Pulling Teeth

Pulling Teeth

Notre Dame wins its seventh straight contest decided by a touchdown or less, holding off one-dimensional Michigan State, 17-13.

There's nothing wrong with a punter winning a game ball. Of course, most punters that have done so in football's storied history don't have a punt blocked (not his fault), don't shank a punt, and don't miss a chip shot field goal for good measure en route to the honor.

But it was that kind of day for head coach Brian Kelly's Irish, and punter Kyle Brindza, he of the pair of quality boots that sealed offensively-challenged Michigan State's fate Saturday, was the beneficiary.

Brindza earned the coach's game ball thanks to a pair of 51-yard moon shots in the game's final 4:06. Both kicks pinned the Spartans 67 yards from pay dirt; both ensured victory No. 3 for Brian Kelly's Irish, largely because Michigan State couldn't travel 67 consecutive yards if they were handed the keys to Notre Dame Stadium and asked to lock up after dark, and partially because Bob Diaco's defense rediscovered its fundamentals and technique.

Notre Dame deserved win No. 3 over eventual Big 10 middle-man Michigan State just as it earned No. 2 vs. emotional conference cellar-dweller Purdue last Saturday.

Victory No. 4 will be a bit tougher to come by.

Survive and Advance…Then What?

Notre Dame did not look like a contender at any point Saturday, but they continued to persevere, this time against a rock-solid defensive front and sticky secondary, one blessed with one of the nation's best man-coverage cornerbacks in Darqueze Denard.

The Irish couldn't run consistently, again missed opportunities in the passing game (read: don't pass all that well vs. quality foes), and used an impartial third-party as their chief mode of transport as the game officials turned pass interference happy, the end result a full 70 yards of total offense for the hosts.

The Irish were slightly out-gained, slightly out-played, and for the seventh time in their last seven such contests, outscored their given foe when the scoreboard clock struck zero.

"Just a tough-minded group, we've instilled that within our kids," said Kelly of team's ability to focus in games played close and late. "The way we coach them, the way we go to practice, the way we work day in, day out. That's the way we want them to play the game."

That approach has played an undeniable role in Notre Dame winning 15 of its last 17 games and a whopping 19 of their last 21 regular season matchups.

With an offense that rarely produces more than two touchdowns vs. a quality defense, they're probably living on borrowed time. With a defense that at present excels at nothing, they're surely in for two or three more shootouts before the 2013 season comes to a close.

And with four peers (yes, you have to include BYU) and a superior still on tap, punching a dance card at the BCS' final soiree seems a tall task.

But you have to admire the grit shown in South Bend of late.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, indeed.

"I would characterize it a little bit differently," said Kelly before espousing the undeniable defensive virtues of a so-called ugly win. "If you would have asked me last week about what this kind of game was going to be, it wasn't going to be a beauty contest. I felt like it was going to be this kind of game."

They may not be pretty, but they have teeth.

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