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MSU defense picks offense clean in scrimmage

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Demetrious Cox

East Lansing — The Michigan State defense completed a spring practice sweep on Saturday, winning the second scrimmage, 43-37, in a modified scoring system.

After taking the first matchup last week, the defense recorded two interceptions, a fumble recovery in the end zone and a safety as it rallied to the victory.

Defensive lineman Malik McDowell got one of the interceptions while Jermaine Edmondson, who is battling for one of the starting cornerback spots, grabbed the other. Linebacker Riley Bullough got a sack for a safety and defensive end Montez Sweat, who redshirted last season, forced a fumble that led to a touchdown, which was recovered in the end zone by defensive back Vayante Copeland.

"It was a great scrimmage really," coach Mark Dantonio said. "Offensively, we played very well. We ran the ball effectively. Both Madre London and Gerald Holmes had some nice runs. The yards (gained) after contact really impressed me. Both guys were able to slide off tackles and get vertical with the football. (Connor) Cook was very sharp."

The offense had decent numbers but turned the ball over on three straight drives late in the scrimmage.

Cook completed 17-of-26 throws for 178 yards and a touchdown but threw two interceptions. Damion Terry was 6-of-10 passing for 52 yards and a touchdown while Tyler O'Connor was 3-of-7 for 25 yards.

The ground was solid, gaining 208 yards led by Madre London, who had 18 carries for 100 yards, including runs of 29, 18 and 16 yards. London also scored on runs of 1 and 2 yards. Gerald Holmes rushed 12 times for 45 yards, including a long of 16 yards. DeAnthony Arnett made seven catches for 46 yards to lead the receivers, followed by Macgarrett Kings Jr. (4 for 39 yards), Jamal Lyles (3 for 57, one TD) and AJ Troup (3 for 42).

"Jamal Lyles made some plays in the passing game," Dantonio said. "Macgarrett Kings made plays as well and I thought R.J. Shelton and AJ Troup played well. The offensive line didn't give up many sacks either. We had zero turnovers until the very end of the game, then things sort of turned."

With the offense leading, 31-21, Bullough's safety got the comeback rolling before Cook was intercepted by Edmondson, who ran the ball back 32 yards to the 4-yard line to give the defense its first lead, 33-31.

"It really was a great pick by (Jermaine Edmondson) and he ran it back to the 4-yard line," Dantonio said. "The offense committed three turnovers late, two in 'coming out' situations from the goal line, and that's why the defense won the game."

Later, Sweat knocked the ball loose from Nick Tompkins at the goal line and it was picked up in the end zone by Copeland.

The first-team offense responded by driving the ball to the 17-yard line, but the defense forced a turnover for the third consecutive series as McDowell picked off a Cook pass on third-and-9 to make it 43-31. The offense closed the scrimmage on a five-play, 25-yard drive capped by a 2-yard rushing TD by London.

"There were some great individual plays, and I saw a lot of positive things on both sides of the ball," Dantonio said. "There also was some great hitting in this scrimmage. Defensively, Tyriq Thompson, Shane Jones and Vayante Copeland all took steps forward. Those are three guys you haven't heard as much about this spring, but they had very solid scrimmages today."

Safety Montae Nicholson led the defense with 10 tackles, while defensive back Demetrious Cox had eight stops with a pass break-up. Jones had six tackles and Darien Harris had five.

"Defensively, we came out slow," senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. "Obviously, we want to play a complete game; however, it's not how you start, but rather how you finish. The offense definitely held the upper hand in the first half, but we competed in the second half and showed the world how 'Spartan Dawgs' play defense. Our defensive depth is a strength because there's no drop off. Guys just come in and compete. I'm biased but I think the defensive line is the strongest part of our defense."

Michigan State continues spring practice on Tuesday and things conclude next Saturday with the spring game at 2 p.m. at Spartan Stadium. The teams will split into Green and White teams with the seniors drafting squads on Wednesday.

"We'll have one more big, full-contact practice on Tuesday," Dantonio said. "So we'll try to get a lot of things done that day. Thursday we'll practice in shorts, then Saturday, we'll play the Green and White game in the stadium. So it will be an exciting spring game, and we look for a great crowd."