4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MICHIGAN STATE DEFENSE
– The 2018 defense had the right to break something tasteful after it was let down time and again by the offense. The D led the nation against the run, allowed a mere 303 yards per game overall, and was tops in the Big Ten in scoring defense allowing just 17 points per game. With eight starters and eight of the top 11 tacklers coming back, the expectations are for more of the same.
– Second-leading tackler Andrew Dowell is gone, but Joe Bachie should once again be one of the Big Ten’s best linebackers at his spot in the middle. 239-pound Tyriq Thompson is a big veteran at one outside spot, and Antjuan Simmons is ready for a bigger role on the other side. Now the linebacking corps needs reliable backups outside of junior Brandon Bouyer-Randle.
– The Spartan defensive front was just okay at getting into the backfield. That’s nitpicking – it’s going to be a brick wall against the run again. DE Kenny Willekes earned First Team All-Big Ten honors after finishing fourth on the team with 78 stops, but he’s coming off a broken leg. Jacub Panasiuk is a decent veteran on the other side.
The tackle combination of Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk is will be in the all-star mix. Throw in 6-4, 339-pound Naquan Jones into the interior rotation,
– As always, the Michigan State secondary is going to be a plus. Good-tackling veteran Khari Willis is gone from one safety spot, but David Dowdell is a reliable veteran returning and Xavier Henderson has star potential with a bigger role. Even with Justin Layne leaving early for the NFL, the corner situation is among the Big Ten’s best with the combination of Josaiah Scott and Josh Butler.