I’ve been a fan of Michigan State since attending the school from 1994-1996.
I previewed the offense here.
Returning starters (8): Ends junior William Gholston and sophmore Marcus Rush, linebackers senior Chris Norman, and juniors Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, corners senior Johnny Adams and Darqueeze Dennard, safety junior Isaiah Lewis
Scouting the Defense: The Spartans run a 4-3 under scheme, with one DT lined up over the center. The defense is aggressive, illustrated by LB Denicos Allen leading the team with 11 and 1/2 sacks. While they run a primarily Cover 3 defense, but they do mix a variety of coverages, including rushing linebackers and defensive backs while dropping ends into coverage.
Strengths: The Spartans return 8 starters from last year’s no. 5 ranked defense. The new starters at DT, seniors Anthony Rashad White, with 4 starts, and Tyler Hoover both started games last year, though Hoover started at defensive end, with 1 last year and 9 in his career. The linebacker core are the third ranked linebacker core in the nation, and William Gholston is an early favorite for the Lombardi trophy, for the nation’s top defensive lineman, while Johnny Adams has set his sights on the award for the top defensive back, the Jim Thorpe Award. There is plenty of depth at linebacker as well.
Weaknesses: While sophomore Kurtis Drummond and redshirt freshman R.J. Williamson might be talented, as well as faster and more athletic than the graduated Trenton Robinson, can either replace his leadership and get the secondary lined up correctly? And while the backups on the defensive line and secondary are talented, none of them have stepped foot on the field in a game situation. This will be a concern until proven otherwise.
Player to Watch: Gholston utterly dominated the Georgia offensive line at the Outback Bowl with two sacks with a forced and recovered fumble. In this game, he announced his candidacy for the Lombardi Trophy. He will be expected to be a force for the Spartans’ defense this year.
Could Surprise: Anthony Rashad White is a load at 6’3 and 325 lbs. He was unblockable at times against the Bulldogs and blocked a FG to seal the win. He will be expected to wreck havoc this year as well.
On the Spot; Drummond is the weak link in the defense, and will be attacked early and often until he proves that he can hold up. If he responds, the defense will be stronger. If he doesn’t….well, they won’t be the best defense in the Big Ten.
Overview: The Spartans return 8 starters and have 10 players with starting experience. Drummond filled in as the 6th defensive back and subbed for Trenton Robinson when he had cramps against Iowa, so he has game experience. Expect a huge year from Gholston, and with the expected improvement of all last year’s players, the Spartans could end the year as the nation’s top defense. The truly scary thought about this defense is that most of the players are either juniors or sophomores. They can only get better.