Sept. 9, 2008
By TIM MARTIN, The Associated Press
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan State's pass defense will get an early season test this weekend against Florida Atlantic.
The Spartans, who have collected three sacks in their first two games, may have to do more to pressure Owls quarterback Rusty Smith. And the secondary will have to play well against a talented group of Florida Atlantic receivers, led by Cortez Gent.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio called Smith and Gent "outstanding" during his weekly Tuesday press conference.
"They have skills," Dantonio said. "They can move the ball."
Michigan State (1-1) will host the Owls in a non-conference game Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Florida Atlantic (1-1) defeated UAB 49-34 in its home opener last week. It lost its season opener 52-10 at then-No. 11 Texas.
The Owls, under program builder Howard Schnellenberger, finished 8-5 last season and won the Sun Belt Conference. Florida Atlantic made a bowl game for the first time in its history last year, beating Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.
This year, the Owls are averaging more than 300 yards passing per game. They have thrown the ball 74 times in their first two games while running it 48 times.
Smith was the conference player of the year after passing for nearly 3,700 yards last season.
Michigan State's starting defensive ends, Trevor Anderson and Brandon Long, appear to have overcome nagging injuries. They'll need to be at top speed against Smith, who has a fairly quick release and rarely is sacked.
The secondary's depth will be tested this week -- perhaps more so than during a season-opening loss at California and last week's win over Eastern Michigan.
The Spartans still are without Roderick Jenrette, a projected starter at free safety who left the team for undisclosed personal reasons before the season opener.
Kendell Davis-Clark, who shifted from cornerback to replace Jenrette as starting free safety, missed the Eastern Michigan game with an undisclosed injury. He wasn't listed on the depth chart Tuesday.
But the Spartans have several players with experience in the defensive backfield to fill in.
"Our guys have been in the system long enough that they're somewhat interchangeable," Dantonio said.
Danny Fortener is listed as the starting free safety for the second straight week.
Ross Weaver, listed as a starting cornerback, could be used at safety, Dantonio said.
Strong safety Otis Wiley has been solid, including two interceptions against California.