Michigan State football's defenders come to rescue of stalled offense

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Here are the Michigan State football players who helped or hurt their stock in the No. 7 Spartans’ 20-15 win Saturday afternoon at Indiana:

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Three up

Indiana Hoosiers running back Stephen Carr (5) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans linebacker Cal Haladay (27) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium.
Indiana Hoosiers running back Stephen Carr (5) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans linebacker Cal Haladay (27) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium.

LB Cal Haladay: The difference in MSU’s defense between the first half at Rutgers without Haladay and second half with him was noticeable. And the redshirt freshman remained active and aggressive against the Hoosiers. Haladay read Jack Tuttle’s eyes, dropped into coverage and jumped the route to step in front of intended target Peyton Hendershot for his first career interception, then outraced Indiana’s backup quarterback to the end zone for a 30-yard score and MSU’s only points of the first half. Haladay’s 48 tackles rank fourth for the Spartans.

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TE Tyler Hunt: Just call him MSU’s own Paul Bunyan, with a larger-than-life story continuing to grow. The former walk-on punter/kicker moved to tight end in the spring of 2020 and emerged as a sure-handed pass catcher. On Saturday, Hunt — a high school quarterback — took a reverse and threw a pass on the run to Payton Thorne with Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden bearing down on him. That kept a drive alive for a 15-yard first down, and Thorne returned the favor by delivering Hunt’s first career TD catch on a 12-yard pass sold by the tight end’s block and release with misdirection.

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Jack Tuttle (14) of the Indiana Hoosiers is nearly sacked by Jacob Slade of the Michigan State Spartans during the second half at Memorial Stadium on Oct.16, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana.
Jack Tuttle (14) of the Indiana Hoosiers is nearly sacked by Jacob Slade of the Michigan State Spartans during the second half at Memorial Stadium on Oct.16, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana.

DT Jacob Slade: The stat sheet doesn’t reflect the job the junior did in pressuring Tuttle and collapsing the middle of Indiana’s offensive line. Slade powered through two Hoosiers to hit the QB and force Tuttle’s pass to wobble into Darius Snow’s hands for his first career interception. He also made Tuttle throw the ball away a few times under duress and finished with five tackles.

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Three down

Oct 16, 2021; Bloomington, Indiana, USA;  Indiana Hoosiers defensive back Noah Pierre (21) intercepts a ball intended for Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Jalen Nailor (8) during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Spartans win 20-15.
Oct 16, 2021; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers defensive back Noah Pierre (21) intercepts a ball intended for Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Jalen Nailor (8) during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Spartans win 20-15.

Passing attack: Outside of those two plays, MSU struggled to get receivers open against Indiana. Jayden Reed dropped what likely would have been a touchdown early in the game, Jalen Nailor had a drop, and Thorne struggled to find a rhythm in going just 14 of 26 for 126 yards with two interceptions. One of those came off a deflected pass for Tre Mosley in the middle of the field, and the other came in the end zone in the fourth quarter that gave the Hoosiers an extra possession to try and come back.

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Run blocking: Kenneth Walker III needed to power through 23 carries to get to 84 yards, with MSU’s offensive line failing to create enough creases for the Heisman Trophy candidate. His longest run of the day went for 13 yards, and Walker averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. The Spartans also committed a false start, a holding penalty and had another hold on the offensive line declined.

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Oct 16, 2021; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers wide receiver Jacolby Hewitt (2) misses a pass under coverage from Michigan State Spartans linebacker Quavaris Crouch (6) during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium.
Oct 16, 2021; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers wide receiver Jacolby Hewitt (2) misses a pass under coverage from Michigan State Spartans linebacker Quavaris Crouch (6) during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium.

LB Quavaris Crouch: With a game-high 13 tackles, Crouch is trending upward. And from a talent perspective, the Tennessee transfer flew around the field and used his freakish athletic ability to close quickly on the ball. But it was clear from the outset Indiana wanted to attack his side of the field, and Crouch got pulled out of position or misfit gaps on a number of plays, including getting left flat-footed and tentative on a third-and-10 scramble by Tuttle for 11 yards. When he gets the mental side aligned with his physical gifts, watch out.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football defenders see stock rise after rescue