MSU defensive preview

Michigan State's defense took a bit of a beating last week against Michigan, especially on the ground. They'll be looking to bounce back this week against the Buckeyes.

Michigan State enters Saturday's game with the No. 8 ranked defense in the Big Ten, giving up 365.2 yards per game.

The Spartans are fourth in the conference in rushing defense (101.2 yards per game), but are last in passing defense (264).

Under defensive coordinator Chris Smeland (who followed John L. Smith from Louisville), they run a 4-3 scheme and like to blitz. They are first in the Big Ten in sacks with 35, four ahead of second-place Ohio State, and also lead the conference in turnovers forced (25) and turnover margin (plus-16).

"They look good," Ohio State backup quarterback Scott McMullen said. "They're an aggressive bunch of guys. They play tough and they'll play their best game this Saturday in the 'Shoe."

The Spartans are not extremely big, but they are among the quickest defenses in the conference.

"Their defense has a tremendous amount of speed and quickness and toughness," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "And I really like the way they played last week. The Michigan tailback (Chris Perry) got 200 yards, but it took 50-some carries to do it. Michigan State's got a physical defensive football team."

Tressel is especially impressed with MSU's ability to force turnovers.

"I think there are two things, maybe three, that contribute to your turnover margin," he said. "Number one, if you have excellent quickness on defense, you're going to come up with turnovers. Balls that are on the ground, you're going to have the quickness to get them. Balls that are in the air, you're going to have the quickness to get it."

McMullen might get some playing time on Saturday, so he's been watching a lot of film on the Spartans this week.

"They played Michigan real tough and we've watched some film on that, along with some other games," he said. "They have a lot of team speed. They're going to be ready to play on Saturday."

Michigan State's veteran defensive line has been the strength of the defense thus far.

The starting ends are Greg Taplin (6-5, 265, Sr.) and Clifford Dukes (6-3, 270, Jr.). Taplin is tied for the team lead with six sacks.

The tackles are Matthias Askew (6-6, 295, Jr.) and Kyle Rasmussen (6-4, 290, Sr.). Askew also has six sacks on the year.

Last week in its loss to Michigan, MSU lost tackle Greg Yeaster (6-1, 280, Jr.) for the season with a knee injury. He was splitting time with Rasmussen.

Dayton native Brandon McKinney was also expected to make an impact at tackle this season, but he is out for the year with a foot injury.

The linebacking corps is also a veteran-laden group.

The outside 'backers are Mike Labinjo (6-1, 250, Sr.) and Monquiz Wedlow (5-11, 203, Sr.). Labinjo is first on the team in interceptions with three, third on the team with 59 tackles and third on the team with four sacks.

The MLB is Ronald Stanley (6-0, 234, Jr.).

As for the secondary, it has obviously been abused at times. A team isn't last in the Big Ten in passing defense if its DBs are playing well.

The cornerbacks are Roderick Maples (5-10, 186, Jr.) and Darren Barnett (6-0, 175, So.). They are not very good in coverage and are not very physical in run support.

The safeties are definitely a step up from the corners. The FS is Jason Harmon (5-11, 191, Jr.) and the SS is Eric Smith (6-1, 200, So.). Harmon leads the team with 62 tackles and Smith is second with 61.

However, Smith is listed as questionable for the Ohio State game with a sprained shoulder, suffered last week against UM.

If he can't go, look for Derron Ware (6-3, 215, So.) to step in. He played in 10 games as a true freshman last year.


The Spartans will mix things up and will take chances. They like to be aggressive and they like to creep their safeties up, which is a big reason Harmon and Smith are the leading tacklers.

Like most teams that face the Buckeyes, MSU will make OSU beat it with the pass. The deep ball will be there for Craig Krenzel and McMullen. It's just a matter of calling the right plays and completing the deep ball when given the opportunity.

Michigan State's defense is a little banged up and it is ranked in the lower tier of the Big Ten, so it should be a good matchup with OSU's struggling, but improving, offense.

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