EAST LANSING, Mich. – Ricky Jones gained more than 200 yards on receptions against Wake Forest in his previous game, but Michigan State’s defense had managed to keep the elusive Indiana wide receiver under control for 41 minutes Saturday night at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium.
Jones had just 45 yards on three catches, but it wasn’t just him who had been quieted by the Spartans. Indiana’s offense came into the game averaging more than 30 points, but Michigan State had a 14-0 lead with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
A single play to Jones, who created 57 yards out of a short slant pass, kickstarted the Hoosiers and turned that two-touchdown lead for the Spartans into a seven-point deficit in fewer than 15 minutes.
Big plays are killing the Spartans and not just in the 24-21 overtime loss at Indiana. It’s a negative trend that started in the 36-28 win at Notre Dame and hasn’t stopped since.
Spartans passing on defense
Opposing offenses are having success against Michigan State’s pass defense. Here’s a comparison (through four games) of how this year’s defense compares during the last four seasons.
Michigan State has allowed at least seven pass plays of 15 or more yards in each of its past three games. It’s not just that the plays happen, but when they have happened that have been so damaging.
- The first play after Gerald Holmes scored on a 73-yard run at Notre Dame to put the Spartans ahead, 36-7, Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer completed a 43-yard pass to Torii Hunter Jr. Notre Dame scored a few plays later to start a comeback that nearly wiped out Michigan State’s entire 29-point lead.
- Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook routinely burned the defense on third-and-long situations, extending drives for the Badgers in their 30-6 win at Spartan Stadium.
- Following Jones’ 57-yard play, the Hoosiers got a 40-yard reception in contested coverage on its next drive to set up a touchdown that tied the score. A 36-yard run on a fake reverse set up the go-ahead touchdown.
“Everybody we play has players, too. You need to defend those guys, but they have good players, too, and they have good concepts and good coaching,” Dantonio said. “In the case of what happened to us the other night, when you look at it, a deep ball goes up (on 40-yard catch), you’ve got to make a play on a deep ball. They hit a slant, and I think that we misplayed that. We’ve got to stay on our guy, and then we’ve got to backstop things.”
The secondary will take a brunt of criticism for those plays, but it’s not getting much help from the pass rushers. Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow was not sacked. There were occasions he was hurried on throws, but those times were few and far between. Michigan State has just five sacks through four games, which is well off the pace of 37 sacks it has averaged the past three seasons.
“All of these things get talked about and that type of thing, but when you play the game, it’s a little different from watching it on film and it’s a little different from watching it from the press box or on TV,” Dantonio said. “You’re in the action and you’ve got to be able to react and make plays. That’s not always easy. That’s very difficult.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo