Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview Week 2 games: Michigan vs. Western Michigan and Michigan State vs. Arizona State. The Detroit News
East Lansing — There is no shortage of defensive backs at Michigan State.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, playing against Utah State’s ultra-fast pace in the season-opener didn’t afford them much of an opportunity to utilize their depth. With the snap coming so quickly — in less than 10 seconds in some cases — substituting was kept to a minimum.
Expect that to change this week as No. 15 Michigan State heads West to take on Arizona State on Saturday night. With the heat — highs during the day will be higher than 100 degrees — expected to play a significant factor, getting players a break will be of the utmost importance.
And for a secondary that primarily went with its starters in the opener — Justin Layne and Josh Butler at cornerback with Khari Willis and David Dowell at safety — expect to see a lot more moving in and out this week.
“I think we’ll probably have to play more guys,” defensive backs coach Paul Haynes said. “Last week was kind of hard with how fast they were going. You’re talking eight, seven sometimes nine seconds in between plays. It’s hard to rotate guys at that time. But we will play more guys.
“Tre Person will play for us this week. Shaq (Shakur Brown) will play for us this week. Xavier (Henderson) will play for us this week also, too. So we will rotate guys in there.”
Person and Brown were pushing Butler throughout preseason camp as the Spartans knew they’d be without Josiah Scott for at least the first few weeks after Scott suffered an injury early in camp. While Butler, a junior, had the edge on experience, both Person, a sophomore, and Brown, a redshirt freshman, were expected to play.
That will happen Saturday, as well as Henderson, a true freshman that has been impressive since he enrolled last January, getting his first action in the secondary.
Henderson didn’t take long to impress the coaches, though he played only on special teams in the opener. But his early enrollment has him in a position to contribute.
“He deserves to play for us on defense,” Haynes said. “He came here early, so he got to learn the system, he got to go through winter conditioning, got to go through fall camp. So, he’s ahead of some of the other freshmen, him and (Kalon) Gervin. So he’ll play, he’ll play for us this week. He’s done a great job (of) preparation.”
Gervin was the other highly touted defensive back that enrolled early. The cornerback from Detroit Cass Tech has a bit more work to do to crack the playing rotation and Haynes isn’t committing, yet, to whether or not Gervin will see the field.
“We’ll see. The safety position is a little bit shorter for us than the corner position,” Haynes said. “We’ll try to see what we’ll do with Gerv. He’s up there with us, he’s getting reps, so if we have to put him in, we will, but we’ll try to save him as much as possible.”
The entire secondary will be challenged with slowing an Arizona State passing attack that features quarterback Manny Wilkins, in his third year as the Sun Devils’ starter. In addition to throwing for more than 5,800 yards in his career, Wilkins has some impressive weapons at his disposal.
The most effective of those weapons is junior receiver N’Keal Harry. He had six receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against UTSA and will get plenty of the Spartans’ attention. The 6-foot-4 Harry has caught a pass in all 26 of his career games and has 15 touchdown grabs.
Haynes said they’ll cover him in multiple ways, but the fact Layne is 6-3 helps in one-on-one matchups.
“Any time you have a big guy with long arms that can run like him, there’s a lot of things you can do with him,” Haynes said. “But again, you go from the first week to the second week, there’s a lot of things that he has to improve on, also too. We sit there and continue to work on the fundamentals and technique.
“Justin is talented, but we expect a lot out of him too, so there are certain things we don’t expect him to give up. So we put some pressure on him.”