A big part of the reason MSU’s 2018 season was so frustrating was that, without exception, every loss was within a winnable margin in the second half - a few of them obviously so, as MSU led until very late - and yet, whenever it was the offense that needed to make a play, it consistently failed to do so.
Even though there were some instances where the defense could not protect a lead, it’s hard to blame them for letting Arizona State crack double digits, or letting Oregon get on the board at all.
The stats bear out what the casual watch indicated. Michigan State finished the season second in S&P+, and was the top rushing defense in the country. As has usually been the case, the relative weakness was against the pass, where they were merely the 18th-best defense in the country.
In fact, by S&P’s reckoning, last year’s defense was better than the celebrated 2013 unit that carried MSU to the B1G title and Rose Bowl. And, for the second year in a row, the large majority of the unit returns, the silver lining of the 2016 catastrophe that saw most of these players thrown into action as freshmen.
The line loses only reserve tackle Gerald Owens, though DE Kenny Willekes did spend the offseason recovering from a broken leg sustained in the bowl game - a boon to MSU, as he likely would have been draft-bound otherwise. The tackle combo of Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk should once again be all but impossible to run on. If there’s anything to desire from the front, a bit more of a pass rush from guys other than Willekes would be helpful.
LB Andrew Dowell departs, but probable replacement Antjuan Simmons has had plenty of run, and should benefit from starting next to seniors Tyriq Thompson and 2018 first-team All-B1G Joe Bachie Jr. With Bachie and Thompson in their last seasons, the sub pattern wil be of interest to the fanbase in the first few games.
The secondary is definitely the least certain level of the defense. S David Dowell and CB Josiah Scott are a good foundation in both groups, but losing Khari Willis and draft departure Justin Layne is going to demand more from the backups. The safety opening appears to be Xavier Henderson’s to lose. One expects more rotation at the second corner spot, though Josh Butler has the experience credentials.
Placekicker Matt Coghlin is a rising junior with no apparent competition or pressure. He’s fairly reliable inside of 45, though he missed a few last year and this offense’s margin is thin until proven otherwise.
The punting situation is...interesting. When Jake Hartbarger went down with a broken leg against Arizona State, he sent a position that has been a bastion of stability for Mark Dantonio into an utter tailspin. Between further injuries and complete ineffectiveness, MSU cycled through 6 punters over the course of the season.
The results were exactly what you would expect - an additional anchor on the entire flow of the typical MSU game. Had MSU gotten even average production from its punting, the field wouldn’t have been so consistently tilted against its already-bad offense and already-overburdened defense. Having Hartbarger back and healthy will, ideally, solve all of those problems at once, but MSU did venture to the land down under for insurance/Hartbarger’s likely successor in Jack Bouwmeester.
The ideal number of punters to use in a single football season is:
This poll is closed
Less than six
Six or more