MSU Rushing Defense, #1 - MSU Passing Defense, Not #1

MSU Rushing Defense, #1 - MSU Passing Defense, Not #1

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MSU Rushing Defense, #1 - MSU Passing Defense, Not #1

Michigan State’s rushing defense and overall interior unit is starting to emerge as one of the true strengths of the 2018 Spartans. The pass defense needs to find its mojo.

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Statistics shouldn’t ever be the main dynamic when trying to figure out whether a team can get to the Promised Land or not.

But the stats are always helpful when telling or trying to understand the story.

When it comes to Michigan State’s defense, there are two contradictions at work right now.

On the one hand, there is the rushing defense that has led to Mark Dantonio becoming very encouraged.

He should be.

It’s not as if Michigan State’s rushing defense is “doing well.”

Michigan State has the #1 rushing defense in the nation.

The Spartans aren’t #11, #16, or #4 when it comes to rushing defense – and if they had any of those three rankings in this category, it would be reason for optimism.

The Spartans are #1.

In the nation.

Against the run.

However, when it comes to Michigan State’s pass defense, the Spartans are not #1 in the nation.

Out of 129 teams, Michigan State ranks #125 in passing defense.

Right now, the “No Fly Zone” t-shirt factory needs to shut down production.

Michigan State has averaged surrendering 349 yards a game.

We said it after the season opener against Utah State – the Aggies applied a very effective up tempo approach that led to them snapping the ball about every eight seconds.

The combination of the up tempo scheme with a rangy, confident, athletic, and pretty damn good quarterback in Jordan Love allowed Utah State to find spaces and patches of open grass where the Aggies camped out and allowed Love to rack up the yards and almost pull off the upset.

Against Arizona State, 5th year senior veteran quarterback Manny Wilkins made the plays within a fairly tradition pro-style offense that included N’Keal Harry, one of the best receivers in the nation, the likes of which Michigan State probably won’t face again this season.

Justin Layne did a pretty good job of bottling up Harry for most of the night – until Wilkins and Harry teamed up for a 4th quarter touchdown pass and catch that was not only beautiful, it changed the tone of a game that the Spartans were in control of.

Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey didn’t necessarily do anything spectacular over the course of the four quarters on Saturday night in Bloomington, but he ended up with 272 yards through the air and was able to make just enough plays to keep Indiana in the ball game.

One of the points that’s been repeated by the Spartans over the first few weeks is that coverage assignments have been missed and have been cause for much of the chunks of yardage opponents have gained underneath and in those empty pockets.

Does that suggest that as the season progresses, the missed assignments will turn into incompletions or sacks due to the lack of open receivers for the opposing quarterback?

Just like the process needing to take place for the offensive line and the ground attack that depends on that success of the offensive line, the secondary and overall pass defense goes through a process – and it’s going to evolve with each game.

Nobody is going to propose that a parade be thrown for the improvement in the pass defense against Indiana – but there was improvement in the third game of the season as compared to the first two games.

How much of an impact has the absence of Josiah Scott had on the defense’s struggles with the passing game?

How much will Josiah Scott’s return strengthen the pass defense?

It’s fair to presume that Josiah Scott’s return to the lineup in a couple of weeks won’t hurt the defense.

Dantonio really likes what he’s seeing from the defensive front.

All Spartans should like what’s going on with the big buys up front on this defense.

But the secondary – and the linebackers’ ability to successfully defend underneath and corral running backs coming out of the backfield – is going to have to dig in, clamp down, and become especially focused on playing disciplined, assignment football.

This week’s game against Central Michigan should give the pass defense a chance to gain some confidence and lock down.

 

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