Big Plays Push Spartans Past Irish
By TOM COYNE
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Michigan State coach John L. Smith countered Notre Dame's traditions with a reminder.
"We tried to emphasize the fact that we have some traditions, too," Smith said.
The Spartans (3-1) kept a recent tradition going by beating the Irish (1-2) for the fourth straight time at Notre Dame Stadium, winning 22-16 on Saturday.
"The bottom line is this wins means a lot to our players," Smith said.
The Irish (1-2), beaten 38-0 by Michigan last week, fell below .500 for the first time since the end of the 2001 season. Since getting off to an 8-0 start under Tyrone Willingham, the Irish are 3-5 and have scored just three touchdowns this season.
Asked if the loss to Michigan State was especially painful, Willingham said they all hurt.
"Every loss has that jagged edge that just sticks in you," he said. "We've got to find a way to deal with this."
The game pitted the nation's second-worst pass offense in Notre Dame against the nation's third-worst pass defense in Michigan State. The Irish had a season-high 202 yards passing, but 85 of it came in the fourth quarter as the Spartans tried to hang on. That's also when Taplin made his game-clinching touchdown on his first career interception.
"It's a play that we practiced a lot this whole week, so I was prepared to do it. In the game it was second nature," Taplin said. "I didn't think anyone would catch me because I'm pretty fast."
The Spartans took control, though, on the TD run by Hayes, who ran for 109 yards on 19 carries and had two catches for 18 yards after fumbling the ball in the first quarter. On the first play after a punt late in the third quarter, Hayes took a handoff from Jeff Smoker, cut back left, faked out linebacker Derek Curry, cut left again and outraced cornerback Preston Jackson to the end zone to give the Spartans a 13-6 lead.
"I saw the hole and I ran to the end zone," he said. "I kind of wanted to redeem myself for the fumble I made so I decided I wanted to make a big play today."
The game was sloppily played by both teams and included a number of questionable calls by officials. Willingham said those didn't matter, though.
"We still had opportunities to win the football game and we didn't do the things we needed to," he said. "We showed some improvement in some areas, but we still have areas that we need to work on."
And fast. The Irish play at No. 24 Purdue next week, then at No. 9 Pittsburgh on Oct. 11 and at home against No. 4 Southern California on Oct. 18.
The game didn't do anything to quiet Irish fans' growing discontent with Carlyle Holiday, who was 10-of-25 passing for 99 yards. He has led the Irish on one TD drive through three games. He was replaced by freshman Brady Quinn for the final two series of the first half.
"I thought that by sitting him out for a while, it would give him a chance to see things better," Willingham said. "I thought it worked to some extent."
Quinn replaced Holiday again in the fourth quarter and threw a 29-yard scoring pass to Rhema McKnight. Quinn, who was 7-of-17 passing for 99 yards, has guided the Irish to two of Notre Dame's three TDs this season.
"His progress has been tremendous since he's gotten here," Willingham said. "He gets better and stronger each day."
Willingham said he doesn't know who will start against Purdue.
The Irish closed to 22-16 on Quinn's TD pass with 2:29. The Irish attempted an onside kick, but Michigan State backup quarterback Drew Stanton recovered. Stanton had failed to recover the onside kick last week in a home loss to Louisiana Tech.
"I figured they would kick it to me," he said.
Dave Rayner added three field goals for Michigan State, which had 300 yards total offense.
Smoker, who was questionable for the game after missing the last three quarters against Louisiana Tech, was 13-of-27 passing for 119 yards with two interceptions.
"His presence made a difference," Willingham said. "It gave his entire team a lift. He's a quality quarterback and did some great things for them."
McKnight said the mood in the Irish locker room was "dead."
"Obviously we're not playing well enough," linebacker Courtney Watson said.
Smith said he told the Spartans not to get too excited about beating the Irish.
"This is still the same team that lost to Louisiana Tech last week," he said.
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