Spartans Will Sink Or Swim With Secondary

Spartans fans around the country are getting excited about Spartan football and the promise it holds this fall. The truth is, a lot of that promise lies in the secondary. GSN explains why the third tier of the defense will determine where MSU will end up this year.

OKEMOS,MI-Spring football is an exciting time of year for football fans, and that is especially true for Spartan football fans who are hoping that John L. Smith and company get untracked and contend for a Big Ten Championship.

Certainly there is plenty to be excited about. A lot of Heisman Trophy talk centers around Spartan quarterback Drew Stanton.

The receivers with Matt Trannon, Terry Love, Kerry Reed, and Jerramy Scott are as good as any around.

Running backs? How about Javon Ringer, Jehuu Caulcrick, and newcomer A.J. Jimmerson.

The offensive line certainly has quality reserves like Roland Martin, and Jesse Miller, who has made a splash at tackle this spring, and are ready to make an impact to go with solid starters in Kyle Cook and Mike Gyetvai.

The defensive line looks better with Brandon Long, Jonal Saint-Dic, and Ogemdi Nawgbuo making quick improvements in a short period of time. Throw in Cliff Ryan and David Stanton and the Spartans look to be better here.

Linebacking could welcome back Seth Mitchell, and Kaleb Thornhill should be healthy in the fall. Adam Decker continues the improvement that started last year, and David Herron is one the top linebackers in the country in my opinion. Plus this group welcomes back some top young guns wanting a chance.

That only leaves the, uh-oh, you guessed it, the 'secondary' as the potential sticking point to a good to great year, and certainly these guys have been treated like second class citizens by opposing quarterbacks.

You also find two schools of debate on why the secondary struggles. One school of thought is MSU has not had the players. Another school claims it is the scheme.

Both schools make good points, the secondary has been a hair thin for John L. Smith. The question is, how good or not so good, were guys like Darren Barnett(who eventually transferred), Jaren Hayes Roderick Maples, and Ashton Watson?

By John L.'s own admission, he has "gone bald" by trying to outscore opponents throughout his career. Something that has backfired in East Lansing and the physical Big Ten so far.

An attacking, gambling defense that leaves defensive backs on an island is not conducive to winning championships.

Similar to the golf analogy, "drive for show, and putt for dough", a record setting offense with a defense that gives up big play after big play is aggravating.

One would need not have to look past the Ohio State game last year to see the kind of frustration set in that mentally crippled the Spartans the rest of the year.

The Spartans offensively dominated one of the top defenses in the country that left onlookers across the nation in awe.

MSU ran 87 plays to just 41 for Ohio State in racking up an impressive 456 yards of total offense. They had a 27-13 first down advantage, and a 40:59 to 19:01 time of possession advantage.

The problem for the Spartans that game, and all year long, was they were burnt like toast in the secondary. Ohio State only completed ten passes, but those ten passes went for 249 yards and three long touchdown passes.

In fact last year, MSU gave up a whopping twenty-five touchdown passes, which was actually one more than the Spartans presumed vaunted attack of a year ago attained on offense with Drew Stanton and company.

Perhaps the defensive line and the sack totals can account for part of this demise as they achieved fewer sacks (sixteen), than they had for Smith in his first two years.

In John L.'s first year in 2003, they had forty-five sacks, and in 2004 they had 21. Pass break-ups are on the decline as well, with 71 in 2003, 55 in 2004, and just 26 in 2005.

Interceptions in 2003 were at 15, in 2004 the total was eight, and in 2005 the total was eight as well.

While you can give credit to Mathias Askew, Greg Taplin, and Clifford Dukes credit for putting pressure and getting to the quarterback in 2003, to say the defensive line is a major factor in this slide is dubious.

Recruiting could be yet another of many factors involved since you need to have superior talent up front and in the secondary to carry out this gambling scheme.

Tackles for loss have also gone down in this three year period, from 90 in 2003, to 59 in 2004, to 45 in 2005. In other words, these guys have not been getting it done.

In MSU's last big season of 1999, Nick Saban and company gave up only 304 yards of total offense and twenty-nine touchdowns both rushing and passing combined.

In fact, the 1999 team had 119 tackles for loss, a whopping 60 sacks, fourteen interceptions, forced fourteen fumbles, and broke up a whopping 101 passes in one year. In Smith's three year tenure at MSU, they have broken up 152 passes ...combined.

In other words, for whatever reason, guys aren't making plays on the ball.

With that said, an influx of talent this year will finally determine, without excuses, whether it is a scheme problem or a talent problem.

MSU welcomes new addition in Nehemiah Warrick, a JUCO transfer who is a very big hitter and has already made a spring splash with his intense play.

Smith has tried several moves this spring, including looking at Sir Darean Adams as a safety, while putting Cole Corey at a bandit position.

His other experiment is putting Greg Cooper in at a corner position to get his best athlete's and/or people on the field. Cooper is the leading returning tackler from the secondary with 48 stops. He has played some corner in high school, and is trying to make the transition back to that position.

Smith has temporarily has moved Adams back to bandit, which may lead one to believe that they like Warrick as the safety replacing Eric Smith, and that Adams may move back to his old bandit position.

Certainly Otis Wiley, who was impressive last year in spot time, and Mike Bell are in the mix at safety spots. Wiley seemed to have a knack for big plays in limited time.

At corner, Ross Weaver, Demond Williams, and the previously mentioned Greg Cooper are trying to lock down spots.

There are some impressive incoming freshmen coming in, but they would have to make a fast transition. Among them are Kenny Tinney, a lock down corner with kick return skills, Ashton Henderson, another solid corner from Tallahassee, Florida, and don't count out Enrique Shaw from Kentucky, Marcus Hyde from Ohio, or even Roderick Jenrette from Tampa.

All these guys will get a look but only one or two are likely to get in the playing group.

Regardless, this will be the year people will have a definitive, clear look at whether the secondary plays well and turns around the fortunes of Spartan football, and if not, whether it is a scheme or talent issue. We shall see.

Stayed tuned to GSN for more exciting Spartan football coverage.

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