A lot has been made about the past when the media looks at the ties between the Michigan State Spartans and Alabama. While most talk is focused on Mark Dantonio and Nick Saban. Spartans co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett knows both sides better than anyone. What has Barnett seen out of the Crimson Tide, especially Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry?
“We’re preparing like we always do in a lot of ways,” said Barnett. “Obviously he’s the Heisman Trophy winner. Big back, man, always falling forward. So we’re going to have to wrap him up and gang tackle him and swarm to the ball.
“That is our mindset at all times against everybody. But, obviously, with him being the Heisman Trophy winner, bigger guy. Haven’t seen a guy quite this big in some time against our defense. So we’ve got to really rally and gang tackle and swarm to the ball and make sure we’re disciplined in everything that we do.”
One player that could help the Spartans achieve this is senior safety R.J. Williamson, who missed the majority of the season with an injury.
“He’s doing well. We do expect him to play significant reps. Practiced all last week, the last time we were out at home, and then practiced yesterday,” explained Barnett. “He’s always been in the meetings, so he understands. He’s a smart kid. So he understands what they’re trying to do, how they’re trying to attack us. And he’s running around well. He looks good, so we look forward to having him back.”
Many feel the match-up of Henry against the Spartans defense will have both team’s power going against each other. Barnett does not disagree.
“What we pride ourselves on is playing fast, physical and violent at all times in every game, not just because it’s Derrick Henry,” he said. “But if you’re going to pound a back up in there or if you’re a game that runs your quarterback a lot, we expect them to get a lot of hits on him and guys flying in there. And he should feel it after the game; he should. We’re a tough, physical defense like we pride ourselves on.”
But while some will be watching Henry and the Spartans linebackers battle, Barnett knows another good battle will come between the Spartans defensive line who is looking forward to going against Alabama’s offensive line.
“They’re looking to it,” he said. “AWAL, as they call themselves, our defensive line, Animals Without a Leash. They’re looking forward to it. They’re the strength of our defense. They’ve been told that this is no secret. Our defensive front is the strength. As well as they play is going to be as well as we play on defense. And they’re looking forward to this challenge.
“We understand that Alabama calls themselves the Trench Mod. So you’ve got the Trench Mob versus AWAL, and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens.”