Michigan State Spartans again strong vs. run

Michigan State’s La'Darius Jefferson, center, rushes for a first down against Central Michigan during the third quarter Saturday in East Lansing. (AP photo)

By NOAH TRISTER
AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING — One thing Mark Dantonio can often count on is that Michigan State will be able to stop the run.
It’s been an uneven start to the season for the 20th-ranked Spartans, but their defensive front has made its presence felt. Michigan State ranks No. 1 in the country in run defense, and it’s not particularly close. The Spartans’ ability to limit teams on the ground has been one of the biggest factors in their success over the past several years, and this season appears to be no different.
“We’re building a wall, we’re not getting knocked off the ball, we’re tackling well,” said Dantonio, Michigan State’s coach.
The Spartans have allowed 40 yards rushing per game. They’ve been so good against the run that they’d lead the nation in that category even if their 12 sacks (for 70 yards) were removed.
This is no fluke. Last season was the fourth time in six years that Michigan State held opponents to an average of under 100 yards a game on the ground. Last weekend’s win over Central Michigan was the seventh game in a row the Spartans kept a team under 100, a streak that dates to last season.
“We’ve got some big D-tackles at the first line of defense,” said Raequan Williams, who is one of those defensive tackles. “The coaches emphasize what they know we can do best is destroy plays. “
Michigan State faces Northwestern this weekend. The Wildcats are last in the Big Ten in rushing and lost running back Jeremy Larkin last week when a medical condition involving his neck and upper back forced him to retire from football.
Even without Larkin, Northwestern nearly upset Michigan last weekend, but the Wildcats lost 20-17 after jumping out to a 17-0 lead. John Moten led Northwestern with 13 carries for only 36 yards, but the Wildcats can be effective offensively even without a productive running game. Clayton Thorson threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns last year when Northwestern beat Michigan State 39-31 in triple overtime.