Grinz on Green Blog: Top-Ranked Defense Tested, But Perseveres
Nov. 17, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
No other team this season counterpunched Michigan State's defense with the force Nebraska's offense did on Saturday.
But after 60 minutes in Lincoln, the Spartan defenders wiped the blood off their lips and raised their arms triumphantly over a 41-28 decision that gave MSU a share of its second Legends Division championship in three seasons.
─ Michigan State's nation-leading rushing defense hadn't allowed a team, let alone a running back, rush for 100 yards in the first nine games. However, tailback Ameer Abdullah carried the ball 22 times for 123 of the Conhuskers' 182 yards, nearly 139 more than MSU had permitted on the ground per game.
─ The Spartans went into the game leading the nation total defense, as well, with 210.2 yard allowed per game. Nebraska ripped them for 392 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown run and scoring passes that covered 32 and 38 yards.
─ MSU had been allowing just 11.6 points per game, third in the nation.
However, the only numbers that mattered in the end to Michigan State free safety Kurtis Drummond were five forced turnovers, including one by him on special teams, and the 13-point margin of victory.
"I felt like there were a lot of things we could have done better and as a unit, obviously, we didn't play as well as we're used to playing," said Drummond, who led MSU with 10 tackles. "Now, we just have to get back in the office and correct what was wrong.
"I feel we handled adversity well and have a bunch of relentless guys that just kept battling through no matter what was going on. It was just another way for us to be tested and show how resilient we are."
Defensive end Shilique Calhoun set things in motion with a fumble recovery on Nebraska's third play of the game. The Spartans converted that turnover into a 45-yard Micheal Geiger field goal and a three-point lead.
The Huskers' next drive lasted just two plays after Drummond intercepted a Tommy Armstrong pass, the only turnover that didn't lead to MSU points.
Later in the first quarter, Drummond separated Nebraska punt returner Jordan Westerkamp from the ball and long-snapper Taybor Pepper recovered at the 8-yard line. Two plays later, the Spartans led 10-0 on R.J. Shelton's 5-yard sweep around left end.
Calhoun forced another Armstrong fumble, which strong safety Isaiah Lewis recovered at the Husker 22, and Jeremy Langford scored the first of his three touchdowns for a 20-7 lead just before halftime.
While protecting a six-point lead in the third quarter, Drummond made an athletic play to down a Mike Sadler punt at the 1-yard line. Armstrong had the ball knocked out of his hand by a pulling guard and cornerback Trae Waynes recovered at the 3. Langford ran it in from there for a 27-14 advantage.
What the defense gave up in yards, it more than made up with in outstanding field position provided by its takeaways ─ not to mention the points it deprived Nebraska from scoring.
"We made plays when they needed to be made, and we got the most important stat, which was the win," said Drummond. "We got their best shot and we still did something this program hadn't been able to do in seven tries (against Nebraska). This is something we'll get over."
Nevertheless, outside linebacker Denicos Allen was disappointed with the way the defense performed.
"We definitely didn't play our defense today, it's as simple as that," said Allen, who had five tackles including one behind the line. "We've been dominating all year, and we pride ourselves at stopping the run.
"Today we didn't bring that physicality, and they took advantage of it. Props to them, but we got the win thanks to our offense moving the ball the way they did. I think we kept each other in the game."
Senior middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough reveled in the team accomplishment, that made his class the winningest in MSU history.
"It's not something you think about or talk about before you do it, but once you do it, it's something you remember for the rest of your life," Bullough said. "This was definitely a red-letter game for this class from the beginning.
"I said that in camp. There's a few games you look forward to, the Michigans and Notre Dames of the world, but Nebraska was one I and the whole team thought was very important because we never beat them, and it would set ourselves up to be in the position we wanted to be in at this point of the year.
"Both of those things came true. About the only people who thought we'd be in this position at the beginning of the year are the guys sitting in that locker room. We put ourselves in position to play what we want to play for."
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