With the help of Kenny Willekes, Jacub Panasiuk becomes a legit threat at defensive end
Jacub Panasiuk bolted off of the line of scrimmage and headed straight towards Tulsa's right tackle. The running back, Shamari Brooks, veered to the left to help block Kenny Willekes on the other side. That left Panasiuk with a one-on-one matchup with the right tackle.
Panasiuk used a quick move to swerve around him and darted at the legs of Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith.
This isn't the first time Panasiuk has benefitted from the help of Willekes. Panasiuk, a junior defensive end, said he credits the senior captain for teaching him the ropes, schemes and designs of MSU's defensive strategies.
"He took me under his wing when I first got here and he’s the first guy that taught me the whole defense with Mike (Panasiuk)," Jacub said. "He has my full respect and trust so I have to give him a lot of credit."
"He’s taken a lot of kids under his wing and just taught them the defense, pass-rush moves, how to play the run better," Panasiuk said. "So, its just real helpful having somebody like Kenny on the opposite side. Not just for me, but for the rest of the defensive line.”
And as more offenses focus their attention on blocking Willekes on one side, Panasiuk is emerging as a serious threat on the other.
“Jacub has done a great job I think, conditioning himself, getting himself ready this year," Head Coach Mark Dantonio said in his weekly press conference ahead of No.19 Michigan State's game against Western Michigan. "He's dropped about 20 pounds. He's much quicker. His technique has improved greatly ... I think he played extremely well."
Panasiuk's opening-night performance against the Golden Hurricane may have been overshadowed by the likes of Willekes and Joe Bachie — who led the team in tackles — but it still managed to catch the eye of his coach.
He finished Friday's game with three tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and 1.5 sacks. The weight loss has been a game-changer for Panasiuk. He said his weight is down to 245 pounds now, and it's something he needed to do to truly grow into his role. Against Tulsa, his newly found speed off the edge was noticeable. Panasiuk said that he could feel it too.
"Just being quicker, having more twitch and just being able to get off the ball faster,” he said.
From the opposite side of the defensive line, Willekes has detected the work Panasiuk has put in.
“When he first got here I felt he was a lot more reserved," Willekes said. "He was a hard worker but he didn't really know where to put the work in the right places. He was just working hard but didn’t really know what things to focus on. Over this last offseason he changed his diet, slimmed his body back down, and really put a serious emphasis on the little things, the little details of his game. You know, the pass-rushing in his game, the pass-rushing has increased tremendously."
Those little things that Panasiuk worked on has made it a tougher task for offensive coordinators to contain MSU's defensive front. Mike Tressel, MSU's defensive coordinator, said that it's predominant for the Spartans to have two edge-rushing threats for the defense to reach its full potential.
“It's critical because everybody knows who Kenny Willekes is," Tressel said. "He was an All-American last year, a player of the week this year so attention is going to be there. So, Jacub, or the interior guys, or whoever in addition to Kenny steps up, that’s going to be what we need."
"I think it (the weight loss) gives him a little bit of extra confidence in addition to being a little bit quicker, but also experience and a year of understanding what he did last year and having a spring and having a fall," Tressel said. "I think his confidence is high.”
So, as offenses continue to plan for the All-American on one side, that leaves more opportunities for Panasiuk — and his speed — to create havoc on the other.
And he may have to thank Willekes for that also.
“It opens up a lot of opportunities for me," Panasiuk said. "An example is tight ends shift to the other side to max protect his side, just gives me more one-on-ones with tackles.
"So just overall it makes it easier for me.”