East Lansing – Michigan State has been known for its defense ever since Mark Dantonio arrived in 2007, and early this spring, the Spartans coach said that unit has a chance to be “excellent” this fall.
Judging from the way the Spartans played in Saturday’s Green-White Game – a 14-11 win for the White team in front of 51,000 at Spartan Stadium – Dantonio’s prediction doesn’t look far-fetched.
“Defensively we just continue the trend,” Dantonio said. “We’re playing well on the back end, we’re playing well on the perimeter.
“I feel good about our defense. Obviously we have issues with depth, but we have a great class coming in. It’s gonna be exciting, especially at the defensive line position. Along with that I think we have a lot of guys returning at perimeter positions, talking about our defensive backs, linebacker.
“We lost a couple of guys but we’ve got guys returning that played a lot of football. They’re a year older, a year more experienced and they have a higher standard, I think.”
Two players that fit that mold on Saturday were linebacker Andrew Dowell and defensive back David Dowell.
Andrew, a sophomore linebacker, had five tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. David, who redshirted last season, put the game away for the White team with an interception while recording six tackles.
“They’re 100-mile-an-hour guys,” Dantonio said of the twin brothers. “Both of them are going to be great football players for us.”
Andrew Dowell showed flashes in his time as an outside linebacker, playing as a true freshman in 2015. He had 22 tackles, including one for loss and a fumble recovery.
“Andrew has always been a playmaker,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “It’s a matter of being consistent, having more urgency to be consistent and be an every-down guy. Both guys will be great players, but I think they played above their experience this spring.”
The Dowells are young, but the Spartans are loaded with experience in the back end. Safeties Montae Nicholson, a junior, and fifth-year senior Demetrious Cox both had good springs, while senior Darian Hicks is manning one corner with sophomore Vayante Copeland at the other.
The linebackers are among the best in the Big Ten, led by fifth-year senior Riley Bullough and junior Jon Reschke.
Up front, Malik McDowell is an All-American candidate at tackle while a group of four four-stars will be on campus in the fall. Add that to players like junior end Demetrius Cooper and redshirt freshman tackle Raequan Williams, and the Spartans should, once again, be one of the better defensive teams in the Big Ten.
“I have a lot of confidence in these guys,” Bullough said. “I think we’re gonna surprise some people next fall. We have a talented group of guys that are athletic, willing to learn, willing to compete. Put all those things together and that is the making for a great defense.”