By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Jeff Smoker made up for two mistakes with one big play.
The freshman quarterback threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Herb Haygood with 1:48 left, lifting No. 23 Michigan State to a 27-21 victory over No. 16 Notre Dame on Saturday.
Smoker threw a perfect pass to Haygood on fourth-and-10 after turning the ball over twice in the final 13 minutes – a fumble at Michigan State’s 12 and an interception at the 2.
“It was great to have them put the ball in my hands on fourth down,” Smoker said. “I’m just glad I could come through after making those two mistakes. I didn’t want to let my teammates down, but at the same time, I knew I had to come back and make a big play.”
T.J. Duckett had 26 carries for 141 yards and a touchdown for the Spartans (3-0), who have beaten Notre Dame (2-2) four years in a row. It’s the longest losing streak the Fighting Irish have had against a team since Miami beat them four times between 1983-1987.
Michigan State has won nine consecutive games at home, while the Irish have lost eight straight on the road.
Midway though the fourth quarter, it appeared Notre Dame would come out of a tough four-game season-opening schedule with three wins. But it wasn’t to be.
“It hurts, it stings,” Notre Dame coach Bob Davie said. “We did so much to scratch, claw and fight our way back into the game. Then, we lost it just when it looked like we had it won.”
Notre Dame was stopped on a fourth-and-1 at Michigan State’s 3 after Smoker’s first turnover, but was able to convert the second into a go-ahead touchdown.
Julius Jones’ 2-yard TD run put Notre Dame ahead 21-20 with 7:59 left, one play after Anthony Weaver’s interception. Jones gained 126 yards on 26 carries.
After the Spartans took the lead, Notre Dame was unable to complete a pass when it got the ball back with 1:48 left after Haygood’s touchdown.
Michigan State coach Bobby Williams is 4-0, including a win over Florida in last season’s Citrus Bowl, since taking over after Nick Saban left for LSU.
“I think our team really grew up today,” Williams said. “We have learned from our first three games how to play a complete football game.”
Smoker has had to grow up on the job since replacing Ryan Van Dyke, who has a bruised right thumb, in the second quarter of the season-opening win over Marshall.
The Manheim, Pa., native completed 12 of 24 passes for 181 yards with two TDs and one interception.
The Irish lost Arnaz Battle, who broke his wrist in the overtime lost to Nebraska on Sept. 9, and hoped Gary Godsey would come through again like he did in last week’s win against Purdue.
Godsey, who rotated with Matt LoVecchio in the second half, was 4-of-15 for 20 yards with one TD and one interception. LoVecchio, who basically handed the ball off to Jones, completed the only pass he threw for 43 yards.
Notre Dame did not complete a pass in the second or third quarters and didn’t have a first down over the same period until there was less than a minute left in the third.
The Irish took a 7-0 lead on their second possession on Godsey’s 6-yard pass to Jason Murray. Duckett tied it midway through the second quarter on a 6-yard run.
David Schaefer kicked a 50-yard field goal to give Michigan State a 10-7 lead with 1:29 left in the half.
Schaefer kicked a 36-yard field goal midway through the third to put the Spartans ahead 13-7. Cedric Henry intercepted Godsey’s pass and returned it 10 yards to Notre Dame’s 35 to set up the score.
The Spartans went ahead 20-7 on their next possession on a 10-yard pass from Smoker to Travis Wilson on a play-action pass.
Notre Dame answered with a TD on the ensuing possession. Jones capped a 68-yard drive with a 2-yard run to cut Notre Dame’s deficit to six.
Cornerback Brock Williams blitzed on Michigan State’s game-winning play and free safety Tony Driver was unable to get to Haygood in time to defend the play.
“The corner who was covering me blitzed so I was wide open,” Haygood said. “I caught the ball, I looked up and all I saw was cheerleaders.”