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MSU linebacker Riley Bullough talks about the lift he gave to the defense against Central Michigan.

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East Lansing — As Riley Bullough sat in the coaches locker room at Spartan Stadium, he could sense his team needed an emotional lift.

The junior middle linebacker was sitting out the first half after getting called for targeting last week against Air Force. The result was a one-half suspension against Central Michigan, and Bullough couldn't be out on the field for the first half.

So he watched from a different perspective than he's used to, and what he saw was a team that needed a spark, despite holding a 10-point halftime lead.

"That was my message to the team at halftime," Bullough said. "We're ranked No. 2 in the nation. We have high expectations from outside people, but we do from ourselves, too, and we need to show that each Saturday. We can't come out and have a slow half. It just can't happen and we need to fix that."

Bullough did his best to fix that and his presence was key as the Michigan State defense stiffened in the second half and helped the Spartans walk away with a 30-10 victory. The Spartans' defense recorded four sacks, three in the second half, and allowed only one third-down conversion after giving up six in the first half.

Bullough finished with seven tackles, one shy of the team lead, and recovered a fumble.

"It's always good to get your defensive leader back out there," said linebacker Darien Harris, who led Michigan State with eight tackles. "Riley came back with a lot of energy and a lot of intensity, and he got us going in the second half."

Sophomore Shane Jones got his first career start in place of Bullough and played well, collecting five tackles, including one for loss.

But the spark from Bullough was clear.

"He's an emotional leader. That's the bottom line," co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. "First of all, Shane Jones was excellent. He communicated, he ran the show and he made the checks. During our film meetings the last two days leading up to the game, he was making all the calls. I think everybody on the defense felt real comfortable with him and he did excellent. But, Riley is an emotional leader and a very good football player, so there's no doubt it makes a difference when he's in there."

Sitting for the first half was a difficult transition for Bullough.

"It was different because I was out there for warmups, got all ready to go, but then I had to hang back and just watch on TV," he said. "So I kind of had to cool down a little bit, but then hype myself back up before halftime, and it all seemed to work out fine.

"I'm just happy I got in there in the second half and we played pretty well. There are still some things we need to clean up, but I'm happy with the outcome."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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