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Breaking down the defense versus Arizona State

The MSU defense allowed just 16 points, but the Sun Devils’ execution late in the game was enough to pull out a win

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This loss is tough for Michigan State. It was a game they were expected to and should’ve won. The Spartans were leading by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter and, as we know, blew it. The defense only allowed one touchdown in the game. However, there were some weak spots that need to be figured out going forward.

What Went Wrong

Coverage on deep passes

The Spartans were very fortunate that Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins didn’t connect on very many deep balls. ASU receivers had a step on MSU’s defensive backs most of the night and, when they needed it, the Sun Devils converted. Five players had at least one catch of 20 yards or more in this game for the Sun Devils. This isn’t the last team that’s going to test MSU’s defensive backs, so the veteran group needs to be ready for more high-powered offenses going forward.

Missed tackles

This was a glaring problem in the game and something the Spartans struggled with last season. MSU struggled to make tackles all night long and that led to extended drives for the Sun Devils. It was also around 100 degrees throughout the night, so the Spartans were getting tired and you could see that later in the game. The lack of depth they had on the defensive line didn’t help and getting healthy will be huge going forward.

What Worked

Justin Layne

My colleague, Matt Sheehan, talked a little bit about him in his The Good, The Bad, The Random article, but I’d like to touch on it again. Layne really did a solid job on one of, if not the best receiver in college football in N’Keal Harry. He caught six passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. Layne did pick up a few penalties along the way, but if you had told me before the game that Harry would have less than 100 yards and a touchdown, I would say the Spartans should win. Obviously that wasn’t the case, but Layne played solid against a NFL-caliber receiver.

Run defense

Holding opponents under 50 yards rushing is something we’ve started to expect from the Spartans’ defense, and they didn’t disappoint on Saturday. The Spartans allowed ASU to rush for just 44 yards on 29 carries, which led to the Sun Devils abandoning the run game and allowed them to focus on beating the Spartans deep. As usual, Joe Bachie led the team in tackles with 10 while Andrew Dowell picked up six with two tackles for loss. The Spartans should continue to be solid against the run.