Michigan State is just one of five NCAA Football teams, along with Alabama, Florida State, Florida and LSU, to rank among the top 10 nationally in total defense the past two seasons. The Spartans and Alabama are the only two programs in the country to rank in the NCAA FBS Top 15 the past two seasons in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense.
Spartan fans should be sending defensive coordinator and recently promoted assistant head coach Pat Narduzzi daily thank you letters as he has had the Spartans defense atop of the B1G for the past two years. In 2012 the Spartans ranked in the Top 10 nationally in eight categories: touchdowns allowed (second with 16), pass efficiency defense (third at 98.8), total defense (fourth at 274.4 ypg.), pass break-ups (tied for eighth at 4.8 pg.), rushing defense (ninth at 175.8 ypg.) and scoring defense (ninth at 16.3 ppg.).
Narduzzi also had MSU first in the B1G in six defensive categories (touchdowns allowed, total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, rushing defense and third-down defense). I could give you more statistical categories that the Spartans were amongst the top 10 in, but I would much rather talk about what the 2013 MSU defense will look like.
The Spartans have seven starters back including linebackers Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis who all ranked in our 1st annual Preseason Top 25 Football Players list.
If the Spartan defense has a weakness, it is the defensive line. The defensive line lost defensive end William Gholston and Nose Tackle Anthony Rashad White, who were both impact players for MSU. Fortunately for MSU, the group guys expected to replace these two have plenty of experience. James Kittredge, Tyler Hoover, Micajah Reynolds, and Lawrence Thomas will all see time at defensive tackle. Kittredge saw action in all 13 games, including five starts, and tallied 14 tackles, including 4.5 for losses. Hoover played in seven games, including two starts, but missed 5 games and was given his sixth year of eligibility for 2013 by the NCAA. Micajah started the first six games at defensive tackle in 2012, and appeared in 13 games while tallying 19 tackles, including 2.0 for losses. Lawrence Thomas is the lone wildcard on the defensive line as he has moved all over the field for the Spartans. In 2012, Thomas started the year at linebacker and moved to defensive end before playing fullback and eventually moving to the defensive tackle during bowl practices. As a former Under Armour All-American, Thomas surely has the potential, but will he reach that potential in 2013?
At defensive end, the Spartans return Marcus Rush who started all 13 games and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and the media. Rush who ranked second on the team among the defensive lineman with 38 tackles, ranked fourth on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss, including 2 sacks and tied for the team lead with five quarterback hurries seems to do a little bit of everything. But in 2013, Rush will be expected to do a lot more of everything with the loss of Gholston. Shilique Calhoun will start at the other defensive end position saw action in all 13 games in 2012 as a back-up and recorded six tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with five quarterback hurries. Calhoun had a great bowl game while recording 2 tackles for a loss, including a sack in limited snaps. Calhoun and Rush should really hurry the quarterback in 2013 and hopefully add a few more sacks to their career stat lines. Joel Heath will also see some time at defensive end, appeared in five games in 2012 to earn his first letter. Heath who is listed at 6’6” and weighing 277 lbs. is a clone of former MSU defensive end William Gholston, but will he use that frame to wreak havoc in the backfield? The Spartan defensive line surely has a lot of questions, but there is a lot of potential within this group.
This group is absolutely loaded, returning two 3-year starters in Middle linebacker Max Bullough and Sam linebacker Denicos Allen. In 2012, Allen recorded 41 Solo tackles, 38 Assisted tackles, 10 Tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered fumble and 3 defensive break ups. The Coaches and Media named Denicos Honorable mention All-B1G last season. Max Bullough on the other hand, recorded 51 Solo tackles, 60 Assisted tackles, 12.5 Tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and 4 defensive break ups. Max was named First-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and was a second-team pick by the media. Bullough was also honorable mention All-American by Pro Football Weekly and one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award.
Taiwan Jones, after starting four games last year will be the full-time starter at Star linebacker. Jones saw action in all 13 games last year and recorded 38 tackles and ranked fifth on the team with 5.5 tackles for losses. Jones was so special that he took away starts from a four-year player in Chris Norman in 2012, and will have a full year to showcase just how special his is. Special teams impact player Kyler Elsworth will see time at linebacker, as well as former safety Jairus Jones and Darien Harris. Not to mention two 4-star freshman linebackers in Shane Jones and Jon Reschke, both who could see the field as true freshman. Again, this group is absolutely loaded; there are many other players who will see time at linebacker whom I have not even mentioned. This group is fast, versatile and hard-hitting and I am sure that offensive coordinators across the B1G will dread preparing for this line-backing core, as they are surely one of, if not the best in the league.
Though this group may not be as loaded as the line backing core, the MSU secondary is pretty darn good. Returning are seniors Isaiah Lewis (safety) and corner Darqueze Dennard, who have both played 30 or more games for the Spartans. Dennard recorded 34 Solo tackles, 18 Assisted tackles, 3.5 Tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 7 defensive break ups in 2012. Darqueze was named first-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and second-team pick by the media, as well as a First-team All-Big Ten pick by ESPN, collegefootballnews.com and Phil Steele. Lewis stacked up 41 Solo tackles, 39 Assisted tackles, 1.5 Tackles for loss, 2 Interceptions returned for a total of 69 yards and 6 defensive break ups. Isaiah was named honorable mention All-B1G by the Coaches and Media in 2012.
Though the Michigan State defense lost senior corner Johnny Adams who is playing in the NFL, red-shirt sophomore Trae Waynes will step into his place alongside Darqueze Dennard. Waynes appeared in nine games in 2012, primarily on special teams while recording 5 tackles. Though Trae did play the majority of snaps in the bowl game while tallying three tackles and was credited with a half sack. Alongside Isaiah Lewis will be Kurtis Drummond. Drummond played in all 13 games in 2012, including seven starts, while ranking fifth on the team with 53 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss. Drummond seemed to be a playmaker for the Spartans tallying four pass break-ups, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The coaches from the day he arrived on campus have been dropping redshirt freshman Demetrious Cox’s name and he will surely see the field in 2013. The freshman safety will likely rotate in with Kurtis Drummond and has the ability to make plays right from the get-go. Quite a few other players including Arjen Colquhoun, RJ Williamson and Mylan Hicks will see the field often. Rj Williamson appeared in 11 games in 2012, while collecting 27 tackles and had six passes defended, two being interceptions. ESPN.com and BTN.com named Williamson to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. This secondary will be one of the best in the B1G and surely a very fun group to watch come the fall.