As expected, Notre Dame grinds out ugly win

As expected, Notre Dame grinds out ugly win
September 21, 2013, 6:00 pm
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JJ Stankevitz

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The plan all along for Notre Dame was to attack Michigan State's corners with deep fades and back-shoulder throws. The primary goal was to generate big-chunk plays. That didn't happen, but the next best thing did.

In Notre Dame's 17-13 win over Michigan State on Saturday, Spartan cornerbacks were flagged for four pass interference penalties and a defensive holding, generating five crucial first downs and keying all three Irish scoring drives. Notre Dame finished the afternoon with a paltry 224 yards of total offense, but gained an extra 115 on Michigan State penalties.

[WATCH: Highlights of Notre Dame's hard-fought win over Michigan State]

"Just giving our receivers a chance to put the ball where they can go make a play, if it's not complete, try to get a PI," quarterback Tommy Rees said. "That's something we've worked at throughout the year, really going after the ball. If we're not going to catch it, try to expose if they were getting held out there."

A few of those pass interference calls, though, fell squarely into the realm of being questionable. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio seemed miffed by them after the game, although he used the caveat of the Notre Dame Stadium facilities as a way to dodge directly answering questions about the calls.

[WATCH: Liam McHugh, Doug Flutie and Hines Ward recap ND's win]

"There are no video displays out there on that field," Dantonio said. "I can't see what's going on."

Still, his frustration showed through in another postgame comment.

"They're very close calls," he said. "I'm in agreement with that, they're close calls."

[WATCH -- Senior lineman Zack Martin: 'We're too hot and cold right now']

While Dantonio thought his cornerbacks did all they could on those penalties, they generally did a good job locking down Irish receivers.

Rees completed 14-of-34 passes for 142 yards and one touchdown, hardly an inspiring stat line. But as was the case with generating pass interference flags, it was part of Notre Dame's plan.

"This was not a hitch, spot, screen, bubble, high percentage game," coach Brian Kelly said. "This is grip it and rip it. That's the kind of game it was. You're going to hit big plays, you're going to score some touchdowns. So throw the completion percentage out. You're either going to make some plays or you're not."

Rees, though, didn't make those plays. He overthrew his receivers on all but one deep route, a 37-yard completion to freshman Will Fuller in the first quarter. Again, though, perhaps that was all part of the strategy -- Rees rarely underthrew anyone, and only had one near-interception.

He didn't turn the ball over, and in a four-point win, Kelly saw that as one of the main reasons why his team came out on top.

"Taking care of the football was an absolute premium," Kelly said. "We did and they did not."

Granted, Michigan State only threw one interception, and T.J. Jones made a pair of bad plays on punts (one a drop, the other a poor decision that led to a live ball) that could've resulted in momentum-shifting turnovers. Notre Dame caught breaks there, just as they probably did with a few of those pass interference calls.

[RELATED: ND puts faith in its defense heading into Oklahoma]

But this was the kind of game Notre Dame expected to play, one that'd be cast as ugly, one that'd probably be determined by a turnover or late touchdown.

Notre Dame hit both of those points, thanks to Matthias Farley and Cam McDaniel, respectively. And with it came a win -- an ugly one, but a win nonetheless.

"If you would have asked me last week about what this kind of game was going to be, it wasn't going to be a beauty contest," Kelly said. "I felt like it was going to be this kind of game."