Sometimes in life, it does not have to be pretty. If you get the job done, it will not necessarily matter how you got there.
That was the case for Michigan State’s defense in Saturday's upset win over No. 24 Miami. It was not elegant, but they got the job done. They stepped up when they needed to, despite the good and the bad.
Let’s start with the bad, particularly in the first half.
Miami’s offense found an exploit in the Spartan defense and attacked it early and very often. The short and intermediate routes to redshirt junior wide receiver Charleston Rambo were lethal. It was simple. Rambo would lineup on the right side and run a short curl or flat route and redshirt senior quarterback D’Eriq King would find him.
Now, let’s not dismiss the talent of Rambo. The transfer from Oklahoma is a talented receiver who had 12 catches through his first two games of the season, but the lackluster performance from the cornerbacks in the first half played a big part in it.
It felt like every route ran by Rambo would result in a five-yard gain for the Hurricanes. It kept working and working to the point where Rambo finished the half with 10 receptions, 117 yards and a touchdown.
Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker and Defensive Coordinator Scottie Hazelton had to make an adjustment. Senior cornerback Ronald Williams who played a large number of snaps in coverage versus Rambo, fell in the rotation and freshman Charles Brantley began to take some of the snaps in coverage.
For the most part, it worked. In the second half, Rambo only completed two catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. It was not until Brantley was ejected for targeting in the second half that put Williams back into the game, but even then he got some revenge late in the game with an interception on a pass targeted to Rambo.
That was the tone for the defense throughout the day. They bent but did not break. They made big plays when needed.
Through the first two games, turnovers were at a premium for the Michigan State defense. They were getting stops, but not forcing turnovers. Today, however, they took advantage and forced four Miami turnovers leaving short fields and momentum swings for the MSU offense.
The first one came on the very first drive. Miami was marching and was near field goal range. King scrambled but was stripped by sophomore defensive end Jeff Pietrowski and the ball was recovered by junior linebacker Quavaris Crouch.
The second came in the waning minutes of the second quarter with the Hurricanes taking one of its first deep shots of the game. Sophomore safety Angelo Grose used his ball-hawking ability and snagged a slightly under-thrown ball.
However, MSU’s biggest turnover came on the second play of the fourth quarter with the Spartans holding onto a three-point lead. One play after Brantley received his targeting ejection, graduate defensive end Drew Beesley came off the edge, swallowed King and forced a fumble that was recovered by redshirt senior Jacub Panasiuk.
“I was definitely surprised that I came off the edge," Beesley, who missed last week's game with an undisclosed injury, said. "They have a great left tackle. Part of our preparation was to keep King contained in the pocket and just try to neutralize him and keep him in the pocket. I just trust in my training and we just had to make a play and try and go for the ball.”
Not only did it take the ball out of Miami’s hands, but it also gave MSU great field position on the Miami 13-yard line. Despite the two earlier turnovers, this was the first one they were actually able to generate points. Three plays later, sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne found redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed in the end zone giving the Spartans a 10-point lead.
From then on, it was smooth sailing just off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Michigan State was in control and dominated the Hurricanes with four touchdowns in the final quarter.
“I think the big message this week was get the guy with the football and try and take it away from him,” Beesley said. “The name of the game is to get the guy with the ball and being able to create turnovers and put our offense in a good position, that ends up winning games for us.”
Good defenses are not going to be perfect all of the time. It is just not realistic. What good defenses are capable of, though, is to bend and not break, and that was what they did on Saturday.
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