Saturday, January 22, 2022

Michigan State's defense proves to be a bright spot amid a crumbling offense

November 15, 2020
<p>IU&#x27;s running back, Stevie Scott III (8), scores a touchdown in a game against MSU in Spartan Stadium on Nov. 14, 2020.</p>

IU's running back, Stevie Scott III (8), scores a touchdown in a game against MSU in Spartan Stadium on Nov. 14, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

Even during a pandemic, some of the same storylines hold true.

After Indiana shut the Spartans out on Saturday, the blame of the loss was placed on the Michigan State offense, especially after the defense shut out the Hoosiers in the second half and field position continued to put the Spartan defense in tough spots throughout.

“We played good in the second half,” Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons said. “I think throughout the entirety of the game we played good. ... We just got to go back to the drawing board and figure out what mistakes and what we were doing on the field to give up those three touchdowns. Other than that, I am content with the way we played in the second half.”

The Spartan offense coughed the ball up three times early in the first half, resulting in 17 points off of turnovers for the Indiana offense. All three of those turnovers saw the Hoosiers start their drive inside MSU territory or directly at midfield.

“It can be hard, but at the end of the day you have to get out there and play ball,” Simmons said. “If somebody turns the ball, if you get out there and get a three and out, what is there to be sad or feel down about? You stopped them, you give the ball back to your offense and you give them a chance to drive back down the field and score, put up some points. That’s just what it is. It’s a game that’s going to have its ups and downs. The momentum is going to change. You just have to keep playing.”

Simmons seemed back to full strength after sitting out a portion of last week’s game against Iowa seemingly due to injury. The Michigan State defense and him made key stops in the redzone on multiple possessions. 

“One thing that we’re learning as a defense, is that based on how many rushing touchdowns you give up, will reflect on how successful your defense is,” Simmons said. “It says a lot about a team when teams give up a lot of rushing touchdowns. That’s definitely something that we have to get better at. We’ve been aware of that and we have gotten better. We had big stops today.”

Redshirt junior cornerback Shakur Brown stepped up in a big way for the Spartan defense, corralling two interceptions in the first half, both of which came as Indiana was driving down the field, including one that Brown caught while in his own endzone.

“At that position, you’re going to get an opportunity to make plays,” Head Coach Mel Tucker said. “He’s making some of those plays. At that position, you have to be very efficient. At a corner position or at the safety position, you might only be at the point of attack seven or eight times in  a game when it really matters.

Brown’s play was key as safety Tre Person, and cornerbacks Kalon Gervin and Chris Jackson were out for this matchup.

”We played a couple different guys out there,” Tucker said. “With Gervin being out and Tre Person being out, we gave Angelo Grose an opportunity, we saw Julian Barnett, guys are getting out there and getting plays. We’re seeing what they can do, and we’re working to teach, motivate and develop those guys. At times, it was tight coverage, and at times it wasn’t tight enough. We’ll look to be more consistent in that regard.”

Brown’s day was not perfect; however, as Indiana’s lone touchdown not off of a turnover came when Brown fell out of position on Indiana wide receiver Ty Fryfogle on a 65-yard touchdown pass.

"If you give up a play, is that a winning performance or not?" Tucker said. "... Has he made strides? Yes. Does he need to continue to make some strides in technique and fundamentals? Yes. From what I’ve seen from him, he’s willing to do that. I’m encouraged by some things I’ve seen from him so far this season.”

One of the holes in the Michigan State defense was short underneath routes in the middle of the field that allowed the Hoosiers to slowly pick apart the MSU secondary. 

“I thought we were soft in some of their quick game things,” Tucker said. “I think early in the game, we were exposed down the middle because of mental errors or a lack of execution. We wanted to make the quarterback win outside. You always want to make the quarterback win outside of the pocket. The yards after the catch were too much. If a guy throws a ball outside in zone coverage, you should at least be able to contest the throw or at least be there in a position to make an immediate tackle.”

Michigan State is scheduled to take on Maryland next Saturday, but in a world with a pandemic, things are always in question. Maryland had to cancel their game against Ohio State this weekend due to a COVID-19 outbreak within their program. Simmons said they’ll be ready to play regardless.

“It doesn’t change anything for us,” Simmons said. "... We’re still going to come into tomorrow ready to work as if we were playing Maryland on Saturday. Nothing is going to change.”

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