3 Keys To The Season, Defense: #3, Make Al Davis A Spartan Fan

3 Keys To The Season, Defense: #3, Make Al Davis A Spartan Fan

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3 Keys To The Season, Defense: #3, Make Al Davis A Spartan Fan

We continue to break down the keys to the season for Michigan State – now, we’re diving into The 3 Keys To The Season on defense.  The other team’s quarterback must go down – and he must go down hard.

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If you don’t know who Al Davis was, you should.

For any of you that might be wondering about who this man might have been, he was the architect of the Oakland Raiders and is responsible for turning that franchise into a “brand” that represents toughness and grit.

He created a home for NFL castoffs who, within Davis’s Raider organization, were able to apply their own skills within the framework of the Raiders philosophy.

What was the philosophy?

This:

There you have it.

Over the course of the Spartans’ 2016 debacle, the defense put the opposing quarterback on the ground a grand total of 11 times.

While there were countless factors that contributed to the 3-9 disaster that season, the lack of a pass rush was a big one.

Last season, the dramatic turnaround that culminated with a 42-17 bludgeoning of Washington State and a 10-3 record, the Spartans finished the year with 28 sacks.

Huge improvement from 2016, for sure.

However, that number – 28 – was still only good enough for 9th place in the Big Ten.

Including the Big Ten Championship Game and the appearance in the College Football Playoff, Ohio State finished the season with 45 sacks.

Penn State, Wisconsin, and UMAA had 42.

Indiana had 36 sacks.

Purdue had 29 sacks.

So, while the Spartans obviously placed an emphasis on increasing the sack total in 2017, Michigan State still has plenty of room for more improvement if it wants to reach Indiana’s ability to make Al Davis happy.

Kenny Willekes – the former walk on who is now in a position to earn All Big Ten status as a defensive end – led the Spartans with 7 sacks last season.

Can Willekes build on last year’s breakthrough season?

Yes.  He can.

And he will.

Demetrius Cooper gobbled up a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines and tallied a career-high 29 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks with two forced fumbles and one pass break-up.

Cooper’s two forced fumbles tied for the team lead, while the 5.5 TFLs tied for third on the team.

Cooper played a bigger role in last year’s success than Spartans may think – his presence alone helped the defensive line and was a major factor in helping Michigan State finish the season as the #2 defense in the nation against the run.

But Cooper’s gone now – and the interior front needs to pick things up where the Spartans left them last season.

Jacob Panasiuk showed real promise as a freshman last season in recording three tackles for loss and he’s in position to become a major contributor in 2018.

The other Panasiuk – older brother, Mike – was named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media following the 2017 season.

Mike Panasiuk started at defensive tackle in all 13 games and ranked third on the team with 121 production points during the regular season, and tallied 25 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, on the season.

Justice Alexander appears ready to become another beefeating killer on the defensive line.

Fifth year senior Dillon Alexander played in 11 games last season and will provide experience, toughness, and versatility on the line.

There are whispers that Jack Camper, a redshirt freshman who moved over to the defensive line from tight end, is ready to make an impact on the d-line and there are several incoming freshmen – Parks Gissinger, Jacob Slade, and Zach Slade – who will get opportunities to show what they can do in Fall camp.

The defensive line made great strides in 2017 and it’s easy to see that there is potential for even more strides this season.

The experience, productivity, toughness, skill, and speed is going to be complemented by depth.

The magic number this gang needs to have its eye on – 35.

If Michigan State can rack up 35 sacks by the end of the season, that will mean that the other team’s quarterback went down and he went down hard.

That number will, of course, have a direct and indirect impact on the ability of the secondary to reclaim No Fly Zone status.

Much like the way the running game allows everything else to happen on offense, the ability to put the quarterback on the ground makes the entire defense better in every area.

Make Al Davis proud, Spartans.

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