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How Does MSU’s Defense Get Better In 2017?

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NCAA Football: Air Force at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

At risk of looking like a complete bumbling moron when he gets to this year’s preview of this team, we will now attempt to parse out exactly what Michigan State needs to do better this year by using Bill C’s 2016 Advanced Statistical Profile.

Hoo boy, that’s a lot of Adjusteds and S&Ps.

Anyway, scroll on down to that Defensive Footprint section.

Hoo boy, that’s a lot of really bad ratings.

What really catches the eye here are the Havoc rankings. Havoc plays are your tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles, and passes broken up or intercepted. Such plays are, of course, very positive things for a defense, as they not only waste a down, but are steps backward of varying size and impact for the offense.

The Spartans came in at an Overall Havoc rate of less than 13%, slotting them at 110th in the country. Moreover, the most disruptive players at each level of the defense are gone now. What cause for optimism is there?

First, and there’s no way to be delicate about this, many of the departed players just didn’t make the impact they needed to for this defense to look like its previous vintages.

A number of players no longer on the team did rack the most stats, true, but this is largely a function of simply being on the field the most. But no one had more than 2 interceptions. No one had more than 2.5 sacks. No one had more than 7 TFLs. There just weren’t impact players on this defense last year, so the fact that many of the guys with the best numbers are gone isn’t really the loss it might seem.

Second, there is an area where the potential for improvement is significant: the defensive line. Following the major attrition this unit suffered after 2015, Malik McDowell figured to be the star who drew all the attention while his youthful compatriots cleaned up around him. Between his injuries, ineffectiveness of the rest of the line, and perhaps some lagging effort towards the end of the season, that never happened. But with Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk being joined by the redshirted Naquan Jones, MSU should have quite a tackle rotation, the latter two having just completed their first collegiate offseason.

Finally, a secondary which has scuffled along the last few years post-No-Fly-Zone gets a considerable reboot. There will be 3 new starters, and there is no shortage of relatively young options. Experience is generally strongly correlated with success in college football, but in this case it may not hurt to have some new blood on the field.