Michigan State defense: a unit that finished No. 1 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing defense, No. 8 in scoring defense, and No. 10 in total defense last season. The defensive line is a machine. This machine is powered by the overwhelming presence of veterans.
One of the seven returning defensive players that started last year is senior Joe Bachie. Named team captain for the second year in a row, Bachie is the heart of the linebacking group. As a middle linebacker, Bachie plays with contagious integrity and passion. He believes this year is special. With the clock on their college football careers ticking, the seniors are hungry for a championship.
“It’s time for us to have our best year as a whole,” Bachie said. “And if we can do that, it’s going to put us in the best position to win a championship.”
Senior quarterback Brian Lewerke is in sync with the championship mentality his class has.
“Big Ten Championship,” Lewerke said. “That’s what we want. That’s what we strive (for) around here. That’s why you play in the Big Ten.”
Josh Butler, a seasoned cornerback also wants to dominate while still enjoying his last year.
“We’re just having fun,” Butler said. “You can see it in all our plays and when everybody’s celebrating ... We’re not too focused on, ‘it’s our last year,' but more focused on having fun and dominating.”
And dominate they do. The tough linebackers juxtaposed with the aggressive tackles and defensive ends makes for one powerful machine. In just the first game of the season, Michigan State’s defense earned another spot in the record book.
MSU held Tulsa to -73 yards rushing which is a school record low for a Spartan opponent. In the last 10 seasons Michigan State has been ranked in the Top 25 in rushing defense eight times.
Veterans like Bachie and Butler realize they won’t be here forever, which means younger players will need to step up to keep the trend alive.
“You always try and find the younger guys,” Bachie said. "‘Who’s going to be the next guy?’ and ‘who’s going to takeover for you?’ I had a great guy, Riley Bullough, do that to me and I was able to step in right away and earn the spot. We all have that. We all have young guys in our positions. That’s really your job as an older guy.”
At the core of the defensive machine lies the old school football mentality that stems from coach Mark Dantonio.
“We don’t have any pixie dust,” Dantonio said. “It’s about guys getting on their guy.”
Butler only hopes the mentality sticks with the next generation.
“We just try to make sure the Dantonio era continues with good offense and good defense,” Butler said.
Luckily for the seniors, the Spartans still have a wide-open season to tackle. The veterans will use this year to reach their goals, while also preparing the next version of Michigan State football.