After posting back-to-back 11 win seasons for the first time ever, expectations are high for Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans. And while most of the off-season talk has revolved around the departures of Kirk Cousins and a majority of the receiving corps, one thing is clear: The Spartans will rely on their defense, and luckily they have the pieces in place to be elite once again.
Without further ado, here’s the top 5 reasons why Michigan State’s defense is absolutely loaded:
As much as I wanted to devote a paragraph to Denicos Allen’s unchanging facial expression (picture a cross between a stone-cold assassin and fear itself) and the effects it has on opposing quarterbacks, the entire unit is too strong to single out an individual. Anchored by old-school middle linebacker Max Bullough (who followed his grandfather, father and uncle to East Lansing), MSU may boast the top group of ‘backers in the conference. Bullough had big shoes to fill replacing former standout Greg Jones, but has quickly become a team leader. Rounding out the group is physical freak Chris Norman, who had a “quiet” 76 tackles last season. With Allen racking up sacks (10 last season), Bullough organizing the defense and Norman tackling everything that moves, opposing offensive coordinators will be pulling out their hair watching game film of MSU’s linebackers.
2. Johnny Adams & Darqueze Dennard
Led by preseason All-Big Ten pick Johnny Adams, the back half of Michigan State’s defense looks to improve on a strong effort last season. Adams has been a ball hawk since his freshman campaign, and has greatly improved in run support over the course of his career. One of the standouts of the defense, Adams has been pegged a potential first-round draft pick by Mel Kiper and his perfectly coiffed hair. Adams is joined at corner by Darqueze Dennard, a junior who helped turn the tide of the Outback Bowl with two crucial interceptions (one for a TD). Part of what makes Narduzzi’s blitz-happy defense so effective is lockdown corners, and MSU boasts two of the best in the Big 10.
3. Pat Narduzzi
In his five seasons as Mark Dantonio’s defensive coordinator at MSU, Narduzzi has seen his defense improve greatly over the years, peaking last year with a top 5 national ranking (the only non-SEC school to crack the top 5, by the way). After briefly flirting with Texas A&M over the summer, Narduzzi is back, and should see another strong effort from his defense. It’s clear he’ll eventually be on to bigger and better things (like a head coaching gig), but Spartan Nation will be glad to have him around for as long as possible.
4. Defensive Line
Obviously, Gholston is the top draw here. His breakout performance in the Outback Bowl (7 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, fumble recovery, 1 pass breakup) gave us an idea of just how effective he can be, and he seems primed for a dominant 2012 season. Not to be overlooked, Marcus Rush turned in a terrific debut season, racking up 4 sacks and 12 TFL. With a hulking Gholston on one end and the never-quit Rush on the other, MSU’s line could not have a better pair of bookends. There’s no question that the Spartans will miss the contributions of departed star defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, but between Anthony Rashad White, Tyler Hoover, James Kittredge and any of the other defensive tackles on the roster, they should be able to at least come close to his production.
Ever since Dantonio arrived in East Lansing, he’s stressed the importance of building depth throughout the roster. After watching the abysmal tenures of Bobby Williams and John L. Smith, coaches who fielded teams with a few stars and not much else, this was a welcome change in Spartan football culture. Having redshirted a majority of each freshman class during his time here, Dantonio finally has the depth he’s always wanted. When former 5-star prospect Lawrence Thomas is struggling to find playing time, you know things are going well. After a decade of watching the Spartans start fast and fade even faster once the injuries set in, it’s a huge relief to know that if someone goes down, there are others capable of stepping up.