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EAST LANSING, Mich. – If anyone doubted whether Jack Swarbrick's week could get any better, the Notre Dame athletic director capped an “interesting” week with “a really nice ending,” as he basked in the glow of his football team's 20-3 absolute thrashing of 10th-ranked Michigan State in front of 79,219 fans, as well as a national television audience.
Swarbrick was the center of attention on Wednesday, as he flew across the country taking part in news conferences to announce that he had brokered a deal to allow Notre Dame to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, early Sunday morning, following the Fighting Irish (3-0) win over the Spartans (2-1), Swarbrick simply stood in the shadows of Spartan Stadium and enjoyed watching his coaches and players perform.
“It was interesting, in that we had the big announcement, and then our teams performed so well all weekend,” Swarbrick said. “We had two big soccer victories and then you come here and win this game, so it is really special.”
There are several measurable ways to categorize Notre Dame's win over the Spartans. Following a five-game losing streak to Michigan State (1997 to 2001), Notre Dame now has won 6 of the past 11 meetings, including two in a row.
Saturday's win also marked the first time that Notre Dame has beaten a top 10 team in seven seasons. Irish coach Brian Kelly comprehends what this type of a win does for his young program, as does his boss.
“It's a signature win, there's no question,” Kelly said. “When you go on the road against the number 10 team in the country and you beat them, it definitely is going to build the confidence in that locker room.”
Swarbrick isn't one to hyperbole, but he concurred that this type of a win sends a message that the Irish football program is on the proper path.
“We beat a number 10 team on the road,” Swarbrick explained, “for any program, any time I think you'd identify that as a signature win. Having said that, what (coach Kelly) said in the locker room is that it is all about (next week's opponent) Michigan.”
What delivered this “signature win” for Notre Dame was the defense. The Spartans entered the game averaging 193 yards rushing in their two victories and the Irish limited them to a mere 83 yards on the ground. The emphasis on strengthening that side of the ball has been paramount with Kelly even before he was hired by Swarbrick.
“I just love the way that the defense plays together,” Swarbrick said. “They are so disciplined and assignment focused. We have so few breakdowns and that is just guys that are so smart and really paying attention. The first time that I interviewed Brian, we talked about defense almost the whole time. I think at Notre Dame, if you are going to win, you're going to win with defense.”
Kelly, likewise, had nothing but praise for the group.
“The most important thing (in the win) is our defense continues to be the group that we committed to building when we started this process,” Kelly said. “And they are starting to get to that level that can play against anybody.”