Michigan State football secondary faces 'giant' Arizona State receivers
Michigan State special-teams coordinator Paul Haynes said Arizona State presents a different challenge than Utah State last week.
A big challenge comes in the form of the Sun Devils' wide receiving core.
“Last week, we had kind of short guys,” Haynes said at the Skandalaris Football Center Wednesday. “This week we got the giants. And like you said, they’ve got a lot of them -- they played six guys last week. It causes us some problems, but again, we gotta do what we do. Work on the fundamentals and technique and challenge them also.”
Out of the nine players who caught a pass last week in the Sun Devils’ 49-7 win over UTSA, one player stood out: wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who caught six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
And before the season, the 6-foot-4, 213-pound junior was named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press.
“He brings a lot of challenges obviously with his size and his skill,” safety Khari Willis said after practice Tuesday. “He’s got great speed, and seeing last week he’s capable of making big (plays), making something out of nothing. We got to make sure we cover him well and try to slow him up a little bit.”
To prepare for Harry and the rest of ASU’s receivers, Haynes said having receivers such as 6-foot-4 Felton Davis, 6-foot-3 Cody White and 6-foot-2 Darrell Stewart Jr., gives his secondary an edge on the practice field.
Especially when they go against each other, which is a commonality.
“We actually get together and kind of service ourselves,” Haynes said. “So going up against those guys everyday and one-on-one, again, is gonna help make you better. We sit there and talk about it all the time, ‘It’s up to us to make them better and them to make us better.’”
Haynes said having cornerback Justin Layne’s combination of size, skill and speed can present options on how to play teams.
However, he said there’s still things the 6-foot-3 junior can work on, such as keeping his composure on the field. Especially after cameras caught Layne throwing punches at Utah State wide receiver Ron’Quavion Tarver in the Spartans 38-31 win against the Aggies.
“You want him to be aggressive, but you got to keep a cool head in situations like that and can’t get penalties,” Haynes said. “I mean that jawing back-and-forth is going to happen between DB’s and wide receivers. But you can’t get it to a point where you get a penalty.”
But, Haynes said the Spartans do rely on Layne a lot.
“Justin’s talented, but again we expect a lot out of him also too,” Haynes said. “There are certain things we don’t expect him to give up, so we put some pressure on him.”
Unlike last week against the up-tempo Aggies, Haynes said MSU will be subbing more often and not leave Layne and cornerback Josh Butler out there, especially because of the heat.
Because of this, Haynes said corners Tre Person and Shakur Brown will likely get more playing time, along with freshman safety Xavier Henderson and if needed, freshman cornerback Kalon Gervin, but only if they “have to put him in.”
Everybody but Gervin played on special teams last week, with Henderson on kickoffs, Brown on kickoffs and punt returns and Person on kickoffs, punts and punt returns.
“He deserves to play for us on defense,” Haynes said about Henderson. “He came here early so he got to learn the system, got to go through winter conditioning, got to go through fall camp, so he’s ahead of some of the other freshmen … He’s done a great job with preparation, he’s done a great job in this offseason, so he’ll play for us.”
Although MSU had a decent game defending the passing game against Utah State, allowing quarterback Jordan Love to throw for 319 yards but picking him off twice, Willis said there’s room for improvement.
“There’s a lot of other things we can do well as far as coverage, how we play some things, communication, tackling,” he said. “There’s always something we can get better at, and that’s exciting because we know can do it.”