Spartans host Notre Dame amid memories of fake FG
Michigan State tight end Charlie Gantt celebrates as he scores the game-winning touchdown on a 29-yard pass reception off a fake field goal during the Spartans' victory over Notre Dame in 2010.
Aaron Bates threw the pass, Charlie Gantt made the catch, and at that moment, everything seemed to change for Michigan State.
The fake field goal two years ago that beat Notre Dame in overtime has taken on an almost mythical significance for Spartans fans, whose team was considered a middling Big Ten program before that game and joined the conference's elite almost immediately after. The victory over the Irish — which was followed by coach Mark Dantonio's health scare — was the beginning of a 22-5 stretch for Michigan State that is still going.
"That play was timing. I've said that before. It was the right time for the situation, the right place," Dantonio said. "It was a quick decision we had to make. I was prepared to make that decision all week long if that situation came into fold."
Fast forward to tonight when 20th-ranked Notre Dame (2-0) returns to Spartan Stadium to face 10th-ranked Michigan State. This is the earliest in the season the Spartans (2-0) have been in the AP top 10 since 1979.
The 2010 game between these teams was competitive but fairly uneventful until the stunning finish. The Spartans trailed by 3 before holder Bates threw that 29-yard touchdown pass to Gantt on the trick play.
Andrew Maxwell, now in his first season as Michigan State's starting quarterback, was a backup then and remembers the gutsy call by Dantonio — for a play named Little Giants.
"I did know it was called. I didn't realize it at first because I was kind of talking to somebody else," Maxwell said. "I kind of had one earphone on and one off to the side. I hear, 'Little Giants, Little Giants.' I'm like, 'OK, this is going.'"
Michigan State had already won its first two games that season, and the victory over Notre Dame helped the Spartans to an 11-2 record. They went 10-3 last season.
Notre Dame has gone 8-5 each of the past two seasons, although the Irish did rout Michigan State 31-13 last year to gain some measure of revenge.
"I think it starts with, there's a respect for both programs and they know what they're going to expect in this game," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "Nobody has really run away with this, in the sense that they've dominated the other opponent."
The Irish made big news this week by announcing they were joining the Atlantic Coast Conference — while remaining independent in football.
Amid that backdrop, Notre Dame heads to Michigan State for a traditional Midwestern rivalry game.
"We know what kind of game it's going to be. It's going to be a physical game," Kelly said. "You can't win those games unless you play good run defense, there's no chance. You're going to find yourself on the short end of most of those games."
Notre Dame's offensive line had its problems in a 20-17 victory over Purdue last weekend, but backup quarterback Tommy Rees came on late in relief of Evertt Golson and helped the Irish pull through.
Last year it was Michigan State's blocking that struggled. Notre Dame held Le'Veon Bell to 27 yards on 7 carries. The Spartans will probably look to establish their running game with more success this time. Bell had 44 carries in a win over Boise State to open this season.
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