Spartans defense redeems itself in win over Maryland
East Lansing — A week ago, Michigan State was trying to figure out how its defense just got run over in a 45-point loss at Ohio State.
After giving up less than 90 yards a game on the ground all season, the Spartans were roughed up for 335 yards in the loss to Ohio State, forcing coach Mark Dantonio to wonder how his team would respond.
Would the loss send them spiraling or could the Spartans find a way to get back on a winning track?
Michigan State — its defensive, especially — answered that emphatically on Saturday with a 17-7 victory over Maryland in which it allowed 83 yards rushing and 121 through the air, most of those coming in the fourth quarter.
“My biggest concern was how were we going to respond?” Dantonio said. “If we had won the game the week before, we would be playing to represent the East (in the Big Ten Championship game). I didn’t know really how our guys were going to respond. What are they going to play for? What’s the reason now? Because playing for bowl games is a little bit of an intangible. You know you’re going to a bowl game but what bowl game? You really don’t know so it’s a little bit of an intangible type thing.
“Very proud of how we embraced everything, came out and played. Played with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy and that sideline was live.”
The loss last week served as quite the motivator. The Spartans didn’t allow a point until midway through the fourth quarter and recorded eight tackles for loss.
Defensive end Kenny Willekes had two sacks while linebackers Joe Bachie and Chris Frey combined for another.
“Obviously, the 45-point loss isn’t acceptable and it didn’t sit well with anyone,” Willekes said. “So, we wanted to make sure we came out and played fast and physical and I thought the defense played fast and physical, the offense was coming out hard and I thought it was a good team win to bounce back.”
Michigan State (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten) now has a chance to reach nine wins and improve its bowl positioning with a victory next week at Rutgers.
“Having the opportunity to be a senior and a leader on a team that was 3-9 and being able to put them back on top and back where the Michigan State Spartans are supposed to be is definitely satisfying,” Frey said. “But at the same time we’ve got to win two more games, and to be able to put 10 wins on a record is impressive even if we don’t go to the Big Ten Championship.”
Freshman cornerback Josiah Scott and freshman wide receiver Hunter Rison did not play because of undisclosed injuries.
“(They) maybe could’ve played a little bit but Josiah we held, kept him out,” Dantonio said. “Both will be back next week.”
Scott had started all 10 games this season and was replaced by junior Tyson Smith. His absence also led to junior T.J. Harrell getting some time at cornerback.
Dantonio also said redshirt freshman defensive lineman Mufi Hill-Hunt suffered a knee injury last week at Ohio State and is out for the season. Dantonio didn’t specify which knee. A knee injury cut short his Latter-Day Saints mission, which allowed Hill-Hunt to enroll at MSU earlier than expected in January of 2016.