Friday, July 19, 2019

Green: The key to Michigan State’s success hinges on its loaded defense

Photo Credit: Geno Green

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

CHICAGO— After a stretch of success from 2013-15 with two Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl win, a College Football Playoff semifinal appearance and a top six or better finish in the AP poll, the Michigan State Spartans took a couple of steps back in the last three seasons with a combined 20-18 record.

If the Spartans look to return to a New Year’s Six bowl in the 2019 season, they will have to rely primarily on all three elements of the defense— the defensive line, linebackers and the secondary. Phil Steele’s preseason magazine projects Michigan State’s defensive line at fourth nationally, the linebackers seventh and the secondary 19th. 

The accolades don’t stop with the team, but on the individual players as linebacker Joe Bachie and defensive end Kenny Willekes were named to the 2019 Big Ten preseason honors list on Wednesday.

The individual awards matter little to Bachie as he looks to play a pivotal part in getting the Spartans back to a major bowl game as a senior after making trips to the Holiday Bowl and the Redbox Bowl in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

“I just want to leave my mark on something, whether it is the Big Ten championship, the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, etc,” Bachie said. “I want to get to something that is bigger than anything I have done the past three seasons.”

With all of the pieces in place, Bachie believes there are no excuses to Michigan State being the best defense in the FBS this season.

“Absolutely. If I didn’t believe that, then I would not be talking about all the hype,” Bachie said. “We have all of the pieces and leadership to put it altogether, so we will see what happens.

Willekes appeared to be on the verge of being one of the top picks in the 2019 NFL Draft until a broken leg suffered in the Redbox Bowl against Oregon ended any hopes of coming out early. The injury provided a silver lining for the senior with one last chance to make an impact for the Spartans.

“I am a Christian and I believe in God’s divine plan on me coming back to Michigan State for my senior year,” Willekes said.

The Spartans’ depth goes far beyond the senior duo as cornerback Josiah Scott, linebacker Tyriq Thompson, safety David Dowell and defensive linemen Raequan Williams, Jacob Panasiuk and Mike Panasiuk look to make their marks as well.

Williams also elected to stay for his senior season at Michigan State and is projected along with Willekes as low end first-round picks in various 2020 NFL mock draft boards.

The depth on defense will be a key in MSU’s tough schedule with road games against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan, to go along with a home meeting against Penn State.