NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The last time Michigan State lost two games in a row was in 2012, part of a disappointing year in which the Spartans barely qualified for a bowl.
It’s happened again over the past couple of weekends, but there’s still time for Mark Dantonio’s team to limit the damage.
“If you saw the 2012 situation, it mirrored some things that are going on right now and the fact that you’ve got to get off the field on third down, you’ve got to play well in the kicking game, you’ve got to make third-down conversions,” said Dantonio, who is in his 10th season as Michigan State’s coach. “When you don’t … then you come up inches short.”
The Spartans fell out of the Top 25 after losses to Wisconsin and Indiana, and they’ll host Brigham Young in a tricky nonconference matchup Saturday. Michigan State hasn’t lost three in a row since early in the 2009 season.
BYU (2-3) is coming off a wild 55-53 win over Toledo in which Jamaal Williams set a single-game school record with 286 yards rushing. He also ran for five touchdowns.
“He’s got great vision. Jamaal does a great job of setting up blocks,” Cougars coach Kalani Sitake said. “Going into the season, we thought he’s a special one. He’s going to have to have a lot of big games like that to help us win.”
Williams ranks second in the nation with 703 yards rushing on the season.
“We’ve got to play defense like we know how to play, got to tackle in space, got to cover down the field,” Dantonio said. “They can run the football, been productive, but other people have held them down as well. They’ve had low-scoring games as well — two of them in the teens, one of them in the 20s, and a couple of them higher. So we’ll see what we get.”
Michigan State is 12th in the Big Ten in stopping third downs. Opponents have converted 40 percent of the time.
Here are a few things to watch when the Spartans (2-2) host the Cougars:
Tyler O’Connor threw three interceptions in Michigan State’s 30-6 loss to Wisconsin a couple weekends ago. He threw three TD passes last weekend against Indiana, but that was all the scoring the offense managed.
BYU’s Taysom Hill has thrown only five touchdown passes with six interceptions this season.
Michigan State lost 24-21 at Indiana in overtime. The Hoosiers actually missed a field goal on their overtime possession, but they got another chance after a leaping penalty on the Spartans.
Michigan State is averaging 74.5 yards a game in penalties, over 20 yards more than its opponents.
BYU’s Kai Nacua is tied for the national lead with four interceptions, and he has 12 in his career. That said, the Cougars have work to do defensively after playing such a high-scoring game against Toledo.
“Toledo put up too many points and we felt like we could have done better,” defensive back Dayan Lake said. “It was a disappointing game for us and we have a lot of improvement to do. We’re going to work on that. We need to execute. We need to trust our speed.”
Michigan State and BYU are facing each other for the first time. The Spartans are scheduled to play a return game with the Cougars in Provo, Utah, in 2020.
Malik McDowell, a standout defensive lineman for Michigan State, is suspended for the first half against BYU because he was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter against Indiana.
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