Improving defensively from a season ago is a tall order for Michigan State. Though the record didn’t exactly reflect how dominant the unit was every Saturday, the Spartans had one of the nation’s best defenses.
Michigan State ranked eighth in scoring defense nationally (17.2 points per game) and owned the country’s top run defense, allowing just 77.9 yards per game — best by nearly 20 yards. So how can Mark Dantonio’s bunch improve from what seemed to be a flawless year in 2018?
Creating more turnovers.
When BTN made its bus tour stop in East Lansing, the crew spoke with linebacker Joe Bachie and defensive lineman Kenny Willekes to talk about how the Spartans could be better this fall. Taking the ball away more frequently was the talking point.
“As a whole defensively, we gotta create more turnovers,” Bachie said. “You look at our team the past two seasons, we’ve been good against the run obviously, but we are not very good at getting turnovers.”
Michigan State ended the year with 23 takeaways last season, 14 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. That’s not an awful statistic, considering Iowa led the B1G with 27. But when you own a defense as stingy as MSU, the only way to improve is to set the bar high.
In addition to creating turnovers, the Spartans front line is also focused on getting more sacks.
“Up front, our biggest focus has been sacks,” Willekes said. “I think (we ranked) 56th in sacks, that’s a number we want to increase every day.”
The Spartans totaled 28 sacks last season, a low total considering the stout defensive line. Willekes, last year’s B1G Defensive Lineman of the Year, accounted for 8.5.
It’s hard to imagine Michigan State’s defense being even better in 2019. But if it’s able to create more turnovers and get to the quarterback for effectively, watch out.
— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) August 12, 2019