Michigan State's priority: Stop big plays

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — If there has been one concern for the Michigan State defense through three games, it has been the penchant for giving up the big play.

Michigan State was hit for a couple of long scores in the loss to Oregon, and Eastern Michigan scored on a 43-yard pass last week. In each of those plays there were breakdowns in the secondary.

But heading into Saturday's game against Wyoming, it's business as usual for Michigan State, specifically for the safeties, with senior Kurtis Drummond and junior RJ Williamson holding down the starting spots.

Freshman Montae Nicholson and sophomore Demetrious Cox got plenty of playing time last week, but defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett said there were no plans to make any changes, while emphasizing that Drummond is the only firm No. 1.

"There's always competition everywhere," Barnett said Wednesday. "I know that can sound cliche but there is always competition. We're gonna keep working and see who's playing the best and play the best players."

Cox is backing up Drummond while Nicholson is playing behind Williamson.

"(Williamson is) a true freshman who can run really and move, has great ball skills," Barnett said. "He's a good football player and I think he's gonna be a really, really good football player before he leaves here.

"But as far as size, how big he is and how fast he can run, we've probably never had a guy like that since we've been here."

As good as Nicholson has been, it doesn't mean he's going to be in the starting lineup anytime soon.

"You can't just throw a guy up there — for his sake, also, and for his confidence — just to throw him out there if he doesn't have total understanding of what he needs to do," Barnett said. "Montae is really coming along. We're grooming him. ... He's gonna be a great football player."

Tough competition

One player who doesn't seem any closer to regular playing time is junior wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett.

The Tennessee transfer has never lived up to his hype or numbers he has posted during scrimmages, and continues to be well down the depth chart, sitting behind at least six players. He had one catch against Eastern Michigan and has two this season.

"Everybody is still playing … that level of competition has continued to rise," wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel said. "It's hard to move a Keith Mumpheryout of the way, the guy doesn't make any mistakes. (Aaron) Burbridge is playing great. ... It's hard to move guys out and bump guys up until they legitimately show they are just monstrously a leap above everybody else."

Senior Tony Lippett is among the top receivers in the Big Ten, and R.J. Shelton, Macgarrett Kings and AJ Troup are emerging, while Burbridge and Mumpheryhave been solid.

That doesn't leave much playing time for anyone else.

"It's hard to move guys out and bump guys up until they legitimately show they are just monstrously a leap above everybody else," Samuel said.

Wyoming at Michigan State

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ESPN2/WJR

Line: Michigan State by 31

Records: Wyoming 3-1, No. 9 Michigan State 2-1

Series: Michigan State leads 2-0 (Michigan State 34-16, Sept. 24, 1977)

Did you know? Wyoming and Michigan State had a common opponent — both lost to No. 2 Oregon.