LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

East Lansing — On Sunday night, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was asked about some of his defense's breakdowns following a 56-14 victory over Wyoming.

The same thing happened at his weekly news conference on Tuesday. It's become a common theme in this young season.

In the course of opening the season with a 3-1 mark and rolling up plenty of points, the Spartans have given up their share of big plays. Just last week, against Wyoming, there was a 57-yard touchdown run allowed and that came a week after allowing a 43-yard touchdown pass to Eastern Michigan.

And in the loss to Oregon, the big plays came fast and furious, including a 70-yard touchdown pass in the first half.

But as No. 10 Michigan State begins its preparation for Saturday's matchup with No. 19 Nebraska, Dantonio is far from panicking.

CLOSE

MSU football coach Mark Dantonio talks about the Spartans' big game this Saturday night against the Cornhuskers in East Lansing. He also talks about QB Connor Cook.

"Our defense is not broke," Dantonio said. "I know that we gave up 14 whopping points last week, but our defense is not broke. We still have the second-ranked defense against the run in the conference and I think we're No. 4 in the nation.

"But this is modern day football. It's extremely uncommon for teams to shut people out or to give up one touchdown to win games, 20-7. That's extremely uncommon these days."

However, after the last three seasons, Michigan State's defense is being judged differently. In that time frame, Michigan State and Alabama are the only two teams in the nation to rank in the FBS top 11 in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense.

With such impressive results, the demand for the same type of performance exists, no matter how unrealistic. And it has been tough to live up to this season.

While the rushing numbers have been impressive, entering Saturday's game, MSU is 18th in the nation in total defense, 32nd in passing defense and 54th in pass efficiency defense.

Pretty good, but not on par with the 2013 squad.

"Last year's defense set the bar very high," Dantonio said. "The expectations are very high. There's expectations from our coaching staff and from our players to be that dominant. But we have to play ourselves to that position and every game's a new challenge."

Regardless of some of the early hiccups, Dantonio still believes this year's unit can eventually match that of last season's.

"Yeah, I think we can be as good," he said.

Getting healthy

Michigan State appears to be heading in a bit healthier than it has been over the course of the non-conference season, highlighted by the fact junior Jack Allen is listed No. 1 at center after missing last week's game against Wyoming because of an undisclosed injury. Senior offensive lineman Connor Kruse (lower-body) is also coming off his first action of the season after playing center and both guard spots against Wyoming. Senior tight end Andrew Gleichert (undisclosed) is also back on the depth chart after sitting out the last three games.

On defense, help appears on the way for the interior of the defensive line. Junior Damon Knox (undisclosed) is listed No. 3 at defensive tackle behind Joel Heath and Brandon Clemons while senior James Kittredge (undisclosed) is No. 3 at nose tackle behind Lawrence Thomas and Malik McDowell. Knox hasn't played yet this season after suffering an injury at the start of preseason camp but was dressed last week against Wyoming. Kittredge played in the opener against Jacksonville State but hasn't played since.

Extra points

Dantonio wouldn't say if the plan was to redshirt defensive end Montez Sweat, who played against Jacksonville State and Eastern Michigan.

"We'll have to see because we have got the ability to go until six games before we have to make decisions of that nature," Dantonio said. "We have to see how his injury status is, basically."

… Michigan State said about 1,000 tickets are still available for Saturday's game.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

Nebraska at Michigan State

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ABC/WJR

Records: No. 19 Nebraska 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten), No. 10 Michigan State 3-1 (0-0)

Line: Michigan State by 7½

Series: Nebraska leads 7-1 (Michigan State 41-28, Nov. 16, 2013)

Did you know? Nebraska has not lost to Michigan State in East Lansing.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE