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Spartan Defense a Bright Spot in South Bend

Sep 19, 2011 Adam Ruff | View Comments

No, the 31-13 loss at Notre Dame was not pretty. The offensive line showed its youth and vulnerability, the play calling was interesting at times, and special team’s play was below average. Despite all of that, MSU still had chances to come back and give the Irish a run for their money.

That’s why I want to break down one of the lone positives for MSU on Saturday. The DEFENSE.

After MSU’s dominant defensive effort against Florida Atlantic in week 2, fans and media said one of two things.
1. This defense has a chance to be special.
2. C’mon, they put up those gaudy against FLORIDA ATLANTIC

A week later, both of those things are still true. However, I firmly believe, that point one is far more accurate in the long run of the 2011 season.

Against the Irish, the Spartans defense held the potent Notre Dame offense to 275 yards of total offense, including 80 in the second half. Coming into the game, ND averaged 510 yards of total offense. For the mathematically challenged – myself included – that’s a difference of 235 yards.

I know, I know, you’re still smarting after the 18 point loss in South Bend and thinking positively about the defense still doesn’t make you feel that great, so let’s take it a step further.

First, let’s break down the run defense…and while we do it, let’s keep in mind that Notre Dame’s O-line averages 6’4”, more than 300 pounds and is made up of three seniors and 2 juniors.

On three possessions the Irish ground game got moving and led to 14 points.

-Notre Dame’s first possession: On this drive, the Irish gashed MSU for 59 yards on six carries and a touchdown. They also had four carries of ten-plus yards. I believe the success Notre Dame had on this drive comes in direct correlation to MSU focusing on Michael Floyd and the pass game too much. However, if you want to be a great defense, there are no excuses - Including the obvious hold by right guard Trevor Robinson on Jerel Worthy, which opened the huge hole for Cierre Wood to get outside and ultimately score. TOUCHDOWN

-Notre Dame’s second possession: Again, the Irish moved the ball, this time with senior Jonas Gray. He rushed for 25 yards on 4 carries. However, after moving into Spartan territory, MSU buckled down and focused on the run. On Gray’s 4th carry of the drive, Kevin Pickelman got him for a 2 yard loss. Pickelman followed that up with a sack/fumble on 2nd and 12. TURNOVER

-Notre Dame’s third possession: After a pair of drives that ended in a 3-and-out for the Irish, in which they lost one yard on two total carries, the Spartans allowed runs of 6, 13, and 6 yards – all on 1st down. While not an excuse, the Irish shouldn’t have been in position to have those carries. With the score 14-10, the Irish were bailed out by the officials as Steve Gardiner was flagged for pass interference on a 3rd and 7 play. Instead of a 4 yard gain, resulting in a third straight 3-and-out, the Irish took advantage and scored nine plays later. TOUCHDOWN.

In my estimation, those were the only 3 possessions where the MSU’s run defense looked average. And really, when you look at it, the Irish should’ve only had seven points out of those three possessions and a halftime total of just 14. (Or less, had the Irish not returned a kickoff for a touchdown).

Outside of those drives, the Irish ran for just 30 yards on 16 carries. In total, the Irish had 14 carries of 3 yards or less.

As for MSU’s pass defense, there was a lot to like. In total, Tommy Rees dropped back to pass 27 times, threw for just 161 yards (192 yards below their season average) and was sacked once.

On Notre Dame’s first possession of the first half, the Irish did the opposite of what they did to begin the game. Instead of running the ball, they passed their way to the end zone. And if Johnny Adams had wrapped up TJ Jones just a bit better on a 3rd and 5 play where Jones picked up 5-plus yards, the Spartan defense would have been off the field.

Mitchell White, was beaten for Notre Dame’s final touchdown – and only passing touchdown - of the afternoon. White did everything correct on the 26 yard touchdown pass to TJ Jones except turn and look for the ball.

The other half of this equation is the pass rush. The standout was redshirt freshman Marcus Rush. He finished the game with 7 tackles, 2 of which resulted in a loss of yards. He also contributed 2 quarterback hurries. All of those numbers are a career high…a good sign for a freshman in his first big game.

While the defense wasn’t on lockdown the whole game, they played winning football against a very good offensive team. Without a doubt, this defense could become special as the season grows old.


-Will Gholston is turning into a very good run stopper. He’s an intelligent player who uses his linebacker instincts very well. He understands gap defense and has a solid understanding of an opponent’s offensive scheme. On Saturday, he racked up four tackles and a half tackle for loss. Three of his four tackles were on plays that resulted in one yard or fewer.

-Kevin Pickelman who seems to be feast or famine, was feasting on Saturday. Pick notched a career high 2.0 tackles for loss. His biggest plays came back to back. The first was a tackle in the backfield on Irish tailback Jonas Gray, resulting in a two yard loss. On the very next play, he twist-stunted and flew into the backfield, sacking Tommy Rees and forcing a fumble.

-Denicos Allen has been one of MSU’s best players on the young season. Saturday he tallied 7 tackles, including 2.5 for loss.

-Kurtis Drummond, playing as the 5th defensive back on Saturday snatched his first interception of his career and returned it 34 yards. The return set up 40-yard field goal by Dan Conroy.

-Strong Safety Isaiah Lewis continues to come into his own as a sophomore. He recorded a career-high nine tackles in South Bend and has 29 total tackles on the season.