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Special teams provide spark for Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Much of the first quarter looked like a typical 2011 Notre Dame football game.

An efficient ground game on the opening drive. A tough performance early from a hungry defense. And yes, turnovers. Two of them, giving the Fighting Irish a dozen on the year.

But freshman George Atkinson III gave the Irish a spark late in the first quarter, returning a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown to go up 14-3.

The return was much needed after Michigan State got on the board with a 40-yard field goal, which the Spartans -- naturally -- were in position to do because of Tommy Rees' interception, which came one drive after a Rees fumble.

Rees has seven turnovers in seven quarters of football and must do a better job of protecting the ball if Notre Dame wants to escape with a victory. Fortunately for him, Cierre Wood has done a great job on the ground so far, going 57 yards on seven carries, including a touchdown on the opening drive.