SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Nothing epitomized the ugliness of Notre Dame’s victory over Michigan State better than a kicker who missed a field goal and had a punt blocked being given the game ball.
That about sums up the season so far for the Fighting Irish (3-1), though, where victories don’t come with style points. Kyle Brindza was given the game ball on the strength of his fourth quarter punting, when a 45-yard punt and a pair of 51-yard punts kept the Spartans from getting good field position.
Coach Brian Kelly took exception when asked about winning ugly following the 17-13 victory over the Spartans (3-1), saying he would prefer to think of it as two good defenses playing well.
But in a game where Notre Dame had four fewer yards rushing (82) than penalty yards (86) and Michigan State had four more rushing yards (119) than penalty yards (115), ugly appeared to be an apt description.
That is especially true with Tommy Rees completing 14-of-34 passes for 114 yards and pass interference calls providing the bulk of the momentum for the Irish, who managed 224 yards total offense against the nation’s top-rated defense.
Still, Kelly said Sunday he sees reason for hope as the Irish prepare to face No. 14 Oklahoma (3-0) in a rematch of a game the Irish won 30-13 a season ago en route to the national championship game.
The Irish hold a lopsided 9-1 advantage in the series that pits two of the most storied programs in college football history.
Kelly particularly saw progress against Michigan State in the play of the Irish defense, which had played well below expectations through the first three games. It may be hard to judge how much the Irish improved, though, because Michigan State’s offense has not been impressive so far this season.
But Kelly saw better play along the defensive line, among the linebackers and more physical play overall. He said the Irish coaches demanded from the players last week that they focus on doing their jobs.