EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has tried to downplay how high his team has been ranked this season.
After No. 20 Notre Dame showed the 10th-ranked Spartans weren’t worthy of their lofty status, Dantonio lamented that his point was proven.
“Rankings are for people drinking the Kool-Aid,” he said.
Everett Golson threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score in the first half to help Notre Dame beat Michigan State 20-3 Saturday night.
The Fighting Irish (3-0) snapped a six-game losing streak against ranked teams and beat a top-10 opponent for the first time in seven years when they beat Michigan.
The Spartans (2-1) had won 15 straight at home. The streak included a win over the Irish in 2010 on a fake field goal in overtime that preceded Dantonio having a heart attack.
“Football can define you,” Dantonio said. ‘We’re at a little bit of a defining moment.”
Michigan State had its worst showing on offense at home since losing 20-3 to Central Michigan in 1991.
Notre Dame had a lot to do with it, sacking Andrew Maxwell four times, breaking up eight of his passes and preventing Le’Veon Bell from finding room to run.
“It was frustrating because that isn’t the identity of this offense,” Maxwell said. “We were in third-and-long almost every series.”
Golson was 14 of 32 for 178 yards and a TD, a 36-yard pass to John Goodman. He ran for a 6-yard TD early in the second quarter to give Notre Dame a 14-0 lead.
“He made some big plays for us early which put us in a good position,” Kelly said.
Maxwell was 23 of 45 for 187 yards and Bell had 77 yards rushing on 19 carries for the Spartans.
The Irish shook off a sloppy start that included George Atkinson running into a teammate on a kickoff return, a false start and a timeout before their first snap.
Golson missed an opportunity to connect with wide-open receiver Chris Brown on what would’ve been a TD, but the first-year starter made up for it with his arm and legs.
On Notre Dame’s second drive, Golson eluded a rush as he rolled to the right and threw back across the field on a 36-yard TD pass to Goodman for a 7-0 lead.
Maxwell threw a pass on the ensuing possession into the end zone that Bennie Fowler dropped in what proved to be the Spartans’ best shot to score more than a field goal.
Maxwell didn’t have as much time to pass as he did in wins over Boise State and Central Michigan, and Bell couldn’t run all over the Irish as he did in the opener against the Broncos.
Maxwell was sacked three times in the second quarter — after not getting sacked in his first two games — and one of those hits behind the line forced a punt that gave Notre Dame good field position. Golson took advantage, scoring on a 6-yard run on a play that was designed to be a pass to cap a 51-yard drive and give the Irish a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Michigan State responded with a 13-play drive that ended with Dan Conroy making a 50-yard field goal to match his career high and make it 14-3 late in the first half.
The Spartans had a shot to force Notre Dame to punt early in the fourth, but Cierre Wood went left and cut back to the right on a 26-yard gain that seemed to deflate a team and crowd that didn’t have much to cheer about all night.
Fans started to fill the aisles when Wood converted a fourth-and-1 from the Michigan State 37 with an 8-yard run to the outside. Kyle Brindza made a 29-yard field goal at the end of a time-consuming drive that took 6:21 off the clock and gave the Irish a 17-3 lead.
Michigan State’s slim comeback hopes were dashed when Bell was going out of bounds and his lateral was caught by linebacker Manti Te’o with 4:20 left in the game to set up Brindza’s 47-yard field goal that made it 20-3. Te’o had a game-high 12 tackles, one for a loss, and broke up two passes, playing just a few days after the deaths of his girlfriend, who had a long battle with leukemia, and his grandmother.
Notre Dame won its second straight in the series by more than a TD after nine of the previous 11 were closely contested.
Michigan State’s defense gave up two TDs in the first half after not allowing one in the first two games. The unit improved as the game went on, but couldn’t overcome offensive teammates that failed to move the ball consistently against Notre Dame’s stingy defense.
“Tough day at the office, I guess you’d say,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans’ lackluster showing will have them slipping in the rankings.
Dantonio blamed himself for not having his team ready for a tough test.
“It’s everything from everybody and it starts here,” he said.