Darqueze Dennard has generally been an afterthought when discussing the Michigan State secondary. The first name to come up over the last few years has been Johnny Adams, a pre-season All-American that was projected as a first-round pick before the season begun. The second name to pop-up generally has been Isaiah Lewis, an extremely fast and hard-hitting junior safety. But where has the love been for Dennard, and how has he stacked up in comparison to his defensive back teammates? With a bye week upon us, it is the perfect opportunity for me to explain why I believe Darqueze Dennard is this team’s number one corner but first let’s rewind a bit.
Dennard had family revenge on his mind heading into the home game against Nebraska. Last season Michigan State and Darqueze returned home from Lincoln Nebraska with a loss. This loss meant a little more to Dennard, whose cousin: Alfonzo Dennard played corner for the cornhuskers. Alfonzo had the last laugh in 2011, but Dennard was sure that would not be the case in 2012. Though Alfonzo had already graduated and moved on to the NFL, there was still some trash talk before the game, which took place over twitter between the cousins. Darqueze told Alfonzo that this game “Is the BIG PAYBACK” and Darqueze’s play surely backed up the trash talk.
Michigan State was leading 17-14 late in the 3rd quarter when Dennard intercepted Taylor Martinez’s long throw and brought it back 30 yards to the Nebraska 38. The Spartans scored soon after with a Le’Veon Bell 1-yard touchdown run. Later in the 4th quarter with MSU leading 24-14 Dennard made a play on the ball, again intercepting Martinez on his own 4 before breaking tackles and weaving his way to the end zone. Unfortunately for the Spartans and Dennard, Johnny Adams was called for unnecessary roughness for a block delivered on Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell. The pick 6 would have put MSU up 31-14 (assuming Conroy makes the extra point) and the game would have basically been over.
A few minutes later the killer came: with 23 seconds left and Michigan State up 24-21, Nebraska faced a 3rd and 10 from the MSU twenty with 23 seconds left. Martinez (out of the shotgun) took a second before lobbing the ball towards Kenny Bell who was being covered by Darqueze. Dennard swatted the ball with his right hand and it hit the grass, but seconds later a yellow flag hit the grass as well. Dennard could not believe the call for pass interference, either could Dantonio who was seen on the sideline yelling, “How can you call that?” The game was not decided at that moment, and as a fellow blogger told me: questionable calls go both ways. But for the call to go against Dennard in a game like this is not right, the player that this game meant the most to, the player who did everything he could for his team to win. He ended the game with 4 tackles and 2 interceptions, but as he lay in the end zone completely exhausted, none of the stats mattered because the team had still lost despite his efforts. It was heartbreaking for me to see, but that effort and passion is what makes Darqueze Dennard the best defensive back at Michigan State.
Johnny Adams may be a bit faster than Dennard and Lewis may hit a little harder than Dennard but despite that Darqueze has made a name for himself at Michigan State. Dennard has a knack for making a play on the ball, and has been able to do things with that ability that the other two have not. Darqueze Dennard has been able to grab 2 interceptions in one game twice in his career, the other two have zero two-interception games combined. In Michigan State’s bowl game last year against Georgia, Dennard had 2 interceptions; one that led to a MSU touchdown and the other was a pick six. Sound familiar? Dennard has been a true shutdown corner and game-changer for the Spartans who is rarely beaten for a touchdown. On the year Dennard has amounted 39 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 pass deflections and 1.5 tackles for loss. In comparison, Johnny Adams has 30 total tackles, 1 interception, 7 pass deflections and 3 tackles for loss. Adams has the clear advantage at getting to the quarterback, but how many times have you seen Darqueze blitz the passer? Not often, that play has been given to Johnny Adams from defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
Fortunately, for Michigan State fans Dennard should return next season for his senior year. He will surely consider the NFL, but I believe that his stock will continue to rise following a strong senior season. Maybe the November 16th matchup at Nebraska will be enough to keep Darqueze around? Maybe Dennard will finally have his revenge.