MSU Defensive Breakdown
The Spartan defensive line is one of the deepest and best in the country. They are led by sophomore defensive end William Gholston. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Detroit native leads the defensive linemen with 11 tackles for a loss, and he has caused a ton of problems for opposing quarterbacks with his length and explosiveness off the edge. Freshman Marcus Rush mans the other defensive end position, and he leads the defensive linemen in sacks with four, and has ten tackles for a loss. Rush has elite quickness and never stops on a play. The MSU interior defensive linemen are big and aggressive. Anthony Rashad Wright plays the nose, and Jerel Worthy plays the three technique and both are easily over 300 pounds. Their size is impressive, but they are also athletic and have the ability to make plays in the backfield. When looking at the Michigan State front four, a stat that stands out is that their first and second team defensive linemen have combined for 43 tackles for a loss.
Sophomore Denicos Allen is the unquestioned leader of the Spartan defense. At 5-foot-10, 218 pounds, Allen isn't physically imposing, but he is all over the field and almost impossible to block. He is very similar to former Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran, but Allen spends more time in the backfield. He leads the team with 17 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks on the year. Sophomore linebacker Max Bullough[ is the team's leading tackler. Bullough is much bigger than Allen at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, and he plays to more contact. Bullough has a great first step, and plays well down hill against the run. He is also solid in zone coverage and uses his length to shrink passing lanes. Chris Norman plays the strong side linebacker position in the MSU defense, and he has been solid all year. He does a great job of keeping contain, but he has struggled at times with athletic tight ends that can make plays in the vertical passing game.
If Michigan State has a weakness on defense, it is its secondary. Their cornerbacks, Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams are both small corners that do well in man and zone coverage. They do, however, struggle against physical receivers who like to battle for the football at the top of the route. They also struggle when a big receiver is able to use their body to shield them from the ball. Despite their size, Dennard and Adams are solid tacklers and not afraid to mix it up in run support. Senior safety Trenton Robinson is the most experienced member of the Spartan's defense, and he is always in the right place. He is the vocal leader of the defense, and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. Also sharing the team lead with Robinson in interceptions is sophomore safety Isaiah Lewis. Lewis is a ball hawk in the secondary that likes to play a bit deep. They use him in a lot of "man free" situations where they will employ man coverage underneath but allow Lewis to play free over the top. Both safeties have struggled when forced into man coverage situations.
• First down - MSU is a tad aggressive on first down as they will bring and extra man 61% of the time. The blitz is usually a gap-controlled blitz where a linebacker comes from the weak side.
• Second down and long - The Spartans play it more conservatively here and try to get to third down. They will go with a base defense or nickel, depending on personnel, about 63% of the time.
• Second down and medium - MSU gets a little more aggressive in this situation than they are on second and long, but they are still almost perfectly balanced.
• Second down and short - This is a down and distance where MSU likes to keep it simple. They will go with their base defense about 60% of the time. It seems that their philosophy is to not get burned on second down so they can live to fight again on third down or first and 10.
• Third down and long - The Spartans get pretty aggressive on third and long and it is where Allen really does his work in the backfield. Allen has been highly effective with a delayed blitz from his weak side linebacker position in this situation. MSU will bring a blitz 65% of the time.
• Third down and medium - MSU is perfectly balanced on third and medium, and their only tendency is based on hash marks where they like to bring their blitz from the wide side of the field.
• Third down and short - On second and short, MSU is conservative, but on third and short, they are aggressive. They like to walk their linebackers up and attack the gaps and stop the run. They have had great success with it was well as picking up a third and short is no easy task against this defense.
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