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Michigan State defense starting to dominate

After struggling against Utah State, the MSU defense has bounced back to become one of the top defenses in the nation

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

EAST LANSING – Heading into the 2018 season, Michigan State was pegged by many experts to be one of the top defensive teams in the nation.

Against Central Michigan, the Spartans showed why. MSU allowed the Chippewas to gain just 245 total yards en route to a 31-20 win.

“I really like our attitude,” Mark Dantonio said. “What we’re doing, I don’t think there’s any excuses being made. I think we come out, we practice very well. I think we get along very well. Doing all the things we need to do from that standpoint.”

The Spartans’ offense couldn’t get much going until David Dowell gave them a spark by picking off CMU quarterback Tommy Lazzaro and returning it to the CMU 35-yard line.

Four plays later, Brian Lewerke scampered into the end zone from 3 yards out to give MSU a 7-3 lead. Three drives later, Justin Layne came up with an interception and returned it to the CMU 34-yard line, which led to an MSU field goal.

The Chippewas made the game close late by scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter. CMU gained 163 yards in the second half and 91 in the fourth quarter. The MSU coaching staff wants the players to stay focused for a full four quarters.

“I think we just gotta finish,” Dowell said. “It’s a mentality. That’s what it starts with, and then just little technique things, little eye discipline things that we can do in the defensive backfield.”

The MSU secondary will get most of the glory for sparking the offense, but it has been the Spartans’ ability to stop the run that has helped the defense become so successful. Since 2011, MSU has had a top 10 rushing defense six times and currently ranks first in the nation this season.

Entering today’s game, the Spartans were holding opponents to just 37.2 rushing yards per game. Against the Chippewas, MSU’s run defense was solid again, allowing just 63 yards on the ground.

“We just talk about it before every game. Stop the run. It’s one of our goals, day in and day out,” Kenny Willekes said. “We pride ourselves on that, and we continue to do it at a high level.”

The Spartans’ next game is at noon Oct. 6 at home against Northwestern.