MSU defense unfazed by success, gains confidence amid Big Ten play
After MSU’s thrilling 14-10 win over Michigan, the rest of the nation was put on notice.
Specifically, the Spartan defense is legit. Through five games, the crew is ranked No. 4 in total yards given up, yielding just 258.6 yards per game, just a tick better than Alabama.
That's ignoring MSU's No. 21 ranking in the nation. After a stunning upset, the Spartans broke through in the AP poll for the first time this season.
Sure, an assist can be made to the monsoon-like conditions in Ann Arbor over the weekend, but the Spartans have been stifling opponent offenses for weeks now.
But still — forcing five turnovers is impressive in any capacity. Two fumble recoveries, three interceptions and four sacks, those aren't numbers to scoff at. MSU's 13 sacks on the season is more than it had all of 2016, when the Spartans generated just 11 total sacks.
For one of those key cogs, defensive end Kenny Willekes, emerged against the Wolverines, collecting a pair of sacks as part of a career-high day. And thus far, he’s been unfazed by his crew’s play.
“It hasn’t been a huge surprise to us because we’ve always known the talent we’ve had in the room,” Willekes said of the defense’s production. “We’ve seen it all offseason, everyone working hard, coming together. So it’s more like we’re finally doing it, we’re finally showing everyone else what we’re capable of.”
The linebackers are a veteran crew, that’s been well-documented time and time again. Guys like Andrew Dowell, Joe Bachie and Chris Frey have led the way.
But if there’s an area the critics have honed in on — it’s the secondary. Namely the safeties. Guys like Josiah Scott and Justin Layne have garnered positive national attention.
Though part of Layne’s hype might be for a different reason.
Junior safety Khari Willis, along with redshirt sophomore David Dowell, both balled out to tune of 17 total tackles between the two. Dowell, much like Willekes, earned his breakout moment after being named the Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Week.
While the noise is coming from outside the program, Willis said he chooses to focus it elsewhere. Or in other words, his actual play.
“We try not to focus too much on what people say,” Willis said. “We just feel like it’s about us. We’re just focusing on our moment. It’s not everybody else’s moment for them to say what we can or can’t do or what we’re successful at or not successful at. It’s kind of put on us, and we like it like that.”
Next up is Minnesota. It’s MSU’s second straight road game, but it’s a little different than U-M, as the Spartans have to venture out of the state.
And for now, the Spartans will look forward. Especially as the defense builds a rapport with the fan base as a trustworthy, stifling crew.
“Confidence has been high,” Andrew Dowell said. “We knew what we could do. May have been a surprise to some other people. But we knew the team that we had and the defense that we have. We just have to continue to build more confidence.”