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Breaking down the defense versus Central Michigan

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MSU’s defense was impressive for three quarters, but finishing games remains a problem

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

In a game the Spartans were expected to win big, they were only able to squeak out a 31-20 victory. Central Michigan scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, and as we head into the heart of Big Ten play, MSU needs to work on playing hard for a full four quarters.

What Went Wrong

Finishing games

Michigan State looked dominant on defense for three quarters against Central Michigan. Then the fourth quarter happened, and MSU allowed CMU to make it a close game. The Spartans allowed the Chippewas to score 17 points in the fourth quarter, after leading 31-3 through three quarters. The coaching staff didn’t think it was a big concern, but they noted that the team needs to be focused for a full four quarters, even against lesser opponents. The Spartans can’t afford to be sluggish against Big Ten teams in the fourth quarter or they will lose.

What worked

Pass defense

There were two plays that really hurt the MSU defense in the pass game. Other than that, the Spartans were pretty solid against the Chippewas’ passing attack. On the day, CMU threw for 182 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Chippewas had two passing plays that went for a combined 64 yards. One was a flea flicker and the other was a double pass that went for a touchdown. Outside of those two plays, the Spartans held CMU in check. However, going forward, the Spartans need to be ready for any trick plays opponents may run.

Kenny Willekes

What more can you say about this guy? He’s been a dominant force on the defensive line all season, and he’s showing no signs of letting up. Against the Chippewas, he had five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Through four games, Willekes has 21 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He is a dominant pass rusher and one of the best defensive ends in the Big Ten. He should continue to dominate up front and lead the top rushing defense in the country.

Rush defense

The Spartans’ ability to stop the run has been a big reason for their success this season. On the year, MSU is allowing opponents to rush for just 40.3 yards per game, which is No. 1 in the nation. After Saturday’s game, Willekes noted that run defense is a major priority for the defense going into games. Mark Dantonio also mentioned that the Spartans’ dominate rush defense has made teams one dimensional, which helps the secondary. The Spartans have some tougher opponents over the next few weeks, so the defense as a whole will need to step up.