When it comes to the Notre Dame-Michigan State series, the home field has not necessarily been an advantage.
The Fighting Irish can attest to that after falling behind at one point 36-7 last year at home to the Spartans (the second-largest deficit it ever faced at home to MSU, behind the 47-14 loss in 1956) before losing 36-28.
From 1997-2007, the Spartans won a record six straight contests inside Notre Dame Stadium, leading to the infamous Spartan flag-planting at midfield after the 2005 conquest in overtime.
However, it should also be noted that during that same period, Notre Dame won three in a row at Spartan Stadium from 2002-06, as it did in its most recent trip there, a 20-3 victory in 2012. It had Michigan State on the ropes in 2010 too before the “Little Giants” fake field goal call that resulted in a dramatic overtime win by the Spartans. (Since 1970, Notre Dame is an impressive 16-5 in Spartan Stadium.)
What was especially amazing was that in the seven-year period from 2001-2007, the visiting team was the victor, which, if researched, might prove to be an NCAA record in one series.
The Notre Dame-Michigan State rivalry — of which this will be the 79th meeting — likewise has been earmarked by one-score victories.
From 2000-06, the outcome in those seven clashes between the Fighting Irish and Spartans was never determined by more than seven points, a school record at Notre Dame against any single opponent.
The last two meetings, both in Notre Dame Stadium, also came down to the final series, with the Irish eking out a 17-13 win in 2013 — the lone defeat for the 13-1 Spartans that season — and Michigan State holding on to the aforementioned 36-28 outcome last year, although Notre Dame did have a final chance to potentially send the game into overtime.
Especially notable is that since 1978 — Joe Montana’s final season as the Irish starting quarterback — the two teams have met 17 times in Spartan Stadium. Notre Dame won 12 of them, but nine were by eight points or less. Two of them were one-point wins under Lou Holtz after trailing by two touchdowns in the second half.
In 1990 the No. 1-ranked Irish trailed 19-7 in the fourth quarter before scoring twice for a 20-19 win — the last coming with 36 seconds left. It was made possible by “The Immaculate Deflection,” a 24-yard completion from Rick Mirer to Adrian Jarrell after the pass ricocheted off Michigan State defensive back Todd Murray’s chest inside Notre Dame’s five-yard line.
In 1994, Notre Dame also trailed 20-7 in the second half before sophomore quarterback Ron Powlus, in his first career start in an opponent’s home stadium, helped rally a 21-20 win. Powlus threw four interceptions in the contest, prompting Holtz to speculate on whether the green jerseys the Spartans wore blended too much with the green turf in Spartan Stadium to create an optical illusion for his young quarterback.
Interestingly, two of the easier wins at Spartan Stadium over the past 40 years were by an identical 20-3 score, registered by the 1988 national champs and then in 2012 by the 12-0 regular-season team that advanced to the BCS National Championship Game.
Yet no matter how down Michigan State might be or how much on the upswing Notre Dame is, a victory in Spartan Stadium has seldom been an easy proposition for the Irish.