SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With so much attention focused on how Notre Dame was working to replace Shaun Crawford, the last thing anyone could’ve expected was for Michigan State to pick on — successfully — senior Cole Luke.
But that’s what happened in Notre Dame’s 36-28 loss to the Spartans. After Miles Boykin’s special teams gaffe gave the ball to Michigan State on Notre Dame’s 38-yard line, Spartans quarterback Tyler O’Connor immediately fired an end zone heave toward freshman receiver Donnie Corley, who was defended by Luke.
It was a pass that seemed to be a confusing choice until Corley ripped the ball from Luke’s hands, turning an interception into a touchdown. Michigan State took the lead on a two-point conversion attempt that completely caught Notre Dame off guard and didn’t relinquish its advantage.
Luke felt he didn’t bring that ball in the end zone down fast enough, which allowed Corley to snatch the ball away: “Point, blank, period,” Luke said.
Getting over a bad game is something every cornerback has to do at some point, Luke explained. Blown coverages are among the most glaring mistakes a defensive player can make in the eyes of fans — think like a closer who blows a save in baseball. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that it happened.
“It’s going to be (expletive) regardless of your age or your development or your time in the game,” Luke said. “Now, it’s a little bit harder because that’s difficult to go through because that shouldn’t really happen to me personally. It happens to the greats, (Darrelle) Revis, anybody else, and I’m 100 percent sure they’re going to bounce back from it so it’s just something you gotta deal with.”
Coach Brian Kelly called Luke “the smartest defensive player we have,” but singled him out — among others — Tuesday to step up his play going forward.
“He's got to play with a sense of urgency,” Kelly said. “He's got to catch that football. He's got to make that tackle. He's got to stay above the cut and be in good position to break on number one. He's got to do all those things, and he's capable of doing them, and he knows that.
“All I've told Cole is that he's a really good football player. He's put himself in good positions. He's just got to go make some plays. We've got to rely on him because he's a three-year starter for us out there, and he's got to be able to play better for us, and I'm confident he will.”
Notre Dame needs Luke to move on from Michigan State, though, given he’s by far the most experienced member of their secondary. Luke will make his 30th college start Saturday against Duke; the rest of the team’s healthy secondary has 12 combined starts at Notre Dame.
“We absolutely need Cole,” linebacker Nyles Morgan said. “Every game we need Cole. Cole will be fine, Cole’s head’s back in it, he’s locked in on Duke, he’s not thinking about that. One thing coach always said is corners have to have a short-term memory, and that’s what he’s gotta do. It happens.”
Added linebacker and captain James Onwualu: “He's hard on himself, just like any coach would be. I'm sure he's been on the film and correcting those things.”
Luke hasn’t had too many games at Notre Dame that would qualify as “bad,” though. Back in 2014, he shut down Louisville receiver Devante Parker — who went on to be a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins — in one of his finest games in South Bend. Irish players and coaches have the confidence Luke will rebound well from Michigan State, which is something that’s necessary for the chances of growth for this much-maligned defense.
“Every day’s a new day, every week’s a new week,” Luke said. “The good thing is you get an opportunity to play it and erase the past.”