Air Force vs Michigan State: What worked and what didn’t for the Spartans

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Sep 19, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Defensive coach Harlon Barnett talks to Michigan State Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun (89) during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive line

If there has been one unit better than the Spartans’ offensive line, it’s the defensive line. And while they did not fair as poorly as the offensive line in this game it was not the kind of game we have come to expect from this vaunted defensive unit.

What went well: No significant injuries

The way this unit has been playing across the board has to make it one of the very best defensive lines in the entire country. Malik McDowell and Joel Heath have been forces inside and Shilique Calhoun and Lawrence Thomas have been terrors on the outside. The biggest fear coming into the game was for one of those ultra-important players to get hit with one of Air Force’s cut blocks and get badly hurt.

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Lawrence Thomas was the only defensive lineman who got hurt and it wasn’t from a cut block. He walked off the field on his own and though he didn’t return to the game, he didn’t seem to be hurting too badly on the sideline. Getting out of this game with no knee injuries to the defensive line was a major win for MSU.

What didn’t: Tackles for losses

In a game where the opponents had a total of nine pass attempts and most of those were sneak attacks, you can’t blame the defensive line for not getting any sacks. However, the line was credited with a total of 1.5 tackles for loss and that’s not acceptable.

Option teams are hard to defend, but there have to be some instances when they get buried for several yard losses. The defensive linemen were vocal about being worried about their knees — and a few chop block penalties on Air Force justified those worries — but maybe it was too much in their heads as they did not dominate the line of scrimmage like they had in the first two games. Look for them to tee off against Central Michigan next week.

Next: Linebackers