A week after Michigan State’s offense carried the load and the defense struggled, the script was flipped.
At the end of the day, the result was better for the Spartans, as they emerged with a 37-15 win against Maryland on Saturday and got back in the win column after a tough defeat against Ohio State last weekend.
“It's always good to bounce back from a loss, especially in November,” safety R.J. Williamson said. “You’ve gotta win those games. We lost and it probably set us back from goals that we wanted to achieve, but at the end of the day, you’ve gotta keep pushing forward.
”Adversity hits everyone, as a team, as a person, but it’s the ones that fight through that make a good team and a better man. I think we did that today.”
The victory came on the heels of an improved defensive performance that came back from one of the worst showings under Mark Dantonio. In the first Big Ten meeting with Maryland, it was much more true to form for the Spartans’ defense as they held the Terrapins six yards rushing on 17 attempts and just 252 total yards.
The defense set the tone early, as Kurtis Drummond recorded an interception on the first offensive series for the Terrapins, setting MSU up at the Maryland 28.
The drive concluded with a Michael Geiger field goal – a welcome sign as the sophomore kicker had been struggling of late. He would hit his first three attempts – from 22, 34 and 35 yards – as Michigan State struggled to finish drives early in the game, as the game was close for much of the first half.
Sophomore offensive tackle Jack Conklin said there was a little bit of lingering impact from the loss to the Buckeyes last weekend.
“We just needed to finish when we got in the red zone,” he said. “We didn’t get the running game going as quickly as we needed to, like we did in the fourth quarter. We gotta come out hard.
”We can’t lay like we did and think about the Ohio State game. We have to come out strong, but we rebounded, we got through it and we finished strong.”
The Spartans picked it up offensively in the second half, playing what quarterback Connor Cook referred to as “USA football” – or “up someone’s butt,” as he explained it.
“We just wanted to rebound, come out, play hard, play physical, play fast, play Michigan State football,” he said. “USA football is what all the coaches call it, what we like to call it. …
”Power football, smash mouth football and that’s what we did in the end. We want to come out here and make a statement and play with toughness. I think that’s what we did.”
The Spartans racked up the rushing yards with 252 on the ground, led by Jeremy Langford’s 14th straight game with more than 100 yards against a Big Ten opponent. He finished with 138 on 25 carries with a pair of touchdowns.
“I think just multiple running backs being in there, banging it in,” he said of the run game’s success late. “The offensive line kept fighting, they kept working and fighting away and finally got a chance to get the run game going.”
Nick Hill accounted for the final score as he ran in a 33-yard touchdown with little more than three minutes remaining in the game.
The defense got in on the scoring action for the third time this season, as Williamson recorded his second pick-six of the season in the third quarter. The junior took a pass deflected by linebacker Taiwan Jones and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown, putting Michigan State ahead 23-7 after just a 16-7 halftime lead.
”The ball just fell in my hands,” he said. “That was the easy part. It was a great play. I think it gave us momentum as well and (I'm) just happy we got the win.”