After a big victory over Michigan that assured its No. 1 ranking for a second week, it seems odd to talk about Notre Dame's need to pick up the pieces.

But that's what the Irish defense has been trying to do this week in preparing for 24th-ranked Michigan State.The defense was supposed to carry this team until sophomore quarterback Rick Mirer gained confidence and poise as the season wore on.

Instead, Michigan's Jon Vaughn rushed for 201 yards as the Wolverines picked up 443 total yards and outplayed Notre Dame in the second and third quarters Saturday.

It took the late heroics of the Irish offense, led by Mirer, to pull out a 28-24 triumph.

For his efforts under fire, Mirer gained the accolades of the national media and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

For the defense, particularly the front seven who were heralded as Notre Dame's biggest strength this year, this week has meant forgetting about the preseason press clippings and getting down to work.

"I think we're going to have a little gut check," said senior outside linebacker Scott Kowalkowski.