NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — If Mark Dantonio needs help explaining to his team how costly penalties can be, all he needs to do is bring up the last time Michigan State faced Notre Dame.
The Spartans lost 17-13 in 2013 in what ended up being their only defeat that season. It happened in large part because Michigan State was flagged 10 times for 115 yards. Now the 12th-ranked Spartans take on the Irish again this weekend — and Michigan State is trying to clean up many of the same problems with penalties after a sloppy season opener.
“Coach ‘D’ was not happy at all,” defensive back Demetrious Cox said. “Over the bye week we did a lot of disciplinary things.”
Michigan State had plenty to work on during its open week on the schedule after a 28-13 win over Furman on Sept. 2. The Spartans were penalized 10 times for 120 yards against the FCS opponent — not exactly the type of discipline they’ll need against tougher competition.
It was quite a variety of infractions. Michigan State was called for holding four times and pass interference twice. Throw in three personal fouls, and the Spartans gave away a lot of yards in a game they were expected to win handily.
“I think offensively speaking, we halted two of our drives when we were driving the ball and everything and we felt that we would have gone down and scored if we didn’t have a 10- or 15-yard penalty,” quarterback Tyler O’Connor said.
The 2013 game at Notre Dame was even worse, since the penalties led to a loss that ultimately kept the Spartans from a possible national title shot.
In that defeat three years ago, Michigan State was called for pass interference four times. Notre Dame had 14 first downs in that game, and half of them came via penalties.
The Irish certainly weren’t shy about testing Michigan State deep that day.
“Twenty times,” Dantonio said Tuesday.
It may have felt like even more at the time.
“From my perspective, we made plays. You know, flags came out a little bit, but from my perspective, we made plays on the ball,” Dantonio said. “Sometimes those are bang-bang type situations where you’re trying to — everybody’s trying to do the right thing, so not looking backward. But at the same time, regardless of what happens, you need to move on and play the next play. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Michigan State will have another shot against the 18th-ranked Irish on Saturday, but although the 2013 game against Notre Dame stung, the more recent concern is the performance against Furman. The Spartans have had plenty of time to address the problems they had that night, when they underwhelmed amid all those penalty flags. O’Connor noticed that the penalties seemed similar, in a way.
“They weren’t mental errors. They weren’t jumping offsides, delay of games, illegal formations or things like that,” O’Connor said. “They were more technique and kind of just being dumb. I think we had a late hit maybe and a couple holding penalties. So whether that’s technique or getting used to how the refs are calling the game, I’m not sure.”
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