Michigan State looking for answers on defense, too

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — While much of the focus is falling on Michigan State’s offense these days, it’s getting harder and harder to give the defense a pass.

Following Michigan State’s 31-14 loss at home to BYU — the first three-game losing streak for the Spartans since 2009 — the defense was taking just as much heat as an offense that barely managed 200 yards against a defense ranked among the worst in the nation.

That’s because after playing solidly in the first half, the defense failed to finish and allowed 21 points in the fourth quarter.

“For whatever reason, the first halves are always good and second halves aren’t good at all so we got to figure that out on defense,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “We talk about it constantly, we know we need to finish, you know we always talk about keys to victory, dominate the fourth quarter, finish the game, all those types of things, so we’re not getting it done so we need to figure it out.”

The answers weren’t any clearer to those on the field.

Junior linebacker Chris Frey had 13 tackles, but he was at a loss for the second-half issues.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said.

One of the biggest issues for Michigan State defensively had been its inability to stop teams on third down, and BYU was 10-for-16 on third downs on Saturday.

Henning: Shocking how Spartans got slapped around

Michigan State is looking for answers on defense after a large number of missed tackles Saturday and the lack of a pass rush.

“I don’t even know how many opportunities we even had today, as far as getting guys down on the ground, missed them here and there,” Barnett said.

“Some other previous games we’ve had our hands on balls, we got to make the play. You got your hands on the ball, you got to make the play, interception or what have it, whatever it may be. Turnovers are a funny thing sometimes, as far as they come in bunches and then sometimes you have a little drought here and there. That’s why when you get an opportunity to make those plays, you must make them, get your hands on balls and you gotta make it.

“And then as far as sacks and things like that, you know again another emphasis that we’ve been talking about to our guys about getting up the field and going after the quarterback and trying to make plays, using the proper technique and it’s just not working out for us right now.”

Michigan State was without defensive tackle Malik McDowell for the first half as the junior sat out after getting called for targeting last week. But he made only a marginal impact as BYU finished the game with 260 yards rushing.

“Well, it impacted the first half to some degree, but we made our way through it,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

“They had three points at the end of the first half and really, probably, should have had zero. If we would have got them at third down, twice, they would have had zero. So we hung in there the second half and we will have to look at everything. He was playing the second half, I know he made some plays.”

Layne gets shot at cornerback

Freshman Justin Layne got his first action at wide receiver last week at Indiana, but on Saturday, Layne had a new number and a new position.

He made the switch from No. 13 to No. 39 and played cornerback.

“We played Justin Layne in the second half almost exclusively, certainly in the fourth quarter,” Dantonio said. “He had a good week in practice and we put him at corner and looked at him and liked him. So we played him.”

Senior Darian Hicks did not play after getting hurt late last week and sophomore Tyson Smith started. But Layne came in for Smith late in the game.

“We liked how he looked and we wanted to get him in the game,” Barnett said. “We said to him we were going to play him and so it wasn’t just about late, we could have played him earlier in the first half, too, but we didn’t. But we committed to saying we were going to play him because there is some ability there that we could see could be a special player at corner. Not that he doesn’t want to continue to play some receiver, but he could be a really good corner for us.”

Hicks, Sadler remembered

The No. 6 was painted in green in the middle of the Spartans logo at the 50-yard line to honor former defensive back Mylan Hicks, who was killed in a shooting in Calgary, Alberta, almost two weeks ago. Michigan State’s players and coaches attended Hicks’ funeral in Detroit on Friday.

BYU honored both Hicks and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler by placing two bouquets of roses at the 3- and 6- yard lines during warm-ups.

Sadler died in late July in an automobile accident in Wisconsin.

Extra points

Linebackers Riley Bullough (shoulder) and Jon Reschke (ankle) missed their third straight games by sitting out against BYU. The injury to Reschke, a junior, is long-term, while Bullough, the fifth-year senior, remains week-to-week.

Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Raequan Williams (arm) also did not play after getting hurt last week at Indiana. He remains week-to-week, as well.

… Redshirt freshman Tyler Higby started at left guard, the first start of his career.

… Michigan State has gone nine straight quarters without a sack.