Sept. 12, 1998
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan State coach Nick Saban finally saw the hard-nosed football and confidence he said was needed for the Spartans to be a winning team. It left No. 10 Notre Dame stunned.
Bill Burke, whose job had been in question after losing the first two games, threw three first-half touchdown passes Saturday night as previously winless Michigan State rocked the Fighting Irish 45-23.
“From a psychological standpoint the players needed to believe in themselves and play with a physical tenacity for 60 minutes,” Saban said. “Even though we didn’t do it for 60 minutes and it was a little sloppy at the end, I was pleased with that.”
Notre Dame coach Bob Davie took the blame for the Irish’s performance a week after an emotional 36-20 victory over Michigan.
“I’m embarrassed, this football team’s embarrassed,” Davie said. “There’s not going to be a whole lot of talk about it. I think we came in here expecting to play well and we didn’t. We had no chance because of our execution.”
Notre Dame fell behind early and was down 42-3 at halftime and Davie said that played into the Spartans’ strength.
“We got behind and had to throw the ball almost from the beginning, and they were able to do the things they can,” Davie said. “They rushed the passer.”
Burke notched scores on passes of 16, 86 and 17 yards. He finished 12-of-19 for 209 yards.
Michigan State (1-2) supported his aerial show with a gritty ground game that kept the Irish (1-1) off balance. Tailback Sedrick Irvin ran for 119 yards on 24 carries.
“I think we matured a little bit today and it’s certainly going to help our confidence,” Saban said. “I think the players just came together a little bit. I think they all took the challenge of what each one of them needed to do.
“We had better perseverance today. If Rocky didn’t have perseverance he would’ve never made it past the first movie.”
Notre Dame had problems developing any consistent offensive threat as Michigan State beat the Irish for the second straight year.
Neither team looked anything like they did in their previous games. The Spartans blew a 16-point lead against Colorado State in their opener before being pounded 48-14 by Oregon last weekend and Notre Dame had the impressive win over Michigan.
Michigan State found a powerful, varied attack and resurrected a staunch defense, while the Fighting Irish could do little to put points on the board.
Michigan State opened the scoring when linebacker Sean Banks blocked a punt by Notre Dame’s Hunter Smith and Richard Newsome returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
Flanker Gari Scott put Michigan State up 14-0 as he took a 16-yard scoring pass from Burke.
Notre Dame, helped by consecutive 15-yard penalties against the Spartans, drove 66 yards and scored on Jim Sanson’s 32-yard field goal.
But Irvin answered with a 3-yard touchdown run that gave Michigan State a 21-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. Burke threw two more scoring passes as the Spartans added another 21 points in the second.
Split end Plaxico Burress scorched Irish cornerback Deveron Harper and delighted a packed Spartan Stadium crowd by scoring on an 86-yard bomb from Burke.
Fullback Leroy McFadden scored on a 17-yard pass from Burke, then the Spartans defense got into the act when end Julian Peterson picked off a pass by Jarious Jackson at the Irish 23 and returned the interception for a touchdown to make it 42-3.
While Michigan State was mixing up its plays and making solid gains, Notre Dame was hobbling itself with an inconsistent offense and some harmful penalties.
The Irish recovered a fumble in the third period, and tailback Autry Denson converted it into a touchdown with a 2-yard scoring run.
Notre Dame scored again when safety Deke Cooper raced 96 yards for a score on a recovered fumble. Michigan State placekicker Paul Edinger hit a 37-yard field goal, and Irish tailback Darcey Levy ran for a 3-yard touchdown.