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Michigan State Spartans football team wants to tighten defense when facing Maryland

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne dives for a touchdown during the second half against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday. (AP photo)

By DANA GAURUDER

Associated Press

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

Coming off an exhilarating victory over rival Michigan, the Spartans unraveled defensively in a 40-29 loss at 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 was not really that much difference between what we saw on Saturday and what we’ve seen in previous games,” said Tucker, the Spartans’ second-year coach. “It’s just that we didn’t make enough plays to pull it out. It’s a total lack of execution — missed tackles, focus — it’s death by inches. All it takes is that one mistake, that one mental error, that one missed assignment, or whatever, to kill the play on offense, defense or special teams.”

The Spartans (8-1 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) dropped from No. 5 to No. 8 in the rankings. They’re tied for second place in the East Division with the Wolverines, one game behind Ohio State.

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

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

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

They’re facing a potent Spartans offense featuring Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker III, who leads the FBS with 1,340 rushing yards and averages 148.9 yards per game.

“He’s one of those guys that, you better bring all your pads and all your friends when you tackle him, because he’s got great contact balance,” Maryland coach Michael Locksley said.

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne dives for a touchdown during the second half against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday. (AP photo)