Defense re-raises their bar against USF
A week ago, it didn’t seem possible for the MSU defense to play any better after holding Western Michigan to 11 rushing yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Then, against South Florida, the Spartan defense stole the show once again by finding the end zone two more times. They also held the Bulls to just 155 yards of total offense in nearly a repeat performance of game one.
On Saturday, MSU did nothing to lessen the enormous disparity between its defense and offense, which has accounted for just two of the Spartans’ six touchdowns this season.
As promising as MSU’s defense has been so far — including a noticeable increase in big plays such as sacks, turnovers and touchdowns — the Spartans have been equally disappointing on offense.
“We’re not the offense and defense of the Michigan State Spartans — we’re the Michigan State Spartans,” senior linebacker Max Bullough said. “So when we’re all not playing well, then we’re not playing well. (If) we’re all playing well, we’re all playing well. It’s just about getting wins.”
After 20 minutes of scoreless play, sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun gave the Spartan Stadium crowd something to cheer about. The scoring opened up with 4-yard scoop-and-score on a fumble caused by senior defensive tackle Tyler Hoover. It was eerily similar to Calhoun’s 16-yard fumble return in week one, which was partially caused by Hoover.
“This is a family,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “So you don’t see any bickering, we’ve got great chemistry. We don’t pit the offense against the defense and the quarterbacks against the quarterbacks. I think people are pretty selfless in the way they approach things. And just like any family, when one part of that family is struggling, that other aspect of that family is gonna come to their support.”
With 6:51 left in the third quarter, Calhoun became the first Spartan since 1999 to have three defensive scores when he took an interception 56 yards to the house. Senior linebacker Denicos Allen hit USF quarterback Bobby Eveld as he was going to throw the ball, popping it up for Calhoun to snatch and show some impressive speed as he raced for paydirt.
Eveld went into halftime just 1-for-13 through the air for 16 yards, and finished six-for-25 for 66 yards. He also didn’t complete his second pass until roughly midway through the third quarter.
Senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard nearly made it three defensive scores against the Bulls, but he dropped an interception with green pastures ahead of him.
The Bulls were more successful running the ball against MSU than Western Michigan, but still were held under 100 yards. USF’s best player and only offensive threat was tailback Marcus Shaw, who ran it 23 times for 98 yards.
Allen, whose eight tackles were second-most on the team, shot down any talk of the defense getting frustrated with MSU’s inability to consistently move the ball after the game.
“Not at all, we’re a team,” Allen said when asked about a rift between the offense and defense. “If they’re slacking, then we pick up for them. That’s just what we’ve been doing for the past two years. We never get negative about it, we always stay positive.”
The Spartan defenders played more than 28 minutes, which was made especially taxing by the pair of scores that didn’t allow for much rest. Junior safety Kurtis Drummond led the Spartan defense with nine stops on Saturday.
With an unblemished record, Bullough figures if things aren’t broken — at least on his side of the ball — there’s no need to try something different.
“We just focus on ourselves,” Bullough said. “If we score two, three touchdowns a game, we’re gonna win anyways. We’ll worry about that and worry about how we’re gonna make that happen.”