The end of Charlie Weis’ tenure as Notre Dame head coach left much to be desired.
The early parts of his tenure however, were quite prosperous. Notre Dame’s biggest comeback of that era happened on this day 15 years ago as the Fighting Irish scored three touchdowns over a 5 1/2-minute span to stun Michigan State, 40-37.
Setting the Stage
After starting the season ranked No. 2, Notre Dame was coming off a 47-21 home loss to Michigan. The Fighting Irish arrived at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 23, 2006 ranked 12th and looking to avoid a second straight loss.
Michigan State was unranked, but was undefeated at 3-0. For three quarters, it appeared that the Spartans were on the verge of a signature win.
Michigan State led by 17 on three separate occasions and looked well on its way to a second straight upset win over Notre Dame. The Spartans had won 44-41 in overtime the year before and took a 37-21 lead into the final period.
Michigan State started the final quarter with a 4-minute drive that ended in a punt. With just 10 minutes to go, things did not look good for Notre Dame.
The Spartans were on the verge of getting the ball back as Notre Dame faced 4th-and-5 from the Michigan State 43-yard-line. Instead, Notre Dame found the end zone on a quick pass from Brady Quinn to Jeff Samardzija.
The 2-point conversion to make it a 1-score game failed, but things quickly unraveled for the Spartans. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton put the ball on the ground. Notre Dame’s Chinedum Ndukwe recovered to give the Fighting Irish the ball inside the Spartans’ 25-yard-line.
Thanks to a pair of penalties on Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish faced 3rd-and-25, but a pass interference call gave Weis’ team new life and a first down. Two plays later, Quinn found Rhema McKnight for a 14-yard score.
The missed extra point kept it a 4-point game at 37-33 with less than five minutes to play before Stanton made another costly third-down mistake for Michigan State. On 3rd-and-4, the Michigan State quarterback was intercepted by Notre Dame’s Terrail Lambert. Lambert returned the pick 23 yards for a touchdown to give the Fighting Irish their first lead of the night, 40-37.
Needing a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win, Michigan State reached Notre Dame territory on its final possession. After not turning the ball over during the first three quarters, the possession ended in a third straight Stanton turnover.
Lambert’s diving interception — his second in as many possessions — with 24 seconds remaining sealed the win.
Through one quarter, Michigan State led 17-0. Stanton got the scoring started with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Reed. That was followed by a 26-yard toss from receiver Matt Trannon to running back Javon Ringer.
Quinn threw second-quarter touchdown passes to McKnight and Samardzija, but each time, Michigan State answered. After Ervin Baldwin returned a Quinn interception for a touchdown to make it 24-7, Stanton found Reed for a 15-yard touchdown to give the Spartans a 31-14 lead at halftime.
The teams again traded touchdowns in the third quarter. After Quinn found tight end John Carlson for a 62-yard touchdown, Jehuu Caulcrick raced 30 yards for the Spartans.
Quinn finished the night with 319 yards passing and five touchdowns for Notre Dame. Carlson (121 yards) and Samardzija (114 yards) each eclipsed the 100-yard mark receiving. Samardzija and McKnight each caught a pair of touchdowns.
Caulcrick rushed for 111 yards on just eight carries for a Michigan State team that finished with 248 yards on the ground. The three turnovers and nine penalties however, proved too much to overcome.
For Michigan State, the loss would begin a downward spiral. The Spartans lost four straight and eight of their final nine games to finish just 4-8 overall.
For Notre Dame, the comeback win was the first of eight straight victories for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame would ascend to No. 6 in the polls before closing the year with losses to USC and then LSU in the Sugar Bowl.
As for the victory, it served as Notre Dame’s biggest comeback win in seven years. It happened on this day 15 years ago.