Of all the truly surprising things in college football this season, maybe the most surprising is this: Notre Dame might actually not disappoint us this year. While it’s a little early to say the Irish are “back,” they are 3-0, and after beating No. 10 ranked Michigan State Saturday, have their signature win of the season.
Simply put, Notre Dame’s 20-3 victory over the Spartans wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing affair, and in the era of fast-paced, no-huddle, hurry-up attacks, was at times, ahem, a little boring. The Irish jumped out to a 14-0 lead after 20 minutes of play, and then used their run game and defense to seal the victory. It wasn’t pretty, but wins all count the same at the end of the season, and it allowed Notre Dame to improve to 3-0 for the first time since the 2002 season.
Yes, you read that correctly. This is the first time in a decade that the Golden Domers are 3-0.
For Notre Dame, there were two great takeaways from this one: The first was the continually improving play of freshman quarterback Everett Golson and the second was a defense which stifled Michigan State all night long.
Let’s start with Golson, because while the stats might not show it, this was far and away his best game in an Irish uniform. Sure, finished the evening completing just 14 of 32 passes, but of the throws he did complete, many were right on point, including a touchdown pass to John Goodman in the first quarter. Golson also again proved the ability to use his legs when he had to, with a six-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. No, the kid isn’t Joe Montana, or even Carlyle Holiday, yet. But Golson is clearly getting better each week.
Still, the real story was the Notre Dame defense, which made Michigan State look about as average as any Top 10 team can be.
For the Irish, there was no standout play, no big hits over the middle, no key interception return for a touchdown, just 60 minutes of solid, fundamental football. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell barely completed half his passes (23 of 45) and running back Le’Veon Bell- who was expected to be the difference maker for the Spartans Saturday night- was held to just 77 yards, two weeks after going for over 200 against Boise State.
If anything, you want to know the biggest testament to the Irish defense? Reflecting back on the game, I can’t remember a single thing Michigan State did on offense all night. Not one.
And going forward, this could be a turning point for both teams.
There really isn’t a whole lot to say about Michigan State, except that the best thing going for them right now has nothing to do with their club and everything to do with the awful Big Ten. No, the Spartans don’t look like a Top 10 team, but in a conference where nobody has stood out so far, it might not matter. Even after this ugly, ugly loss, I still expect Michigan State to go to their first Rose Bowl since 1988, which is more of an indictment on how bad the rest of the league is, than how good they are.
As for the Irish, well, the sky seems to be the limit for this team. Yes, they’re still a work in progress at quarterback, but the defense they played Saturday will keep them in games against anyone left on their schedule, and they’ve also got more playmakers on offense than anyone seems to be giving them credit for. Tyler Eifert has probably been the best tight end in college football so far this season, and George Atkinson, TJ Jones and Theo Riddick are true game-changers on the outside. It certainly doesn’t hurt that 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood returned from suspension this week either.
Could Saturday’s win be the start of something special in South Bend this season?
It just might be.
For all his opinion, insight and analysis on college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.