Michigan State No.8 looks to tighten defense against Maryland

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Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker yells from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, November 6, 2021. (AP Photo / Michael Conroy)

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Coach Mel Tucker attributed Michigan State’s first loss this season to “death by inches.” Another loss could kill Michigan State’s dreams of a Big Ten championship.

After an exhilarating victory over rival Michigan, the Spartans collapsed defensively in a 40-29 loss to Purdue last weekend. They’ll try to bounce back when they host Maryland on Saturday.

Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell shredded Michigan State’s pass defense, throwing for 536 yards.

“It wasn’t really a big difference between what we saw on Saturday and what we saw in previous games,” said Tucker, the second-year Spartans coach. “It’s just that we haven’t made enough plays to pull it off. It’s a complete lack of execution – missed tackles, focus – it’s death by inches. All it takes is that mistake, that mental mistake, that missed mission, or whatever, to kill the game on offense, defense, or special teams.

The Spartans (8-1 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) moved from No. 5 to No. 8 in the standings. They are tied for second in the East Division with the Wolverines, one game away from Ohio State.

Michigan State still has three regular season games, including a clash with the Buckeyes on Nov. 20 and Penn State on Nov. 27. Tucker is eager to see how his team handles adversity.

“I think these guys will react well, but we’ll find out,” he said. “We will have to be at our best as a coaching staff and our leaders have to step up. … You have to be able to respond to a loss.

Maryland (5-4, 2-4) have gone 1-4 in their last five games, including a 31-14 home loss to Penn State last weekend. The Terrapins have allowed 217 points during that streak.

They face a powerful offense from the Spartans with Heisman Trophy contender Kenneth Walker III, who leads the FBS with 1,340 rushing yards and an average of 148.9 yards per game.

“He’s one of those guys who, you better bring all your protection and all your friends when you attack him because he has a great contact balance,” said Maryland coach Michael Locksley. “He’s the guy we have to try to get off the game plan this week.”

WHO IS THE KICKER?

Matt Coghlin has been taking on the Spartans’ spot-kicker duties since the 2017 season, so it was weird not to see him on the pitch last weekend.

Coghlin missed the loss at Purdue with an undisclosed injury and real freshman Stephen Rusnak took his place. Rusnak scored three more points and missed his only attempt at 43 yards.

Tucker would not reveal Coghlin’s status for this week’s game. Coghlin holds the school record with 74 goals scored and has never missed an extra point attempt.

FIND PAYDIRT AGAIN

Michigan State wide receiver Tre Mosley touched down in his second career game of the 2019 season. Payton Thorne.

An injury limited Mosley to four games last season and he has been eclipsed by fellow extended Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor this season. The runner-up had at least one reception in every game this fall until it was empty against Michigan on Oct. 30.

Mosley was pushed into a bigger role last week with Nailor sidelined by a right hand injury.

INTENSIFY

Maryland’s receiver depth was tested by the season-ending injuries of Dontay Demus and Jeshaun Jones. In their absence, tight ends Chigoziem Okonkwo and Corey Dyches had the opportunity to shine.

“We get the ball is no different from receivers who get the ball in my opinion,” Dyches said. “They were able to trust us and we made plays.”

Okonkwo has 32 catches for 262 yards and three touchdowns this season. Dyches has 16 receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Okonkwo had 12 catches for 85 yards in last weekend’s 31-14 loss to Penn State.

CLIMB THE CHARTES

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s 41 goals last week against Penn State were the second in Maryland program history. He now has 47 goals behind John Kaleo’s single-season record of 286 in 1992.

Tagovailoa has five games with 300 yards this season, the most in the Big Ten and tied for most in school history. This weekend, he faces a team from Michigan State that allowed by far the most passing yards in the conference.


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