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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 24, 2017 5:50 am

Irish enjoy emotional release with win over Spartans

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Post Malone's "Congratulations" was blaring in Notre Dame's locker room. It was a fitting tune for the Irish as they enjoyed their 38-18 win over Michigan State on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.

Notre Dame's official Twitter account posted multiple images of players holding up the Megaphone Trophy. The emotion that ran unchecked in that locker room was a result of this team getting its first statement victory.

It provided cathartic relief. It freed the Irish from questions and pressure about the narrative of not being able to win big games. That narrative had received ammo two weeks ago when No. 11 Georgia prevailed 20-19 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Winning a prime-time game in a Big Ten venue was akin to pulling out a key piece in Jenga. In one fell swoop, all the blocks of negativity surrounding the Irish came tumbling down.

Had they lost to Michigan State, the flood of "what about last year?" questions would have been overwhelming. Because they went 4-8 in 2016, the misery of that finish hangs over everything the Irish do this year.

They are trying to prove they are a different team.

"I don't think it was a proof mentality," Notre Dame defender Drue Tranquill said. "We talk each and every day about getting better and moving the needle forward and how we can be better than we were yesterday. Tonight was just a big stage, 8 o'clock on TV in a hostile environment, and an opportunity for our young guys to get experience on the road and a great road win."

Issues remain, but here are three of the newest positives:

Chase Claypool: Finally, a positive development at wide receiver behind Equanimeous St. Brown, who had four grabs for 61 yards. After a slow start in training camp and the initial three games, Claypool played a nice game, finishing with four catches for 56 yards.

Offensive line: The group that got pushed around by Georgia controlled the line of scrimmage against Michigan State in its second straight dominant performance. It's one of the most experienced position groups on the team and the central building block of Notre Dame's offense, so that's encouraging.

"Football, we like to think it's won up front," left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "The last two weeks we've been able to get the job done when it matters most."

Brandon Wimbush: Notre Dame's quarterback hit on 14 of 20 throws and showed improved midrange accuracy, surprising Harlon Barnett, the Spartans' associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator.

"It did a little bit," Barnett said. "You hadn't seen that out of him. (Wimbush) is a first-year starter so, the body of work, what you have to base (preparation) on is what he's done so far. Yes, he did a good job for them tonight."