Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 26, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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26 SEPT. 26, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED TURNING POINT Notre Dame was holding a 7-0 lead with just less than 10 minutes left in the first half and had forced a punt by Michigan State from its 18. The boot by Spartans punter Jake Hartbarger fluttered and then bounded around midfield with re- turn man C.J. Sanders imploring his blockers to back off. With his back turned to the action, sophomore wide receiver Miles Boykin inadvertently touched the ball with his leg, and the Spartans recovered at the Irish 38. MSU went for broke on the first play, and fifth-year senior quarter- back Tyler O'Connor's toss into the end zone appeared short and in the hands of senior cornerback Cole Luke — before freshman wideout Donnie Corley wrestled it away for the touchdown. Those back-to-back plays sparked the 36-0 avalanche by the Spartans over the next 21 minutes of action. STAT OF THE GAME During the decisive third quar- ter when Michigan State scored 21 unanswered points within a five- minute span to extend its advantage to 36-7, it totaled 192 yards of total offense — with 166 coming on the ground. It was a reflection of the way the Spartans had taken control of the line of scrimmage. The 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 22-7 was aided by a pass interference call, but 49 of the other 60 yards came on the ground. So did all 39 yards on the next MSU touchdown drive after it intercepted a DeShone Kizer pass. The coup de grace came on a 73-yard touchdown run by junior running back Gerald Holmes on a straight-up-the-gut blast through the defense. Michigan State finished with 260 yards rushing compared to Notre Dame's 57, with the Irish needing to rely mainly on the pass after falling behind by 29 points. FOUR LOSSES IN FIVE GAMES The nadir of the Brian Kelly era has been reached, even more so than after the 4-5 start in his first year (2010) after consecutive losses to Navy and Tulsa. In the first year, some passes are given while building a program. The problem is that after seven sea- sons of the Kelly era, Notre Dame remains an "almost team," while Michigan State in that span has be- come a program that more often than not rises to the occasion in marquee settings. The Irish have now lost four of their last five games, with the sole win against outmanned Nevada. The word "resilient" keeps getting used to describe the team, but all that means it is just good enough to keep falling short against top opposition. What Notre Dame is after seven seasons is a 9-4 operation that can't get over the proverbial hump. THREE OBSERVATIONS BY LOU SOMOGYI Senior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. finished with a career-high 95 receiving yards and five catches and had a big second-half grab that helped get Notre Dame back in the game. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA OFFENSE: WR TORII HUNTER JR. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer had the big numbers — pass- ing for 344 yards and two scores, plus running for a couple touch- downs — but it was the Irish pass catchers that had the better performance, notably the senior wideout. Hunter Jr. returned to the lineup after missing Notre Dame's win over Nevada with a concussion he suffered in the opener against Texas. Kizer went to him on the first offensive play of the game, which went for a 19-yard game. With the Irish down 36-7, Hunter Jr. got over top of the Michigan State defense for a 47-yard reception that set up a score that helped the Irish get back in the game. He finished the contest with five receptions for a career- high 95 yards. DEFENSE: DT JERRY TILLERY Finding a player of the game for a defense that gave up 36 points and 501 yards of offense is difficult, but the sophomore defensive tackle did put together arguably the best game of his career. He set career highs with five tackles (four solo) and two tackles for loss. Tillery's ability to get a strong push into the backfield helped the Irish keep the Michigan State offense in check during the early part of the game. In its first three series, Michigan State rushed for just 25 yards on 13 attempts, and Tillery was a big part of that. SPECIAL TEAMS: P TYLER NEWSOME On a night when the Notre Dame special teams unit strug- gled as a whole, the junior punter put together an outstanding performance. Newsome finished with a net average of 50.3 yards on his seven punts. Three times he pinned the Spartans inside their own 15- yard line, and he did so with punts of 71, 57 and 54 yards. TOP PLAYERS OF THE GAME BY BRYAN DRISKELL

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