Cats’ defense still can’t figure out the run

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State did not run the option. Michigan State did not have T.J. Duckett.

But Michigan State still had 276 yards rushing against Northwestern Saturday.

NU (2-3, 0-1 Big Ten) entered the contest with the worst Division I-A run defense and did little to change that ranking in its Big Ten opener.

“Defensively, I’m concerned about our ability to stop the run,” NU coach Randy Walker said. “It didn’t look like we could all day.”

Coming into the game, Michigan State had been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing in each of its last three contests. In fact, the Spartans had only 198 yards rushing in those three games combined. That’s 78 yards fewer than they had against NU.

The Spartans also had their first rushing touchdown in more than 13 quarters when running back Dawan Moss scored in the second quarter.

Moss is trying to replace Duckett, a National Football League first-round pick, and had a career-high 191 yards on 26 attempts. It was the second 100-yard rushing game of his career. Back-up tailback David Richard added 76 more yards on the ground.

MAKING HIS MARK: Walker’s changes to Saturday’s starting lineup resulted in more experience at one position and less at another.

NU’s receiving corps played without junior Roger Jordan, who did not make the trip to East Lansing because of an oblique muscle injury. Freshman Mark Philmore — who had nine catches in the Cats’ first four games — filled his slot at wide receiver.

The young wideout had the ball thrown his way four times early in the game. He made two catches for 31 yards in the first half, including a 24-yard catch on the Cats’ first touchdown drive. But he also had two drops in the half: One went through his hands and another was knocked loose when a defender laid him out on a crossing pattern.

Philmore finished the game with four catches for 47 yards.

The true freshman was not the only new face in the starting lineup. Junior safety Mark Roush got the nod instead of sophomore Jarvis Adams. Roush, who has played with a soft cast on his left arm after breaking it in spring practice, entered the game with 10 tackles and recorded three more in Michigan State’s first series.

The secondary played a focused game with a few major breakdowns, Roush said.

“We did a good job at times, but a few big errors had a big impact on our game,” he said.

ESPECIALLY TROUBLING: Walker was not only unimpressed with his special teams on Saturday — he was confused by them.

“I’m disappointed in our special teams play,” Walker said. “I’m baffled that we can’t execute better than that.”

In the third quarter, the punt coverage team looked lost as Ziehl Kavanaght returned Brian Huffman’s boot 88 yards for a touchdown. Walker said Huffman was told to kick the ball out of bounds but failed to execute.

“You saw where it went — right smack down the middle,” Walker said.

Huffman’s seven punts sailed an average of 38.6 yards but rarely established the field position NU would have liked.

Additionally, the punt coverage team gave up two Michigan State returns that would have been big gainers had they not been called back for penalties.

“They were good calls,” Walker said. “They were clear clips, but they were still out the gate. That wasn’t lost on me.”

INCHES TO GO: NU tailback Jason Wright’s 134 yards made this his third consecutive 100-yard-plus game. … Ashton Aikens, who had surgery on his broken index finger before the Navy game, played Saturday but had just one throw in his direction. … David Wasielewski’s missed 50-yard field goal in the third quarter both was his farthest attempt and his first miss of the season.