GoSpartans.net caught up with Thornhill and he talked to us in-depth about his preparation for Saturday's season opener against Kent State, what he expects from the defense and how he and the team intend to improve over last season's 5-6 finish.
GSN: What has he noticed coming into this week's practice for Kent State?
Thornhill: "[We're] definitely more focused on the defensive side of the ball. Every rep, we're trying to be perfect. So when we make a mistake, we're trying to get after each other [and say] 'it's not OK to make mistakes, this is game week'. We've got to pick it up right now, so as a defense, I think we've definitely improved this week,"
GSN: How has he improved from last year to this year?
Thornhill: "I think I've taken every rep seriously. I don't take it for granted anymore. Last year, sometimes I didn't run to the ball and the coaches got on me about that. This year, I've been trying to run to the ball every play. Get there, wrap up, make the plays that I didn't make last year. I overran some plays. This year, I've worked on open field tackling, breaking down, stuff like that."
GSN: What do you expect for the defense this weekend?
Thornhill: "We're going to get a bunch of passes thrown on us, we know that. We've got a tall quarterback (junior college transfer Michael Machen 6-foot-6, 235, a redshirt freshman from Coffeyville CC), a pocket passer. So we've been working on jamming receivers and just getting pressure on the quarterback. As long as we can do that, we should be OK.
GSN: How is the pass rush looking?
Thornhill: "Good, we're putting in some new stuff, so they'll have a lot thrown at them. We're very prepared to go out there and face their offense."
GSN: How tough is it to face a team you've never seen before?
Thornhill: "(Laughs) It's coming fast. Our scout team is doing a great job right now of getting us prepared for Kent State. The harder they work, the easier it is for us on a game day. The better the look they give us, the easier its going to be on game day. We should be good."
GSN: How do you prepare for a quarterback making his debut?
Thornhill: "We know a lot about him because one of the players on our team (MSU wide receiver Kerry Reed) went to school with him, so we know what kind of passer he is and we're just going to have to be prepared for a lot of passes being thrown at us. I don't know how much they're going to run the ball or what they're going to do but we've got to be prepared for everything because this is a new quarterback.
GSN: How has the MSU defense fared against the MSU first team offense during camp?
Thornhill: "Good, I think sometimes we had some mental slipups, but overall, I think we've done a good job preparing for our offense anyways, now we have to prepare for Kent State's. Our defense made some strides on our offense with them being so high-powered. We came in there as a group and we knew if we could get prepared for our offense's passing game then we could get prepared for Kent State's passing game."
GSN: Now in your second year in the playing group, can you anticipate plays before they happen?
Thornhill: "Yeah, that's a big step for me, that I've been able to just 'let go' and play finally, instead of worrying about every play 'what do I have to do?', ' do I have to be here, do I have to be there?' I just let myself go now and just read everything. It's coming a lot easier to me now. This experience has helped a lot. Hopefully on game day I'll be more relaxed than I was last year at this time."
GSN: What is your feeling about the team overall?
Thornhill: "I think we're looking good. You know what? We've been working hard during this camp and it's finally over. It's game week now. We prepared well and we've gotten better so I'd love to see what we can do on Saturday."