox in the starting lineup.
We’re just trying to get the right mix and the right lineup and the right guys in the right place, Kelly said. But I wouldn’t say that we’re at that point where we’re definitely sold we have the 11 guys in the right place. We think we’re closer. We still have to do a little bit more work.
Get the call
Quarterback Tommy Rees would have rather connected with his receivers as the Irish constantly took shots down the field against the Spartans.
But with the cornerbacks playing aggressively and the officials leaning toward calling pass interference, Notre Dame took what it could.
The like to play physical, Rees said. Just giving our receivers a chance to put the ball where they can go make a play. If it’s not complete, try to get a PI. That’s something we’ve worked at throughout the year, really going after the ball. If we’re not going to catch it, try to expose if they were getting held out there.
Kelly said Kyle Brindza, who handled kickoffs, field goals and punts, received the game ball.
Brindza made one of two field goal attempts, averaged 42.8 yards punting and 64.8 yards on kickoffs.
He flipped field position for us in the fourth quarter, which to me was as important as anything that happened today, Kelly said, pinning Michigan State back twice in field position (in the final four minutes) that tilted the field in our favor and allowed them on a longer field.