Spartan Secondary Needs To Shape Up For The Desert

Spartan Secondary Needs To Shape Up For The Desert

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Spartan Secondary Needs To Shape Up For The Desert

After Jordan Love treated the Michigan State defense like a collection of toys on Friday night, the Michigan State secondary has a chance to shut down a high-powered passing attack this Saturday at Arizona State.

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ALARMING

The very first drive of the season was like a Monday morning alarm clock after a weekend-long bender.

On Friday night at Spartan Stadium, Utah State’s sophomore quarterback, Jordan Love, completed four out of five passes on that opening possession and led the Aggies on a swift and efficient eight-play drive that took all of 2:02 of game time.

It was, as they say, like a fork through a warm blob of Country Crock unsalted margarine.

After slicing apart the Michigan State secondary with quick tosses at an up-tempo pace that caught the Spartans off guard, Love found the endzone from the 1-yard line and Utah State led 7-0 before many Spartan fans had a chance to chat about what a gorgeous night it was.

In our previews of the season opener, we predicted that Utah State would jump out to a 10-0 lead – but we didn’t expect Jordan Love to have such a relatively easy time doing a four-hour impersonation of a combination of Brett Favre, Sonny Jurgensen, and Bob Avelleni.

Love had a very good night, even with the two interceptions he had.

The rangy Utah State leader ended the night with numbers that have given Spartan fans reason to be flummoxed.

Love’s stats looked like this:

29 of 44, 319 yards, 2 interceptions.

Khari Willis’s interception had the potential to be a game-changing play but Love and the Aggies took advantage of Brian Lewerke’s ill-advised pass that led to a pick-six for Utah State and the game was tight from there on out.

Joe Bachie’s interception that sealed the game in the final moments should go down as one of the more amazing athletic plays made by a Spartan linebacker since Kyler Elsworth secured the roses.

But, those two picks aside, Love picked apart a secondary that has been considered to be as talented and as deep of a unit across the Big Ten (and even, by some, across the nation).

Northwestern is the only team that Michigan State has played in recent years that deploys the type of up-tempo offensive approach as effectively as Utah State did on Friday night.

That’ll be something to be worried about, of course, when Pat Fitzgerald brings the Wildcats to East Lansing on October 6th.

Josiah Scott might be back on the field by then – and some possible season-opening-game sloppiness might be more than cleaned up by then.

Between now and then, however, is there reason for concern when looking at the Spartan secondary?

319 yards surrendered to a Utah State team that finished 5th in the Mountain West with 226 yards a game in 2017?

“I think we’re all a little bit surprised how fast Utah State was able to run their offense,” defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “I mean they really did a great job. We thought we were going to be able to sub if we were right on top of it. Obviously it caught us on the first drive and we had to stop doing that. That was difficult, but the quarterback, he’s a good player. He hit some small windows, we adjusted and started playing a little bit more man to take away those windows and he was still able to complete some balls.

But he’s not Y.A. Tittle.
The last part of Michigan State defensive coordinator Mike Tressel’s comments – his reference to the 12- and 15-play drives – is why Spartan fans might need to send good karmic vibes to East Lansing.
The up-tempo style and the pretty impressive execution by Love are things that can create problems for a lot of teams at Michigan State’s level on any given Saturday when a guy gets into a groove.
But the drive that almost gave Utah State the win is what probably sticks out more than anything else from Friday night.
With 10:23 to play after Matt Coghlin had converted on his fourth clutch kick on the night, Jordan Love strolled out onto the Spartan Stadium turf and proceeded to calmly and cooly execute a nearly flawless 15-play, 75-yard drive that gobbled up 5:18 off the clock and gave the Aggies a 31-30 lead.
Love went 6 for 9 on the drive and found future NFLer Dax Raymond on two 3rd downs that kept the Aggies moving and the Spartans reeling.
Love had the entire Michigan State defense on its heels – and he had the secondary in the palm of his hand.
Love had 42 yards through the air on that drive.
With the game on the line.
It would help, of course, if the Spartan defensive front found a way to create more of a push than it did Friday night.
The Spartans ended the night with two sacks – both by the ever-surging Kenny Willekes – and four hurries on Love.
Still, if the Spartans want to get reacquainted with No Fly Zone fame, drives like the opening operatic primer and the 4th quarter beauty need to be rare occurrences at best.
Individually, some of the backend Spartans had stellar nights.
Captain Khari Willis showed why he’s a captain by finishing with seven tackles, three of them solo to go along with one of the more sensational pass break ups you’ll ever see.

Justin Layne had four solo tackles and seemed to be around every time tight coverage was needed when Utah State was trying to stay close prior to the pick-six.
But it was the way Love found seams and open spots and nooks and crannies within the coverage that made the game tight.
Is there reason for concern?
Not yet.
For now, let’s chalk it up to a guy having a Norm Van Brocklin type of performance combined with a funky up-tempo pace that was tricky combined with a season-opener dynamic combined with there being a Sturgeon Moon in the East Lansing sky.
This week in the desert will be the real test as Michigan State squares off with Herm Edwards’s Arizona State Sun Devils.
It’s probably safe to assume that Herm will apply a fairly traditional approach to his passing attack.
Arizona State has weapons – it had the 4th best passing attack in the Pac 12 in 2017, averaged 255 yards through the air per game.
The Sun Devils have studs that run all over the field who can haul in chucks from Manny Wilkins who finished the season last year with 3,278, 20 touchdowns, and only eight interceptions.
Wilkins’s targets form one of the best units in the Pac 12 with N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams having combined for close to 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
Jordan Love and his buddies from Utah State gave Michigan State fits on Friday night.
Time for the No Fly Zone-hopefuls to get their ducks in a row.

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