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Notre Dame Winless No More

Notre Dame was able to beat No. 15 Michigan State 31-13 on Saturday.  The Irish proved that one key category isn’t always as important as people make it out to be.

Turnovers have plagued Notre Dame early in the season.  The Irish turned the football over five times in a 23-20 loss to South Florida in the home opener.  Notre Dame committed another five turnovers in a heartbreaking 35-31 loss against Michigan last Saturday.  Notre Dame actually lost the turnover battle again on Saturday against Michigan State, yet they were able to win by 18 points.

Photo by John Gress/Getty Images

Not every turnover is equally meaningful.  It’s always emphasized, and often overly emphasized, that teams need to win the turnover battle.  It’s dwelled on so much that it sometimes implies that a team doesn’t have much chance to win the game if they lose the turnover battle.  We rarely consider the situation of a game when a turnover occurs.  Sometimes a team with fewer turnovers than its opponent actually finds themselves in a worse position based on how costly their turnovers were.

Notre Dame committed three turnovers against Michigan State while the Spartans only turned the ball over twice.  Each quarterback threw an interception.  Notre Dame led 7-0 in the 1st quarter when Irish quarterback Tommy Rees threw his interception at midfield.  Michigan State was able to kick a field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.

Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins threw his interception with under four minutes to go in the 4th quarter with the Spartans trailing 28-13.  A Michigan State touchdown would have cut the deficit to a one-possession game.  Instead, Notre Dame cornerback Robert Blanton was able to return his interception 82 yards to the Michigan State 12-yard line.  Notre Dame kicked a field goal to extend its lead to 31-13.  Michigan State’s interception was much more costly than Notre Dame’s.

Photo by John Gress/Getty Images

Notre Dame also used an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by running back George Atkinson III.  Irish quarterback Tommy Rees completed 18-of-26 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception.  Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 34-of-53 passes for 329 yards.  Cousins also threw one touchdown pass and one interception.

Notre Dame is at Pittsburgh next Saturday.  Michigan State will host Central Michigan.

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