Big Ten Media Days 2019: Spartans look to maintain elite run defense in 2019

After a dominant run-stopping campaign in 2018, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans look to duplicate the success this season.

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Big Ten Media Days 2019: Spartans look to maintain elite run defense in 2019

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio addresses media at Big Ten Media Days. Credit: Trent Balley / WDBM

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio addresses media at Big Ten Media Days. Credit: Trent Balley / WDBM

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio addresses media at Big Ten Media Days. Credit: Trent Balley / WDBM

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio addresses media at Big Ten Media Days. Credit: Trent Balley / WDBM

Trent Balley, Detroit Sports Columnist

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CHICAGO — The 2018 NCAA Football season wasn’t a great time to run the ball against the Michigan State Spartans. At all.

The Spartans allowed the least amount of rushing yards in the whole nation after giving up only 1,013 total rushing yards. That resulted in just over 2.5 yards per carry for their opponents. The Spartans’ eight rushing touchdowns allowed put them at second in the country behind only the National Champion Clemson Tigers. And now, with just over a month before the new season kicks off, the Spartans are working to continue the trend. 

A defense that brings back all but three starters from last season seems confident that they can do just that. When asked what the key to duplicating the defensive success in 2019 is, senior linebacker Joe Bachie was vocal about the importance of the front four.

“If they stay healthy and they do their job to a great degree, they’re so strong and it makes my job a lot easier,” said Bachie, who had a team leading 102 total tackles in 2018. “If they’re in front of me I feel very confident.”

A prime example of a defensive line weapon is defensive tackle Raequon Williams, who had 10.5 tackles for loss in 2018. Williams was quick to second his teammate’s comments.

“We brought trust and togetherness into everything that we did last year,” Williams said. “That showed on Saturdays. We were never like ‘we’re the number one defense in the nation.’ It was nothing like that, it just happened. It happens when you’re together and you’ve got trust.”

If the Spartans are indeed able to duplicate their success from last season in stopping the run, football fans are in for a load of great matchups in the B1G Conference. Among them is Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.

Taylor led the B1G in total rushing yards last season with 2,194. Perhaps even more impressive, he only fell short of the 100-yard mark in one game. There’s been rumblings of Taylor perhaps being a sleeper pick to win this season’s Heisman Trophy.

Elsewhere, the conference is full of talent in the backfield. Maryland’s Anthony McFarland Jr., Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Illinois’ Reggie Corbin headline the list of backs that will test Michigan State along with Taylor in 2019. Corbin was shocked at how statistically dominant the Spartans actually were against the run a season ago.

“That’s impressive. It’s a good challenge though,” Corbin said. “You want to play against the best, and they were the best last year.”

It’s fair to say that had their offense been at least pedestrian, the Spartans would have finished with more than seven wins last season. Too often, the defense was the only reason that Michigan State was in a position to make a run in the fourth quarter. The problem was the offense simply couldn’t move the ball consistently nor score enough points.

For context, the Spartans allowed just 17.2 points per game, good enough for top ten in the nation. On the other hand, the offense only scored 18.7 points per game. That left Michigan State right around .500 with the loss in the RedBox Bowl.

The optimistic perspective is that quarterback Brian Lewerke is coming back healthy from a riddled throwing shoulder, which should aid coach Mark Dantonio’s offense in putting enough points on the board to win games. 

On the other side of the ball, if Bachie, Williams and this defense can continue to hold opponents to only three scores per game, Michigan State will put together a successful, bounce-back campaign in 2019.

You can contact Trent Balley at balleytr@msu.edu and follow him on Twitter @tbal91