Irish drop to 0-3 against Big Ten
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
The Big Ten Conference again proved to be bad news for the Irish football team.
Notre Dame came away just shy of victory for the third straight week against a Big Ten team, giving up 16 points in the fourth quarter to lose 23-13 to Michigan State.
Despite near-stellar play by the defensive and special teams units, the offense's inability to hold onto the ball became a crucial factor late in the game. Five Notre Dame turnovers, lack of a rushing game and a questionable coaching call to punt on a fourth-and-one combined to hand Notre Dame its third loss.
"I was proud of this team all week in practice, but unfortunately there are no guarantees, especially when you're playing a good football team," Irish head coach Bob Davie said. "One thing you can guarantee is that when you have five turnovers, you're not going to win."
With 5:44 left in the game, Notre Dame senior Jim Sanson kicked a 34-yard field goal to tie the score. At that point, it appeared that the outcome might not be decided until the final play.
As Michigan State took over on offense, its first pass fell incomplete — nearly being intercepted by Notre Dame sophomore Tyreo Harrison. Spartan quarterback Bill Burke's next pass was broken up by sophomore cornerback Clifford Jefferson.
Then the tide turned in favor of Michigan State. Burke sent a straight shot to Gari Scott down the sideline. Notre Dame free safety Deke Cooper was unable to get the tackle and Scott ran the ball into the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.
"We had gotten some momentum going," Davie said. "And then he takes the thing 80 yards. That kind of lets the air out of you."
Now behind 20-13, the Irish got the ball. Tailback Terrance Howard returned the kickoff to the Notre Dame 19-yard line. Sophomore Tony Fisher then ran the ball six yards to the 25. Quarterback Jarious Jackson completed an 11-yard pass to senior Raki Nelson for a first down.
Nelson snagged another reception to make it second and three. Fisher carried the ball two yards, giving the Irish the ball at their own 41-yard line for a third-and-one. Davie chose to pass, but Jackson's throw was incomplete — bringing the decision of whether to punt the ball or go for it on fourth-and-one.
With 3:16 remaining in the game and the Spartans leading by a touchdown, Davie made the call to punt the ball away — an iffy decision at best in the eyes of many Irish fans.
"Whatever you do is the wrong thing to do if it doesn't work," Michigan State head coach Nick Saban said. "That's the life of a coach."
Notre Dame's defense — which had held fast most of the day — was unable to stop Michigan State's offense. Saban's squad brought the ball close enough to the end zone for kicker Paul Edinger to put three more points on the board, kicking a 31-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining. Edinger's boot gave the Spartans a 23-13 advantage. It also sunk any lingering hopes of an Irish comeback and a BCS berth at season's end.
"Anytime you lose a close game and you give everything that you have, it's tough," junior defensive end Grant Irons said. "We're going to stick together, and that's all we can do."
Neither team reached the end zone in the first quarter. The Spartans had the first score of the game with 14:49 remaining in the second quarter. An 80-yard drive on seven plays, it was capped off by a 23-yard reception by Burress and an 8-yard touchdown pass from Burke to Baker. Edinger's kick was good to make it 7-0 Spartans.
The Irish failed to capitalize on a big special teams play by walk-on senior Johnathan Hebert. Hebert blocked Spartans' Craig Jarrett's punt, which was recovered by Irish junior Tony Driver at the Michigan State 28. Jackson, however, fumbled the ball several plays later and the Spartans recovered the ball at their own 23.
With 31 seconds left in the half, Irish linebacker Antony Denman hit tailback Lloyd Clemens, causing him to fumble. The ball was recovered by Irons at the Michigan State 28-yard line and returned the ball two yards before being tackled by Clemons.
"That was just a blitz," Denman said. "I saw the backs coming through the middle and put my helmet on the ball. I was just trying to make something happen."
The Irish recovered from the clock management problems which they faced against Michigan and Purdue as they reached the end zone 22 seconds later. The three-play drive was keyed by an 11-yard pass from Jackson to senior Bobby Brown, and a 14-yard touchdown reception by Brown.
The rest of the points before Michigan State's 80-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter came on field goals. Edinger kicked two field goals for MSU, as did Jim Sanson for Notre Dame.
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 20, 1999