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Michigan State's 'D' locks it down in 2nd half

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — The best defense on Saturday might have been Michigan State's offense.

Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun has 8.5 sacks this season.

That was the story told by looking at the numbers following No. 7 Michigan State's 52-26 victory, and it was hammered home by co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel.

Michigan State ran 96 offensive plays and possessed the ball for 38:59, almost 19 minutes longer than Indiana did.

"I was most happy that our offense had the ball for 96 plays and 39 minutes," Tressel said, "and that's how you beat a team like Indiana, so thank (the offense) for that.

There's no doubt that helped on Saturday, but Tressel's unit, including a back end that has been decimated by injuries, did plenty on its own to earn the victory. After allowing Indiana to move up and down the field, seemingly at will during the first half, the defense stiffened late in the game.

After Indiana scored in the third quarter to cut Michigan State's lead to 28-26, the next four Hoosiers possessions ended with a punt, missed field goal, a punt and a turnover on downs.

"We stepped up," sophomore linebacker Jon Reschke said. "We knew we had to. We knew the fate of the game was on the defense because we were winning going into halftime. We really had to step up and make plays. The defensive backs did a great job this game. They played great against the deep ball and, in my opinion, did a great job."

MSU's Shelton reels in Cook air strikes for 2 TDs

The secondary has been picked on all season, and it was again on Saturday as Indiana's Nate Sudfeld threw for 308 yards. But only 111 came in the second half as five different safeties played while four more played at cornerback.

"This was the game we were planning on playing a lot of safeties, a lot of corners, a lot of people period because of the tempo of the game," Tressel said. "So, we're fortunate that this week we practiced rolling all those guys in there, but there's no doubt that when you turned around there were different players on the field.

"And then you get an idea on who's hot, and who's confident, and who's recognizing formations with the plays going as fast as they are, but we can walk out of this game, and OK we're a little banged up in the secondary, but we still have eight-plus players that can play."

Demetrious Cox went the whole way at corner while Arjen Colquhoun, Jermaine Edmondson and true freshman Tyson Smith also played. Khari Willis, Grayson Miller, Montae Nicholson, Matt Morrissey and Mark Meyers all played at safety.

"In reality on what is happening with the defense is we have a lot of young guys stepping up and the other players are confident," Tressel said. "We felt like we have some veterans on the D-line in particular, and some of the linebackers. But the players in the secondary, they're young and we know they're players but it's them having confidence, and the players around them and that confidence grows and we play better and better. You could see that in the second half."

Special teams boost

Michigan State's special teams have been much-maligned this season, and though there was a botched field-goal snap on Saturday, that unit saw some improvement.

R.J. Shelton had a 58-yard kick return that led to a touchdown in the second half, the kick-return team forced and recovered a fumble late in the game and redshirt freshman Jake Hartbarger handled all the punts with a long of 56 yards.

"I thought our special teams played better," coach Mark Dantonio said. "The kickoff team was solid, came up with a fumble, pretty solid on the return yardage. Jake Hartbarger delivers a big punt and flips the field for us. That was huge for us.

"We had one mishap with the high snap on the field goal, but other than that, I thought (Michael) Geiger was good. Had a big kickoff return and had a 15-yard punt return as well, so we played better on special teams."

Extra points

Connor Cook's 418 total yards — 398 passing and 18 rushing — were the most ever in a single game at Michigan State.

He surpassed the 410 yards from quarterback Drew Stanton in 2004 against Minnesota.

… Michigan State has now won 12 straight games, the longest streak under Dantonio.

… Michigan State has won 21 of its last 22 against Big Ten opponents, including 17 by double digits.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau