'We couldn't stop them': Wisconsin adds to MSU's recent defensive struggles

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) was held to 80 yards rushing but still found the end zone twice against Michigan State.

Madison, Wis. — While Michigan State’s offense has struggled to score points for the better part of the last two seasons, the Spartans knew they could always fall back on their defense.

Throughout the Mark Dantonio era, Michigan State's defense has routinely been among the best in the nation, as it was last season, even though the offense ranked among the worst. With a defense like that, the Spartans would at least be in every game they played.

That was the belief again as Michigan State began the 2019 season, one it hoped would bring an offensive revival. That clearly hasn’t happened. But along with it, the defense has started to fall off, dramatically, in fact.

The 38-0 loss to No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday was just the latest debacle as the Spartans have now allowed 30 or more points in three consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2009 season in a 40-37 win over Purdue, a 42-14 loss to Penn State and a 41-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl.

The Badgers gained 402 yards and the fact Jonathan Taylor was held to just 80 yards rushing — only the sixth time in 33 career games he did not gain 100 yards — was of little solace to the Spartans, who still allowed 222 yards on the ground a week after Ohio State went for more than 300.

“We knew coming into the football game that if we were going to win, we had to be able to stop him,” Dantonio said of Taylor. “But I thought he ran well. He might only have gotten those yards but I thought he ran effectively. He surged forward. He got tough yards. There were long drives with long possessions.”

More: Mark Dantonio gets defensive over MSU offense's shortcomings

Wisconsin had three drives of 11 plays or more with all three resulting in points — two touchdowns and a field goal.

And even when the Michigan State offense did move the ball early in the second half and pinned Wisconsin deep at its 8-yard line, the defense couldn’t get off the field as the Badgers went 92 yards on 15 plays to end any doubt.

“We definitely couldn’t get off the field,” defensive tackle Raequan Williams said. “They had some good plays drawn up, but we definitely have to get off the field.”

That final long drive was the moment most on the Michigan State sideline knew it was over.

“We were out there for a while, and, you know, that's our fault,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “We couldn't stop them. It was still a 17-0 football game in the third quarter where you’ve got a chance. The biggest play of the game was that fake punt that we had and we get on their side of the 50, and then we pin them down at the 8-yard line and they drive 92 yards. You know, it kills you. It kills you as a defense. We stop them right there, we get ball back at the 50 and we got another chance.”

That chance never came, though, as the defense was humbled once again.

Now Michigan State heads into the bye week with another top-10 team coming after that as Penn State will be at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 26.

“We’ve got to clear our head, come back out and the defense has got to get its swagger back and the offense needs to get rolling,” Bachie said. “We’ve got another top-10 team coming in and that's the beauty of the Big Ten.”

Extra points

A week after having his best game as a Spartan, redshirt freshman tight end Trenton Gillison did not make the trip to Madison.

An MSU spokesman confirmed Gillison’s absence was injury related.

Gillison had three catches in last week’s loss at Ohio State and has consistently been getting more playing time each week as he rotates in with fifth-year senior Matt Seybert and junior Matt Dotson.

… Others who remained out with injuries included receiver Jalen Nailor, cornerback Shakur Brown, and offensive linemen Cole Chewins, Blake Bueter, Kevin Jarvis and AJ Arcuri.

… Fifth-year senior cornerback Josh Butler returned to the starting lineup after an injury kept him out last week.

… True freshman safety Tate Hallock saw his first action of the season on special team.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau