Thursday, October 22, 2020

MSU's inept offense wastes quality defensive performance vs. Buckeyes

November 11, 2018
Junior defensive end Kenny Willekes (48) hits Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell (18) as the ball falls loose during the game Nov. 10, 2018. The Spartans fell to the Buckeyes, 26-6.
Junior defensive end Kenny Willekes (48) hits Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell (18) as the ball falls loose during the game Nov. 10, 2018. The Spartans fell to the Buckeyes, 26-6. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

It’s known Michigan State’s defense has been stout this season.

The Spartans were the 22nd-ranked defense going into Saturday’s game against Ohio State, allowing 325.1 yards per game.

And that’s what No. 18 MSU (6-4, 4-3 in Big Ten) did in its 26-6 loss to the 10th-ranked Buckeyes (9-1, 6-1) on Saturday, limiting OSU to 347 total yards of offense. 

“Our guys executed the plan, we knew that their intermediate passing games and quick passing games were something that they were very effective at this year,” MSU defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “I think we did a pretty good job, they completed some slants that kept drives alive that we wish we could have back. The guys really did execute the plan real well, I am proud of everything they did there's no doubt.”

But Tressel said the Buckeyes were able to wear down the Spartans by running the ball 45 times and having the ball for 37:29 minutes compared to MSU’s 22:31, along with OSU scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter. Tressel said that’s just “the game of football.”

“I’m very proud of the guys,” Tressel said. “I think they played until the last second. I don't think that there was ever a point in there where they started to soften or started to give up. I'm real proud of those guys playing 60 minutes.”

The defense limited lethal Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the 10th-ranked offense in the nation before Saturday (42.2 points per game) to just nine points through the first three quarters, with two of them coming via an intentional MSU safety, one that coach Mark Dantonio felt was warranted with walk-on freshman punter William Przystup being backed up deep in MSU's end zone. 

“They’d probably get the ball at the 30-yard line, and have an opportunity to kick a field goal,” Dantonio said. “That was a decision I made.”

But MSU then committed back-to-back turnovers: A fumble in MSU’s end zone off a snap into wide receiver Laress Nelson in motion, resulting in a OSU touchdown with 14:03 left in the game, and a lost fumble by quarterback Rocky Lombardi on MSU’s 15 with 13:56 left in the game.

“We've got to come out in certain situations better,” Dantonio said. “You can’t turn the ball over … That kills you.”

Starting quarterback Brian Lewerke — who was replaced by Lombardi with 1:29 left in the second quarter, but came back with 11:19 left in the game, knows “it’s been the story of the season.” It showed Saturday, as three Spartans had a career-high in total tackles: safety Khari Willis with 15, linebacker Andrew Dowell with 14 and defensive end Kenny Willekes with 13.

“The defense has kept us in the game, the offense has not looked good at all,” said Lewerke, who went 11-of-28 for 128 yards and an interception. “We can’t get anything going. Defense is keeping us in the game, so it’s really frustrating time-and-time again we can’t get it going." 

“I feel very bad for them, because they played their asses off. You can’t ask for a better performance then what they did.”

However, the defense said it falls on them not getting enough turnovers and the offense being put inside the 20-yard line six times by punter Drue Chrisman, which put the offense in tough situations.

“We have to try and get a turnover, and we couldn't get one,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “When we get the ball back and defense tries to get to the 50-yard line, we got to get a turnover in that situation because it turns into a continuous punt, punt, punt. And in those situations, you'll never win.”

Either way it’s put, Dantonio has one message: “Don’t start pointing fingers, make sure we’re all accountable in this.”

“My message to my football team is, ‘Stay together and stay close, make sure there’s no problems and take the next step,'" Dantonio said.

And his players have received that message well all season.

“We understand that there’s been times this year we weren’t playing as well, and they (offense) had our back,” Willis said. “That’s the one thing I feel like have to do is to continue to have their back, have the trust and believe in them. But, demand them to play better, talk to them and then I feel like it’ll be fine. We got guys on our side of the ball that can make plays, so we just got to be more consistent in doing it, and I believe we can.”

And now, it’s all eyes on Nebraska (3-7, 2-5), who’s coming off a 54-35 win over Illinois.

“It's frustrating when the offense can't match what the defense is able to do when they're supposed to,” said safety David Dowell, who had five total tackles and a pass breakup. “It's a team game and team sport. We all are Spartan Dawgs and there were definitely things on defensive we could have done better to not allow them to score in the game. But we're not pointing figures. We just have to keep moving forward and get ready for Nebraska next week."

Przystup impresses in collegiate debut

Going into Saturday, the Spartans had used four punters: Jake Hartbarger (out for season with a bone bruise on his left leg), Tyler Hunt (torn left ACL), Lombardi and Bryce Baringer.

Przystup was added to that list on Saturday, replacing Baringer, who had three punts averaging 30.3 yards against OSU. 

"We may have the most depth at punter in the nation," Dantonio said.

Przystup had 46.2 yards per punt on five punts, including two inside OSU’s 20 and two for 52 yards. He also had to let his team commit an intentional safety late in the third quarter.

“I didn't want him to handle the ball nor did I want to take the timeout and tell our offense we're going to kneel on it so I just told them to snap the snap through the end zone,” Dantonio said. “And even with that William asked, ‘Should I catch it?’ and I said, ‘No.’ So it's difficult for him.”

But even with that, Dantonio thought his true freshman walk-on did a good job given the circumstances.

“He had some big punts there for big yardage,” Dantonio said. “I thought that he did an outstanding job for never having punted in a college football game. It was quite a feat I would say.”


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