MSU defense flashes talent despite youth, even in the secondary
As Bowling Green quarterback James Morgan wound up and fired a deep ball, Spartan fans held their breath.
It’s hard to blame them, MSU’s defense is years removed now from the vaunted No Fly Zone, a secondary featuring Darqueze Dennard and company. And ever since then, that group has been spotty, to say the least.
So when Morgan’s deep ball was caught, completed to Datrin Guyton for 45 yards early in the first quarter, MSU fans’ collective gasp was understandable.
But from there, the Spartan defense clamped down. Really, that core only allowed three points to the Bowling Green offense. The other seven points came on a fumble recovery touchdown after tailback LJ Scott lost the ball.
“Our guys didn’t panic against the no-huddle offense, even after a sudden-change situation or something like that, they remained calm,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “We gave up a couple plays, which will happen obviously when you’re going against any offense who are going to make a couple plays.”
The stats told part of the story, but, as always, not all of it. MSU only allowed nine first downs, a welcoming sight after its offensive counterpart collected 25.
Besides the one deep shot, Morgan struggled throughout the game. He finished a paltry 10 of 31 for just 145 passing yards. He threw an interception, too, to cornerback Tyson Smith that turned into a quick six points for the Spartans.
The cornerbacks, just like the rest of the team, are extremely young. Smith is the only upperclassmen of the two-deep, joining Justin Layne, Josiah Scott and Josh Butler as the primary defenders.
Despite the number of positives, though, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Spartans. The defense amassed only one sack, a low number against a subpar MAC team.
“I thought we had a couple more opportunities to have a few more sacks, but the motor was good,” Tressel said. “We’d like to get that quarterback on the ground a few more times no doubt about it.”
Elsewhere, the mentality surrounding the Spartans is different. Instead of moping after an opponent’s big play, instead, they’ve tried to move past it.
It’s an aspect head coach Mark Dantonio praised the Spartans for, “resilient,” he described his team.
“We’ve got to get that mindset right — that mindset in our heads that you know a big play doesn’t ruin a drive,” senior linebacker Chris Frey said. “We can come back and we can stop them.”
Arguably leading the youth movement, though, is linebacker Joe Bachie. The sophomore didn’t see the field until the final six games of the season in 2016, but he has shot up the depth chart.
And as he strolled to midfield as the starting MIKE linebacker and game captain, he balled out the rest of the way through. He led the Spartans with a whopping 10 total tackles, twice the amount of the next closest teammate.
“I think we did a great job as young guys stepping up,” Bachie said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot to learn from. There were plays that stuff could have happened, but it didn’t, so we’re grateful for that.”
Indeed, MSU was bailed out a few times by Bowling Green simply missing opportunities. Occasionally Morgan would throw behind his receivers or underthrow them.
But the Spartans still stood strong. The Falcons were an inefficient 2 of 13 on third down conversions; the defense forced them off the field often when it had the chance. And even if Bowling Green went for it on fourth, it was MSU again and again denying them the opportunity.
All eyes are now on Western Michigan, a team that reached a New Year’s Six bowl last year. If the Spartans had one of their worst years in decade, the Broncos were the opposite, enjoying one of their best teams ever in 2016.
From the Spartans’ perspective, they’ve already said the memories of 3-9 have been erased.
“We don’t remember last year, we don’t talk about last year,” Bachie said. “Now it’s a new season and we’ve got Western Michigan on our minds so that’s all that matters.”