MSU special teams 'as big as anything' in win

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
LJ Scott fumbled on both of his carries Saturday.

East Lansing — There hasn't been much special about Michigan State's special teams this season, and entering Saturday's game against Maryland, that unit was sure to be tested.

The coverage teams had a hard time in last week's loss to Nebraska, and facing Maryland's Will Likely looked daunting. The Terrapins' junior entered the game tied for first in the FBS with two punt returns for a touchdown, while his 18.2 return average led the Big Ten and was fourth in the country. He also had a kickoff return for a touchdown and was third in the Big Ten with a 24.7 return average.

Against Michigan State, Likely was held in check. He had just one punt return for 7 yards and three kick returns for 58 yards with a long of 25 as Michigan State went on to a 24-7 victory.

"Special teams, to me, was as big as anything in this football game," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "William Likely and the possibilities that existed with him. I thought (punter Jake) Hartbarger performed tremendously. Great punting execution, great coverage by our people in protection, snapping, and then our kickoff team and Kevin Cronin did the job and we covered well down on the kickoff."

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Michael Geiger also hit his only field-goal attempt, a 35-yarder on the last play of the first half.

Aside from a missed block on a failed fake field goal, it was a far cry from last week, and much of the season. It was also big in this game considering how poorly Maryland played.

The Terrapins averaged just 29.9 yards on seven punts and Michigan State took advantage by starting in Maryland territory five times and at the 50 twice.

Maryland used two punters – Lee Shrader and Nicolas Pritchard – but neither fared well.

"The kicking game hurt us early," interim Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. "Shrader came in and punted for us for the first time in his career. The first couple of punts weren't very good."

'I'll get the job done'

Gerald Holmes started for the third straight game and appeared to further put a stranglehold on the running back position. He carried 18 times for 83 yards and scored on a 3-yard run.

For the second straight week, the sophomore got the bulk of the work for the Spartans. Freshman LJ Scott carried twice and fumbled both times while junior Delton Williams had just one carry for 3 yards. Redshirt freshman Madre London carried four times, his first work since injury his leg against Rutgers on Oct. 10.

"We wanted to make a statement, trying to get our run game back," Holmes said. "That's MSU football, that's what we preach all the time. So the coaches wanted to make a statement and we did. I want to just keep doing my part when the coaches call my name, which I've been telling them I'll get the job done. I'm always available."

The Spartans only ran for 141 yards, but Dantonio thinks it was a step in the right direction.

"I thought we got good yards after contact," he said. "I thought Holmes ran well. We got Madre back for some meaningful carries. That was really his first time back since the Rutgers game. He'll get better as he moves forward there. LJ, he put the ball on the ground, but he was productive. He's more frustrated than anybody."

Extra points

Senior wide receiver Aaron Burbridge had his string of 100-yard games snapped at four, catching three passes for 27 yards. He did surpass the 1,000-yard mark and now sits at 1,021 for the season.

... Michigan State's game next week at Ohio State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by ABC.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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