Notre Dame looked shaky early, getting the ball first and immediately responding with a false start and a timeout amid high levels of noise.
But after both teams punted on their first possessions - with MSU's Mike Sadler turning in a 37-yard line drive - Notre Dame took over at its 49.
After moving to the MSU 36, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson rolled right and just avoided a diving attempt by MSU's Marcus Rush. That bought him lots of time, and he looked across the field and found receiver John Goodman behind the defense.
Goodman made a tough catch despite interference from Johnny Adams, and it was 7-0 Irish with 10 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first quarter - and the MSU defense had yielded its first touchdown of the season.
The Spartans drove 64 yards to the Notre Dame 26 on the ensuing possession, but it stalled there and Dan Conroy pushed a 44-yard field-goal try. An MSU holding call would have negated it anyway, but it was Conroy's third miss of the year.
The Spartans almost made some plays that would have given them a chance.
Those near misses all added up to an MSU team that wasn't close - exposed - just as the Big Ten has been in the first three weeks of the college football season.
The Spartans had briefly entered Notre Dame territory once in the second half by the time they got the ball with 3:12 left, trailing by 20-3 and totally out of the game.
By then, there were more empty seats than occupied in subdued Spartan Stadium. And that drive lost 12 yards in four plays.