Last week, the Irish were ambushed by an inferior rival in the Big House and lost their first game of 2009. Ten years ago this week, the Michigan State Spartans came to South Bend to try and extend their recent ascendance over the Irish.
Nine of the Last Twelve
That was the state of the Megaphone Rivalry in 2009, with the Spartans dominant in the win-column. It can be argued that no program benefited more from the collapse of Notre Dame football after Holtz than Michigan State. The Irish hadn’t defeated the Spartans in South Bend since 1993 (!!!) and had yet to beat Mark Dantonio, who was going into his third year.
MSU was coming off a 9-4 year in 2008 which was their best record since Nick Saban’s last year in East Lansing. As mentioned last week, the Spartans lost to Central Michigan in the second week of the season and 2009 was generally considered to be a rebuilding year. Michigan State had been rotating Keith Nichols and Kirk Cousins at quarterback before deciding Cousins would get his first start at Notre Dame. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s another future NFL QB the Irish would play in 2009, with another one on deck in two weeks.
The Irish were surprisingly a 10.5 point favorite heading into the game despite coming off the loss to Michigan. This goes to show how much respect the Irish offense had garnered the first two weeks of the season and that people had bought into Tate Forcier’s September Heisman campaign. MSU was in the midst of a middling season, but was waiting in the weeds ready to beat the Irish at home once again.
- The play where Michael Floyd broke his collarbone is one of the all-time worst officiating calls. The dude had two feet clearly in-bounds and yet it was somehow upheld by the booth. Although, the extremely confused Big Ten official seemed to have no idea what he was talking about when he announced the call so maybe it was a touchdown and he just screwed up? Who knows. The bigger issue was Floyd’s injury which was thought to be season-ending at the time.
- The Clausen to Tate fourth quarter touchdown followed by the leap into the MSU band has to be one of the most iconic and hilarious images from the Weis Era. It was also one hell of a throw by Clausen and a catch by Tate, just a phenomenal play.
- Speaking of Clausen this was the game where he suffered his turf toe injury on his first sack of the year. The guy still threw for 300 yards without his *previous* top target in Floyd. In three games, Clausen had thrown for 9 touchdowns and no turnovers with a passer rating of 209.2.
- Weis was one of the few coaches who figured out how to utilize the Wildcat correctly, using it to set up Armando Allen’s touchdown pass in the third quarter. I still can’t believe the NFL was taken by surprise by such a dumb gimmick. Allen himself was having a pretty good season up to that point with 109 yards per game at 5.5 yards a carry.
- What is it with Mark Dantonio and gimmicks against Notre Dame? The Spartans scored on a halfback pass and then immediately followed it up with an onside kick in the second quarter.
- The Irish defense… yeah that Nevada shutout was definitely a fluke. They were shredded for the second week in a row and almost blew it when the secondary made a colossal mistake in not covering Larry Caper the play before Kyle McCarthy’s interception.
- Tenuta’s defense gave up 27 first downs and 354 yards passing to an offense with a first-time starter at QB. Yikes.
Sixth Time a Charm?
The Irish finally beat the Spartans in South Bend, ending a five-game losing streak and getting some of the pressure off of Weis’ back. This was the Michigan game only in reverse, with the Irish jumping out to a 13-3 lead, then having to rally in the last five minutes before getting a stop on a frantic last drive. Notre Dame’s defense nearly spit the bit again before Kyle McCarthy made the easiest interception of his entire life on the final MSU possession. Funny enough, Cousins still makes those dumb throws to this day.
This was the first game where I think fans realized just how special Golden Tate was. Without Floyd in the second half, Tate was an absolute bowling ball and also started returning punts. You would see plays like this at least 20 times during the rest of the season where it seemed Tate was carrying the team on his back. At the time, it was pretty unclear if the Irish offense would be able to sustain its production sans a surefire All-American. Little did we know that the best receiver in the country was about to be unleashed.
The next week was Purdue which was in its first season under Danny Hope and had just lost to Northern Illinois. On the surface the Boilermakers should have been a less stressful opponent after going 4-10 since the beginning of 2008. However, Clausen was banged up, the Irish defense was reeling after two bad weeks and Michael Floyd was presumed to be lost for the season. And as we know, this season was not for the faint of heart…
Other Things that Happened that Week
- #3 USC lost in humiliating fashion at Washington, Matt Barkley didn’t play and Aaron Corp was awful. This was arguably the peak of the UW Sarkisian Era in just his third game.
- Brian Kelly and UC won a tough road game against a good Oregon State team. The Bearcats were now 3-0.
- Virginia Tech overcame an all-time great Nebraska defense to beat the Huskers 16-15 in a wild finish at home. Nebraska kicked five field goals and their QB went 11-30 for two picks and 4.5 yards per attempt to waste a Suh effort.
- Chip Kelly’s first Oregon team ended Utah’s 16-game winning streak despite Jeremiah Masoli’s 4-16 passing.
- Florida State annihilated #7 BYU 54-28 in Provo to stave off the death throes of Bobby Bowden’s tenure for another week.