A Big Ten team drove on the University of Notre Dame football team Saturday, intent on a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
Just like last week, when the University of Michigan scored a late touchdown to topple the favored Irish 38-34.
But this time, Notre Dame flipped the script on visiting Michigan State University. Strong safety Kyle McCarthy intercepted a pass from the Spartans' Kirk Cousins at the Notre Dame 4 yard line, sealing a topsy-turvy 33-30 win.
"Gray hairs are going to start popping up," Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate said of watching his team's defense go down to the wire for the second straight week.
Tate, who caught seven passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, stepped up after fellow wideout Michael Floyd went down to injury early in the contest. Coach Charlie Weis said it appears that Floyd, who caught a touchdown pass in the first half and had four receiving touchdowns entering the game, has a broken clavicle.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen set a Notre Dame record with his fourth straight 300-yard passing game, finishing with exactly 300 through the air on 22-of-31 passing, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"He's really evolved, not just into a good football player, but into a leader of the team," Weis said of Clausen.
Notre Dame relinquished the lead late in the first half and midway through the fourth before mounting its comeback.
"They got down; it didn't faze them. They just kept on playing," Weis said. "It's a different team than I've had. This team expects that they're going to come back."
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio knew that his team faced a stiff challenge coming off of a home loss to Central Michigan.
"You can see the experience on that football team," Dantonio said of the Irish.
A fifth-year senior, McCarthy said his familiarity with offenses and their schemes helps him on plays like that last interception. He has three picks in three games for the 2-1 Irish.
"It was freakishly similar," McCarthy said when asked to compare the Spartans' final drive to Michigan's successful one last week. "Just in the right spot at the right time, I guess."
McCarthy's heroics capped a wild contest that saw Notre Dame battle back from a 30-26 deficit. Clausen connected on a bomb to Tate for a 33-yard touchdown with a little more than five minutes remaining for what proved to be the final margin.
Michigan State had taken the lead on a 17-yard strike from Cousins to Blair White.
Trailing 17-16 at halftime, Notre Dame looked sharp in the third quarter with a nifty 5-yard touchdown pass from halfback Armando Allen, operating out of the direct-snap wildcat formation, to receiver Robby Parris. Kicker Nick Tausch added a 46-yard field goal to push the lead to 26-17.
Michigan State answered with an eight-play, 70-yard drive for a 7-yard touchdown run by Larry Caper, but Notre Dame lineman Ethan Johnson blocked the extra point, leaving Notre Dame ahead 26-23.
The Irish looked unstoppable at the outset. Weis went with a five-wide set that exploited Michigan State all over the field. On Notre Dame's opening drive, Clausen stepped up nicely to avoid pressure and found tight end Kyle Rudolph all along on the left sideline for a 52-yard gain. After an 8-yard swing pass to Rudolph, Allen sprinted up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown on a direct snap from the wildcat formation.
Following a Michigan State field goal, Clausen, again from the five-wide set, completed four straight passes, the last a beautiful 22-yard deep out for a score to Floyd. Even though the extra point failed, it looked like smooth sailing for the Irish.
But the Spartans had other ideas as they scrapped their way back, aided along the way by a slew of Notre Dame penalties, including two personal fouls on a four-play, 80-yard drive that ended on a trick-play touchdown. Wide receiver Keyshawn Martin took a handoff, rolled right and hit wide-open White for a 30-yard score.
Michigan State kept the Irish off-guard with a successful onside kick, but couldn't capitalize as Notre Dame linebacker Toryan Smith recovered a fumble caused by defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore.
Notre Dame responded with a field goal, but Michigan State answered again, with Caper carrying 11 yards to the Notre Dame 3, and then plunging in from a yard out to give the visitors a 17-16 halftime lead.
Allen gained 115 yards on 23 carries, reaching the century mark in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Rudolph caught six passes for 95 yards.
Michigan State outgained Notre Dame on the day, finishing with 459 yards of total offense, 354 through the air, to Notre Dame's 437.
Notre Dame travels to Purdue next week. Like Michigan State last week, the Boilermakers suffered a bad loss at home, falling 28-21 to Northern Illinois.