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MSU vows to fix defensive foibles before Big Ten opener

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Shilique Calhoun (89) catches Cowboy quarterback Colby Kirkegaard (11) in the backfield for a big loss in the first quarter. The Spartans recorded six sacks Saturday.

East Lansing — The numbers would hardly be anything to concern Michigan State fans, but a closer look at the Spartans' defense could cause some to worry just a bit.

In No. 9 Michigan State's 56-14 victory over Wyoming on Saturday, there was plenty to like.

The Spartans caused three turnovers — two fumble recoveries and an interception — and recorded six sacks while holding the Cowboys to 98 yards rushing, which is nearly 50 yards below their average of 147 rushing yards a game.

But some big plays hurt once again and it appears to consistently be coming from breakdowns from safeties. On Shaun Wick's 57-yard touchdown run, RJ Williamson failed to come up with a tackle.

And on Wyoming's other touchdown, a 4-yard pass to tight end J.D. Krill, Williamson and Kurtis Drummond appeared to be mixed up over who should have covered Krill.

"(Opponents) work all week to get a play that they like against you, work to get the coverage," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Sometimes they win; sometimes they lose. Are they perfect? No, but I'm not disappointed at all. I really feel good with where Kurtis is and RJ. Montae Nicholson and Mark Meyers are coming around.

"We'll see what it looks like they did when they got in there. With our offense eating up the clock, we didn't get as many snaps as we wanted to, which is a good thing."

There's no doubt the Spartans need to clean things up on the back end and the players will be the first to say so.

"We've set the bar high for ourselves," said Drummond, referring to three straight seasons as one of the top defenses in the nation. "We only gave up 14, but if you talk to any defensive player, any defensive coach, they're gonna be upset about it.

"That's where we've set the bar for ourselves. We have to continue to grow and get guys to trust each other and trust the system and continue to take steps in the right direction every week."

Narduzzi took some of the blame for the 57-yard touchdown run that went right out up the middle.

"I didn't have the front I wanted in there," he said. "I didn't have the people I wanted in there. We did and then we took them off (the field). That's my fault. I should have called timeout, but I couldn't. The three technique got moved out of there, he got hit right in the A-gap and our safeties are going to have a hard time making that play."

Williamson, however, wasn't making excuses.

"It's frustrating," he said. "We started out the game pretty strong. I made some good tackles then I missed that one and it went downhill from there. I have to prepare hard next week and bring guys down in practice and prepare for Nebraska."

It will, no doubt, get tougher next week with Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah carrying the load for the Cornhuskers. In last season's matchup, Abdullah ran for 123 yards and a touchdown.

"He's a great back, but we play against a great back every week when we go up against Jeremy Langford in practice," Williamson said. "We've played great backs, and we know how to prepare for them, so we'll do what we do. We'll enjoy this win. Fix the things that need to be corrected and move on."