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Notre Dame rival Michigan State could be just what Irish need

Coach Brian Kelly with quarterback Tommy Rees said Irish have worked cutting down their turnovers. | LeHalip~Getty Images

Coach Brian Kelly, with quarterback Tommy Rees, said the Irish have worked on cutting down their turnovers. | Leon Halip~Getty Images

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Updated: November 10, 2011 11:56AM

There’s no escaping the conga line of excruciating Notre Dame losses in recent years. If the 35-31 loss last week to Michigan wasn’t transcendent enough, Michigan State’s presence at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday will serve as a stark reminder of another wound not fully healed.

Pain is gain, they say. Maybe it will take players getting fed up after all the last-second touchdowns and fake field goals in overtime to finally get this program over the hump.

“We want to get revenge, and we know that it’s a big rivalry game, and it’s a game that we can get back on our feet,” receiver Michael Floyd said.

The game against the 15th-ranked Spartans (2-0) might be just what Notre Dame (0-2) needs. The stunning fake field goal that beat the Irish in overtime last season is still fresh in their minds, as is the sting of giving up a game-winning, two-play, 64-yard, 28-second drive to the Wolverines last week.

Notre Dame players won’t have to worry about 1,000 defensive formations being thrown at them. Without Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson on the field, Irish coaches don’t have to overthink what defensive schemes they use. Everybody knows what Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio wants to do. The Spartans play power football with the occasional fake field goal thrown in.

That there’s no love lost between the two programs doesn’t hurt, either.

“Like any rivalry game, there’s a little bit of animosity, as well, which is good,” Dantonio said.

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi even suggested earlier this week that Notre Dame stole his defensive signals when the teams played last year. If true, the Irish didn’t benefit much from the advantage in a 34-31 loss.

“They don’t look to the sidelines as much [normally], but against us they did for some reason,” Narduzzi said. “Whether they’re stealing our signals, I don’t know. But we’ve got something [changed this year] on the signals, too. You never know. Guys are thieves, you know.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly said it’s not appropriate to steal signals using videotape, but if opposing coaches pick up something during the normal flow of the game, it’s fair game.

“We have to change our signals each and every week,” Kelly said. “If [quarterback] Tommy Rees is doing this [gesticulating], and they pick that up, that’s on us. If everybody else can see it, if it’s just in the basic flow of the game and you know what it is, the team has to make sure they’re not breached at that point. But I don’t think you should be doing undercover work to steal signals.”

Notre Dame has gotten what it has earned in its first two games. How can they expect to be anything other than 0-2 after committing 10 turnovers — five in the red zone — and 17 penalties in two games? For such a complex game, football is pretty simple. Take care of the ball. Don’t make mental mistakes, and good things happen.

“I promise everybody we’ve been working on not throwing interceptions,” Kelly said. “They hear from me whenever the ball is on the ground or they throw an interception. I’m not happy about it, our coaches aren’t happy about it and our players don’t want to do it.”

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