Williamson comes up big on defense, registers third TD

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
RJ Williamson scores on a 64-yard TD return.

East Lansing — Some players just have a nose for the ball. For a defensive player, that usually leads to turnovers.

Michigan State has had its share over the past few years, and many times, those players tend to find the end zone. Two years ago, defensive end Shilique Calhoun went on quite a tear by scoring three touchdowns in two games.

In No. 4 Michigan State’s 35-21 victory over Air Force on Saturday, fifth-year senior safety RJ Williamson proved, once again, that he knows how to find the ball and then find the end zone, as well.

He created a pair of turnovers, the first resulting in a touchdown that put the Spartans ahead 14-0. It came when linebacker Shane Jones knocked the ball loose from Air Force fullback D.J. Johnson. Williamson was there to scoop it up and raced 64 yards for the score.

It was the third touchdown of Williamson’s career.

“It was great to see RJ one-up them and get that ball,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “He finds that ball, man. That’s awesome. We did put on the emphasis this past week, saying, ‘Hey, man, if the ball is on the ground, we need to get it.’ They understand that, so I think the guys are more aware of it and just try to put more into it to try and get turnovers.”

Williamson added another turnover in the fourth quarter as Air Force was trying to mount a comeback.

Facing a third down from the Michigan State 10, Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts threw one that Williamson yanked away from the receiver.

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“I think those were big plays,” Williamson said. “Obviously the one was a touchdown but the interception on the goal-line stand is the one I look to because it took away a scoring chance. It was great coaching because they came out in that formation and we knew what to do. We weren’t surprised by it. They put us in position to make plays and we did that.”

Williamson also came up big late on special teams. After Air Force cut the lead to 35-21, it was Williamson who covered the ensuing onside kick.

“I thought he played very well,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I thought he played pretty well on the defensive side of the ball. But big plays, the scoop for a touchdown, then a big interception as they came into the red zone. Also, I thought the onside kick was another big play. So he has three big plays there in the football game.

“He’s a guy who’s played football for four years, he’s a senior. If you’re going to have great years, your seniors have to rise up and play their best. I think he’s doing that right now. I’m sure there are some things he wishes he could do better but he’s a confident player and he’s a leader back there.”