Vorel: Sudden change spurs Notre Dame onslaught, redemption

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Notre Dame understands the value of sudden changes.

How they can help.

And how they can hurt.

A year ago, in a demoralizing 36-28 loss in South Bend, the Irish led 7-0 early in the second quarter, when a Michigan State punt inadvertently bounced off wide receiver Miles Boykin’s leg and was recovered by a pile of Spartans.

A play later, Michigan State quarterback Tyler O’Connor faked a handoff, turned and uncorked a looping long ball, which freshman wide receiver Donnie Corley ripped out of Irish cornerback Cole Luke’s helpless hands in the corner of the south end zone.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, the Spartans immediately added to their lead, faking the extra point and completing a two-point conversion.

The Irish never led again.

But on Saturday, they returned the favor.

Midway through the second quarter of a 38-18 win, with Notre Dame cradling a 21-7 lead, Michigan State running back L.J. Scott took a handoff, squeezed through a hole, split a pair of would-be tacklers and burst towards the end zone.

He never got there.

At least, not with the football.

Junior nickelback Shaun Crawford — who, by the way, watched last season's Michigan State loss from a hospital bed with a torn Achilles — tracked him, stripped the ball at the 1-yard-line, then chased it into the end zone and fell on it, while 74,023 fans inside Spartan Stadium tried to make sense of the sudden change.

Scott almost finished.

But almost isn’t enough.

“Through winter training and summer training, we always fought to the end. We finished as a team,” said Crawford, who also intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in a 49-20 win over Boston College last weekend. “Everything we did, we had to finish.

“With the play going down to the goal line, I just saw the ball loose and I was going to get a punch at it. Actually, I was watching some videos of (former Chicago Bears cornerback) Charles Tillman throughout the week, because I wanted to get my hands on the ball. That inspired me a little bit.”

On Notre Dame’s next play, junior running back Josh Adams broke off a 30-yard run.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, the referees tacked on an extra 15 yards because of a late hit on quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Junior running back Dexter Williams found the end zone from 14 yards out — something Scott failed to do — four plays later.

The Irish took the football away, then methodically took advantage.

“I think the story here is, defensively, we’re taking the football away,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “We hadn’t been able to take the football away over the last few years. We’re taking it away and then we’re opportunistic.”

In all, Notre Dame scored 21 points off of turnovers in a second consecutive convincing road victory over a Power Five opponent.

Those momentum swings — those sudden changes — are how you effectively empty a stadium, as Notre Dame (3-1) did with gusto on Saturday night. Midway through the third quarter, the Spartan student section was reduced to a smattering of white shirts and gray bleachers.

The sudden changes help you recover a traveling trophy. As he left the field, sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool — who finished with career highs in catches (4) and receiving yards (56) — loudly asked, “Where’s my megaphone?”

Judging by the volume of the celebration in the road locker room, it’s clear the Irish found it.

The sudden changes grant you the right to an impromptu post game locker room party, accompanied by the Post Malone song “Congratulations,” which pumped and pounded appropriately through the stadium walls.

They’re how you get significantly outgained — which the Irish did, gaining 355 total yards while surrendering 496 yards — and still win by 20 points.

Sudden changes, like Saturday’s 14-point swing, win football games. Road games. Rivalry games.

They help you finish.

That’s something the Irish couldn’t do a season ago.

Now, like Kelly said, it’s a different story.


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Robert Hainsey (72) hoists Dexter Williams (2) after he scored during the Notre Dame at Michigan State NCAA football game Saturday, 23, 2017 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA