After eluding up-tempo Utah State, Michigan State defense looks to recover
Friday night, the No. 11 Michigan State defense faced an offensive style it's not used to facing.
The Utah State offense featured an up-tempo offense MSU isn’t accustomed to seeing in the Big Ten, causing the Spartans to barely get by the Aggies 38-31, thanks to a late fourth-quarter 13-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Connor Heyward.
“There was definitely fatigue throughout the game a little bit,” said junior linebacker Joe Bachie postgame, who had a team-high 11 tackles, 1.5 of them for loss. “We prepared as hard as we could, I’m not gonna knock us on that at all. We prepared hard this week.”
They did in the run game, only allowing the Aggies 25 rushing yards on 25 attempts. However, Utah State redshirt sophomore quarterback Jordan Love went 29-of-44 for 319 yards and rushed for the first touchdown of the game.
On that first drive, which occurred just over two minutes into the game, Love threw for 68 of the seven-play, 75-yard possession.
“I feel like they got some structured things on us, got some coverages,” said senior safety Khari Willis, who had seven tackles and three pass breakups. “Just about bouncing back, they’re going to make some great plays. Threw some really good balls across the middle, just some things that are tough to guard.”
Coach Mark Dantonio said it was apparent in film Love has the ability to make a pass when needed, dating back to last season when Love took over as starting quarterback against Wyoming on Oct. 14. Which in turn, Dantonio said, allowed the Aggies to have “good play selection.”
“When you watch No. 10, he threw a very, very good ball and he was poised in the pocket,” Dantonio said. “They create some situations for you with some unbalance and things like that, but we'll have to correct those things.”
And the speed at which Utah State was able to run its offense didn’t only impress Dantonio, but also defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Mike Tressel, who thought the entire team was “a little bit surprised how fast Utah State was able to run their offense.”
“I mean they really did a great job.” Tressel said. “We thought we were going to be able to sub if we were right on top of it. Obviously it caught us on the first drive and we had to stop doing that.”
Tressel said he doesn’t think his players panicked when they couldn’t substitute like they wanted. But, he said it does help simplify what type of calls you make for your defense, especially for an offense as fast as the Aggies'.
“You can't bring as complex of pressure schemes, you have to keep it simple,” Tressel said. “As the game went on we handled a little better being able to audible ourselves. But yeah, we'd like to be able to keep fresh bodies in there no doubt.”
Willis had the same sentiment as Tressel, and believed as the game went on, the coaches made adjustments and defensive players were able to start making plays.
And he was right, as Willis and fellow defensive captain Bachie were able to pick off Love — Willis in the first quarter, and Bachie to secure MSU’s win late in the fourth quarter.
“I don't know about you guys, but it felt like after he got up in the air and tipped that thing it felt like the ball was up in the air for days,” Tressel said on Bachie’s first interception of the season. “Those are the type of plays Joe can make."
Bachie said the Aggies' game plan combined with its up-tempo offense was “great.” He said they attacked the Spartan defense well, which helped keep Utah State within striking range throughout the entire game.
Which means there’s room for improvement on this defense, Bachie said.
“We gotta adjust, we gotta do better,” he said. “We’re gonna go back and watch some film. But yeah that tempo is definitely difficult to play with, but we’ll be better next week when we play it again.”