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Breaking down the defense versus Penn State

The MSU defense is proving that it is one of the nation’s best

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With the season on the line, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans delivered yet another big time win against a ranked opponent. With dominant defense and enough offense, the Spartans were able to come away with a 21-17 victory over Penn State and have their confidence back heading into a big rivalry game.

What Went Wrong

Poor tackling leading to chunk plays

I have to say, not much went wrong for the MSU defense in this game. They were outstanding and, just like every week, kept the Spartans in the game long enough for the offense to have a chance to score late. However, if you did have to pick one thing the Spartans weren’t great at, it was poor tackling, which led to some chunk plays for PSU. Really it was just a couple of plays. The first big run, Miles Sanders went untouched before being tripped up in the red zone, so that is just one of the best offenses in the country doing what it does best. However, on the second big run, Miles Sanders made the Spartans look foolish. He looked like Saquon Barkley and no one in the Big Ten wants to see that. The Spartans also missed some tackles on short underneath routes, which led to extra yardage, but nothing too big. Obviously, the Spartans don’t want to miss any tackles, but overall, it was an outstanding defensive performance for the Spartans.

What worked

Pass defense

When you can hold a top 10 scoring offense to just 192 yards through the air and 17 points, you deserve to win the game. Trace McSorley is one of, if not the best quarterback in the Big Ten, and the Spartans made him look like an average player. That’s not easy to do, especially on the road against a top 10 opponent. McSorley completed just 59 percent of his passes, threw one touchdown and lost a fumble in the game. A big reason for the Spartans’ success was the pressure they got on the quarterback. MSU had four pass deflections, one quarterback hurry and one sack in the game. However, it felt like the Spartans were making McSorley leave the pocket and throw on the run. When the defensive line can consistently create pressure, it allows the defensive backs to play tighter in coverage because they know they won’t have to cover for a long period of time. McSorley did escape a few times and found his receivers, but overall, the Spartans did a nice job of containing him throughout the game.

Getting off the field

When the Spartans needed a stop, they got it. Plain and simple. Penn State was horrible on third down, converting just three times on 14 attempts. Getting off the field on third down was something they struggled to do against Utah State, but since that game, the MSU defense has been able to get the job done and get the ball back to the offense. Heading into the Michigan game, the Spartans rank 30th in third down conversion percentage defense, allowing teams to convert just 33 percent of the time. They will face a tough test against Michigan, who ranks top 15 in the nation in third down conversion percentage. The Spartans will need to continue executing on third down if they want to beat the Wolverines.