It won't be his best game this season, but it could end up being the most important. Golson completed less than 50 percent of his passes (14-32) for under 200 yards (178), but he didn't turn the ball over and accounted for the game's only two scores: a 36-yard roll right, throwback left strike to 5th-year senior John Goodman
, and shortly thereafter, a 6-yard scamper around the left side to the visitor's lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Golson survived six QB hurries without a miscue and thus became just the sixth Irish quarterback to start his career 3-0 under center in the last 25 seasons (Tony Rice, Rick Mirer, Kevin McDougal, and Matt LoVecchio, and Tommy Rees).
Offensive Game Balls: When the chips were down, formerly suspended senior Cierre Wood was at his best, churning out 44 of his team-high 56 yards on the contest's deciding drive, an 84-yard march that bled nearly seven minutes of clock and provided the Irish with a 14-point cushion on a field goal by Kyle Brindza. Wood carried for 9 yards to get the Irish out of the shadow of the their own goal, then provided the highlight run of the season, a sprint left and cutback across the grain for 26 yards, most of it accrued after a knee-buckling cut in space vs. the Spartans pursuing defense.
Playing his best game of the season Saturday night was Wood's classmate, slot receiver Robby Toma. The former "Punahou Throw-in" (Manti Te'o's high school teammate), finished with a team-high five receptions and 58 yards, with his first three grabs providing the Irish offense with a first down.
Bouncing back from his worst effort in the Kelly era was left tackle Zack Martin, who's backside seal block of All-America defensive end William Gholston allowed sophomore running back George Atkinson a gaping hole over the left side for a 32-yard sprint that set up Notre Dame's second touchdown.
Joining Toma in his best effort of 2012 was junior T.J. Jones, whose four receptions and 59 yards included gains of 21, 15, and 14 yards.
Defensive MVPs: Prince Shembo and Manti Te'o
It's hard to choose from either, the player who wreaked havoc at scrimmage or the leader that cleaned up everything shortly thereafter. Shembo finished with a career-high nine tackles including two for lost yardage with a sack and two QB pressures. Te'o broke up two passes (a single-game high), recovered a late fumble and totaled 12 tackles to lead both teams with one big hit behind the line to help end a Spartans drive.
Said Shembo when asked if Saturday was his best game in an Irish uniform, "You tell me?"
Defensive Game Balls: Sophomore Stephon Tuitt continued to dominate up front, recording a sack for the third straight week, his fifth on the season. Tuitt finished with four stops, a QB hurry, and a forced fumble.
Notre Dame's defense rotated four cornerbacks Saturday night, the quartet of Bennett Jackson, Keivarae Russell, Jalen Brown, and Josh Atkinson finished with seven stops, three pass break-ups and a half sack.
Adding to the team's defensive effort up front for the second straight week was a pair of rookies: redshirt-freshman Tony Springmann (a 2nd Quarter sack, the first of his career), and true freshman Sheldon Day, who single-handedly ended a Spartans drive with a second down sack followed by a third-down pass deflection to force a punt.
Special Teams MVP: P Ben Turk
No offense expects eight punts as part of its end drive arsenal, but senior Ben Turk made the most of that reality last night, dropping two inside the Spartan's 6-yard line while also authoring boots of 44 and 53 yards to go with another 50-yarder. Turk also drew a 15-yard personal foul for roughing and suffered his requisite road shank, but the overall effort caught his coach's attention post-game.
"I thought our kickers were outstanding today, Brindza and Turk were outstanding," said Kelly. "And that's very important in this kind of football game."
Seizing the Moment
With his team leading 14-3 and 8:49 remaining in the contest, head coach Brian Kelly called timeout to devise a play for Michigan State's five-man front. The ensuing 4th and 1 snap from the Spartans 37-yard line gained eight yards (a sprint right by Wood), and four snaps later, the Irish put 14 points between themselves and their scuffling hosts, courtesy a 29-yard field goal by sophomore Kyle Brindza.
"I thought we had a good play. I thought we had a play that matched what they were doing." said Kelly. "They brought in five lineman and I thought we had a really good play. Generally if I think we have a good play call against (a defense we want), I want to try to win the game there."
The Numbers Game
Notre Dame is 3-0 for the first time since 2002 and just the eighth time in the last 31 years.
- Entering the contest the Irish had lost nine straight vs. top 10 teams overall dating back to October 2005, and 10 straight on the road vs. top 10 teams in prime time dating back to 1983. Tonight's win was Brian Kelly's first on the road vs. a ranked team since taking the reigns in 2010...
- Notre Dame's defense stopped the Spartans on their first six possessions of the second half and on eight of nine second half third down opportunities. The Irish defense has surrendered just two conversions on third down in 18 chances through three games this season...
- Saturday was the fourth time in the last five games Notre Dame scored two touchdowns or fewer, the season-opening win over Navy in Dublin the exception. The Irish managed one touchdown in the 2011 home finale vs. Boston College; two at Stanford to conclude the regular season, and two in the 18-14 bowl loss to Florida State, though one was a defensive score. Notre Dame likewise scored two touchdowns last week vs. Purdue before finishing with another pair, both in the second quarter, tonight...
- The Irish offense entered the contest converting 18 of 29 efforts on third down this season, ranking fourth nationally but scuffled in the situation Saturday night, earning a first down in just 1 of 14 opportunities...
- Notre Dame is now 17-3 under Brian Kelly when leading after three quarters…
- Michigan State's 50 net rushing yards was its lowest total since the Irish held the Spartans to 29 yards last September. Notre Dame has held MSU to 73 rushing yards in the team's last nine quarters of action, plus overtime (2010).
- The Irish defense limited Michigan State to 237 yards of total offense. It was the 13th time in the last 20 outings that Notre Dame's defense held an opponent under 300 total yards...
- Notre Dame last won 20-3 vs. Michigan State in 1988, its last undefeated championship season.
O'Malley's game notebook presents a handful of game balls, reviews the game's decisive drive, and offers numbers of note in Saturday's handling of No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing.