Saturday, December 4, 2021

Defense fatigued after Wildcat loss

October 2, 2000
Northwestern wide receiver Kunle Patrick (80) runs through MSU’s defense during the second quarter at Spartan Stadium on Saturday during the 37-17 loss to the Wildcats. —

Josh Shaw was tired, beaten and embarrassed moments after Northwestern invaded Spartan Stadium, racking up 506 yards of total offense Saturday.

“I’m not used to getting beat like that,” the junior defensive lineman said of the 37-17 drubbing given to MSU. “Coaches did a good job getting us prepared, but when we were there to make the play, we didn’t make tackles.”

After the unranked Wildcats sprinted to more than 500 yards for the second consecutive week, including a career high 219 yards rushing by junior running back Damien Anderson, the exhausted Spartans looked like a troop of warriors without a clue as to what hit them.

“Watching (Anderson) on film, he was a shifty runner - he was what I expected, I just thought we could stop him. It was just crazy,” Shaw said.

The Wildcats executed their hurry-up, spread offense to perfection, and converted on 11-of-19 third-down plays. They kept MSU off balance, running plays in the shotgun formation and with odd blocking schemes.

For the first time since becoming head coach, Bobby Williams was forced to address his team after a loss.

“It’s just the combination of the no-huddle, the hard play-action, the traps and the hard-running game that makes it so tough to defend,” Williams said. “It’s a very interesting offense, and as you can see, it gave us some serious problems.”

Four of MSU’s top six tacklers were defensive backs, which didn’t coincide well with MSU’s original defensive scheme to stop the running game. The Spartans’ defensive linemen and linebackers were tied up by Wildcat blockers all afternoon. Northwestern runners often weren’t touched until five yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage.

Junior linebacker Josh Thornhill, who led the Spartans in tackles with 12 - and was the only linebacker with more than five tackles - said the defense wasn’t used to playing against a spread formation.

“They used that to their advantage,” Thornhill said of the Wildcats. “Their offensive style of play is hard to match up against. They just caught us off guard, and it wasn’t our day.”

Anderson wasn’t the only runner who had success against MSU Saturday. Wildcat backup Kevin Lawrence ran 14 times for 80 yards, and quarterback Zak Kustok ran for 42 yards.

In the end, Northwestern pounded the ball on the ground 55 times for 346 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Anderson said MSU’s overplaying defense gave him the necessary running room.

“MSU has great athletes and they all think they can make the play,” he said. “They don’t really focus on containing.”

The Spartans know future opponents will watch film of this game and try to burn them the way Northwestern did.

“We just have to learn from this and try to get better, because we know we’ll have to face another spread offense later down the road,” said senior cornerback Renaldo Hill, who made an interception for one of MSU’s lone bright spots Saturday. “We missed a lot of tackles and let Northwestern get ahead and gain a lot of momentum.

“They spread us out a lot and we had to match up with their receivers,” Hill said. “It left a lot of one-on-one (situations) with the (running) backs and we have to do a better job of closing to the ball.”

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