Sometimes in life, it doesn’t have to be pretty. If you get the job done, it doesn’t necessarily matter how you got there.
This was the case for the Michigan State defense in Saturday’s surprise victory over No.24 Miami. It wasn’t fancy, but they got the job done. They stepped in when they needed it, despite the good and the bad.
Let’s start with the bad, especially in the first half.
The Miami offense found a feat in the Spartan defense and attacked it early and very often. The short and intermediate routes to Redshirt’s junior catcher Charleston Rambo were lethal. It was simple. Rambo would line up on the right side and run a short loop or flat course and redshirt senior quarterback D’Eriq King would find him.
Now, let’s not dismiss Rambo’s talent. The Oklahoma transfer is a talented wide receiver who had 12 catches in his first two games of the season, but poor first-half cornerback performance played a big part.
It looked like every road Rambo took would result in a five-yard gain for the Hurricanes. He continued to work and work to the point where Rambo finished the halftime 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 lot of shots in the cover against Rambo fell into the rotation and rookie Charles Brantley started taking some of the shots in the cover.
For the most part, it worked. In the second half, Rambo made just two catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t until Brantley was ejected for aiming in the second half that Williams came back into the game, but even then he got revenge late in the game with an interception on a targeted pass to Rambo.
It was the tone of the defense throughout the day. They bent but did not break. They made big plays when needed.
In the first two games, the turnovers were big for the Michigan state defense. They were getting saves, but not forcing turnovers. Today, however, they took the opportunity and forced four turnovers in Miami, leaving short fields and swings of momentum for the MSU offensive.
The first happened on the first trip. Miami was walking and was close to the shooting range. King rushed in but was stripped by second-year defensive end Jeff Pietrowski and the ball was picked up by junior linebacker Quavaris Crouch.
The second came in the dying minutes of the second quarter as the Hurricanes landed one of their first deep shots of the game. Second-year safety Angelo Grose used his ball peddling ability and caught a slightly undershot ball.
However, MSU’s biggest turnover came in the second game of the fourth quarter, with the Spartans maintaining a three-point lead. One play after Brantley received his targeting ejection, graduating defensive end Drew Beesley came out of the rim, swallowed King and forced a fumble which was picked up by senior redshirt Jacub Panasiuk.
“I was really surprised to come off the edge,” said Beesley, who missed last week’s game with an undisclosed injury. âThey have a great left tackle. Part of our preparation was to keep King confined in the pocket and just try to neutralize him and keep him in the pocket. I just have confidence in my training and we just had to make a play. and try to get the ball.
Not only did that take the ball out of Miami’s hands, it also gave MSU a great field position at Miami’s 13-yard line. Despite the previous two turnovers, this was the first they were able to generate points. Three games later, second-year quarterback Payton Thorne found junior wide receiver Jayden Reed in the end zone, giving the Spartans a 10-point lead.
From then on, navigation went smoothly off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Michigan State was in control and led the Hurricanes with four TDs in the final quarter.
âI think the big message this week was to bring the guy with the football and try to take it away from him,â Beesley said. “The name of the game is having the guy with the ball and being able to create turnovers and put our offense in good position, it ends up winning games for us.”
Good defenses won’t always be perfect. It is just not realistic. What good defenses are capable of, however, is bending and not breaking, and that’s what they did on Saturday.
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