East Lansing — Back when Mark Dantonio was the defensive backs coach for Nick Saban at Michigan State in the late 1990s, they developed a way for tracking defensive production.
Simple statistics certainly gave an indication, but these numbers gave more of an idea of how much of an impact a player was having. The result had a simple title — production points.
Ever since then, Dantonio and his staff have tracked production points. There have been some eye-popping numbers over the years as Dantonio has led his share of dominant defenses. But until Saturday when Michigan State beat Northwestern, 31-10, to make Dantonio the winningest coach in Michigan State history, no player had reached the point Joe Bachie did.
The senior middle linebacker finished with 53 production points after filling up the stat sheet.
“That’s the highest one I've ever had,” Dantonio said during his weekly teleconference on Sunday night, “and I really started doing this when I was with Nick Saban in 1995, so that’s the highest production points I’ve ever seen.”
As Dantonio said after the game on Saturday, Bachie was “all over the place.”
He finished with a career-high 14 tackles, had two tackles for loss including a sack, grabbed a fourth-quarter interception and broke up two more passes.
The two-time captain, of course, brushed it off as just another day at the office.
“Just business as usual,” Bachie said.
Maybe it was no big deal for Bachie, but it was hardly even close to usual.
Dantonio briefly explained how they determine production points, but the bottom line was that by the end of Saturday’s game, Bachie was playing at a level rarely seen at Michigan State.
“Usually if you’ve had 20 points you had a very good game,” Dantonio said. “Seventeen points, and you’ve had a very good game. He had 53 production points, which gives you an idea of how well he played.”
It was clear from the first snap of the game that Bachie was going to get after the Wildcats. There’s no doubt he was still stewing over the loss to Arizona State the week before when Michigan State allowed the winning touchdown with less than a minute to play.
There was going to be no such letdown this time. On Northwestern’s first play, Bachie slipped through and recorded a sack after Tyriq Thompson first hit Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson. But it was later on what was essentially the same drive that Bachie and the defense proved they weren’t giving up points easily.
A fumbled punt by Cody White gave Northwestern prime field position and quickly the Wildcats were inside the Michigan State 1 facing a second-and-goal. Bachie met Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser in the hole for no gain on second down while Xavier Henderson and Antjuan Simmons stuffed Bowser on third down. When the Wildcats went for it on fourth down, Mike Panasiuk dragged down Johnson for a 2-yard loss.
The drive ended and Northwestern didn’t find the end zone until the final minutes when the backups were in and the game had long been decided.
“He is a very, very active player,” Dantonio said of Bachie. “He knows what's going on and you gotta deal with him on a game-to-game basis. He's always going to be at the point of attack. And he works extremely hard at the mental part of the game as well in terms of understanding our defense relative to who we play against.”
That ability to understand the defense has helped make the Spartans one of the best in the nation in each of Bachie’s three seasons now as a starter. They led the nation in rushing defense last season and have been top 10 in most major categories each of the past two years.
It’s almost allowed the defense to be overlooked as so much focus has been placed on a struggling offense the past two seasons.
However, Dantonio, who has now won 110 games in his Michigan State career, understands what defense means to winning games.
“They’re not getting overlooked here in-house, I can tell you that,” Dantonio said. “We take great pride in defense and … just for fun, I counted up (the 110 wins). There were 70 of those wins where we held people under 17 points.
“We’ve played well defensively here for a long time and we're going to continue to do that because we put an emphasis on tackling and things of that nature and we work hard at it.”
Michigan State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) will continue that work this week as Indiana comes to town for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. After that, things really ramp up with back-to-back road games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
There were some Michigan State fans holding their breath during the second half on Saturday when redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins was taken to the locker room on a cart. He returned to the sidelines shortly after but did not return to the game as mostly backups were in at that point.
On Sunday, Dantonio said the Spartans’ leading rusher is OK.
“We took him out as a precaution just to get a quick X-ray,” Dantonio said, “but he’s fine.”
… Dantonio said freshman wide receiver Julian Barnett will continue to play the rest of the season. He’s played in four games, meaning another game would burn his redshirt.
“We’ll play Julian the whole year,” Dantonio said. “I think that he's only going to get better.”
Indiana at Michigan State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: No. 25 Michigan State 3-1 (1-0 Big Ten); Indiana 3-1 (0-1)
Line: Michigan State by 14