Turnovers and penalties. Two things that can curse any football team, let alone a young one.
Both ended up dooming the Spartans on Saturday night, and Notre Dame took full advantage en route to a 38-18 victory at Spartan Stadium.
MSU (2-1) dominated the time of possession and total yardage through three quarters, but the Irish (3-1) used two quick-strike drives out of their hurry-up offense for scores.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke threw an interception that Notre Dame returned for a touchdown in the first quarter and a second-quarter fumble that turned into another Irish TD. LJ Scott had a second-quarter, goal-line fumble that cost MSU a touchdown and added to the Irish’s 21 points off turnovers before halftime.
The Spartans were flagged six times for 67 yards in the first half and finished the game with nine penalties for 97 yards. They had just seven penalties for 55 yards through their first two games.
Lewerke finished 31-for-51 for 340 yards with two touchdowns and the pick, adding 56 yards on nine rushing attempts. He was sacked twice. Scott had a team-high 11 carries for 61 yards.
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who was completing just 51% of his passes entering the game, went 14-for-20 for 173 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. He also ran for 52 yards and a score.
The Spartans host Iowa to open Big Ten play next Saturday (4 p.m./Fox).
The Irish came out with a frenetic offensive tempo, scoring their first touchdown on their first drive by going 78 yards in seven plays in just 1:55. Wimbush pulled down a designed QB draw and scored from 16 yards.
And then MSU started giving the ball away. Lewerke locked onto Darrell Stewart on third-and-6, and Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love jumped the route, plucked the ball out of the air in front of Stewart, slipped a diving tackle attempt from Lewerke and went 59 yards for a 14-0 Irish lead just 4:27 into the game.
But Lewerke responded. The Spartans’ first TD was a much more methodical effort, a 75-yard march in seven plays that chewed up 4 minutes off the clock. It included a 52-yard sneak on third-and-1 from Lewerke, and he found Stewart in the corner of the end zone – over Love – for the receiver’s first career touchdown. MSU’s crowd was back in the game, and so were the Spartans at 14-7 with 6:33 left in the opening quarter.
But turnovers again proved costly, though, for MSU. Lewerke coughed up his fourth fumble and second giveaway of the season early in the second quarter, which led to a Wimbush 8-yard touchdown pass to Dexter Williams.
Then came the biggest blow. The Spartans appeared to have a touchdown as Scott slipped through the Irish defense, but Notre Dame cornerback Shaun Crawford stripped the ball from him at the goal line and fell on it in the end zone. Instead of a touchdown for MSU, it was the Irish ball at the 20 after the touchback.
Wimbush needed just five plays to move Notre Dame 70 yards, benefitting from a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on MSU’s Andrew Dowell after a 30-yard run by Josh Adams on the first play after Scott’s fumble. Williams ran for a 14-yard touchdown to cap the 80-yard drive in just 1:34 and to give the Irish a 28-7 lead they carried into half.
Kicker Matt Coghlin got his first career field goal on his first try for MSU, while Lewerke threw a late 25-yard TD pass to running back Gerald Holmes after the game was well out of reach.