Inside Michigan State Spartan Football Defensive Regression In 2019

Jeff Dullack

For all of Michigan State’s shortcomings and downfalls in 2019, perhaps the most surprising disappointment of the season for the Spartans has been the defense.

A unit that was expected to follow up a dominant 2018 season with a 2019 campaign where the Spartans would again rank as a top-five defense in the country, has instead proven to be woefully inconsistent and simply hasn’t measured up to expectations.

The Spartans returned nine of 11 starters from last year’s defense, losing just safety Khari Willis and cornerback Justin Layne to the NFL, which was encouraging sign as Michigan State looked to continue their dominance on the defensive side of the ball.

Following Michigan State’s ugly 10-7 loss to Arizona State earlier this season, Mark Dantonio had a message for his defense.

“Be perfect,” he told reporters. “That’s the challenge. Be perfect.”

But that hasn’t been the case in 2019.

The Spartans rank 31st in total defense (337.4 ypg), 51st in scoring defense (25.6 ppg), 71st in passing defense (231.8 ypg), and 14th in rushing defense (105.6 ypg).

Those rankings are wildly disappointing for a defensive unit that checked-in inside the top 10 in most defensive statistical categories a year ago and was the best in the country against the run.

So what is to blame for Michigan State’s unexpected regression on defense this fall?

It could be blamed on the losses of Willis and Layne, two cornerstones of the Spartan defense in previous years and the numbers show Michigan State just isn’t the same in the secondary this year.

It could be a simple case of a defense that couldn’t replicate another year of dominance and came back down to earth.

Or, it could a defensive unit that was responsible for making up for the Michigan State offense’s shortcomings in recent years finally ran out of gas.

The latter shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those who have watched Michigan State in recent years as, oftentimes, as the offense continued to sputter and failed to show up, it was the defense that repeatedly stepped up and gave the Spartans a chance to win.

But this season, the defense hasn’t been able to make up for the offense’s shortcomings often enough this season as the Spartans stare down a 4-6 record and are in danger of missing a bowl game. There is plenty of blame to go around for Michigan State’s record and disappointing season and the defense deserves some of it considering the Spartans haven’t measured up when it matters most.

Against the four best teams the Spartans have faced in 2019 (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan), the defense is allowing 34.25 points and 425 yards per game.

On top of that, in Michigan State’s embarrassing 37-34 loss to Illinois, the Spartans blew a 24-point lead as the defense allowed 221 yards and 21 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Those performances are a far cry from a Michigan State’s dominant defense from a year ago, where the Spartans allowed just one opponent to score more than 30 points (Utah State).

But this year, the Spartans have simply looked different on the defensive side of the ball. At times, they’ve looked flat, uninspired and lethargic, a sign that maybe the once-dominant defense has indeed simply run out of gas.

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Comments (1)
No. 1-1

It's simple! Recruiting and lack of development is why the D was bad. The same reason can be said for the offense.