No. 4 Spartans face big adjustment against Air Force
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State's defense passed its first major test of the season, and now Mark Dantonio's Spartans face an entirely different type of challenge.
The fourth-ranked Spartans held off Oregon last weekend in one of the most anticipated games in Spartan Stadium history. Michigan State stopped the Ducks four times on fourth down, including once at the goal line, proving that the Spartans can still be a stingy bunch after losing defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Now comes a major adjustment: Air Force and its multifaceted running game visits East Lansing this weekend.
''It's a lot different,'' linebacker Riley Bullough said Tuesday. ''You've got different keys, different reads and different plays that you're going against. Completely different.''
After Narduzzi left to take the head coaching job at Pittsburgh, Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel became co-defensive coordinators. Both were with the staff previously, so there wasn't too much concern about continuity, but it was fair to wonder what the results would look like.
The Oregon game was a solid showing from Michigan State's defense. The Ducks finished with 432 yards offense, but after scoring a touchdown on the game's opening drive, Oregon's offense was shut out until the fourth quarter.
The Ducks did score on a punt return in the third, and two fourth-quarter TDs kept the outcome in doubt, but the Spartans held on for a 31-28 victory.
Dantonio credited Barnett and Tressel with a blitz that forced Oregon into a fourth-and-long situation late.
''When you have success, your confidence grows. Not just as a player, but as a coach as well,'' Dantonio said. ''I think that's important to recognize. So there's proof, there's proof. That's positive.''
Air Force won its first two games this season and attempted only 18 passes total. The Falcons ran for 428 yards last week against San Jose State, with four players exceeding 75 yards on the ground.
The quarterback is crucial in any option system, and Air Force's Nate Romine was helped off the field after getting hit in the right knee during that 37-16 win over San Jose State.
''What they do, they do extremely well,'' Dantonio said. ''They may have lost their quarterback, so they'll deal with that, but they'll have somebody who has played before in that situation. ... What they do from a formation standpoint, the variations of option football is text book. It's where people go to learn about option football. They go to Navy, they go to Georgia Tech, they go to Air Force.''
The Michigan State staff anticipated how difficult it would be to prepare for Air Force. The Spartans were working on Air Force's system last month during fall camp - so they have some familiarity with it. Now it's just a question of putting the Oregon game in the past and spending this week focusing on the unusual opponent coming up next on the schedule.
''It is a big difference,'' Bullough said. ''We did some of it during our August training camp - just because it's so different, you've got to get used to it a little bit. But then we put it away and we brought it back up this week.''