Michigan State Football: What worked and what didn’t against Central Michigan

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Sep 26, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Jon Reschke (33) gestures to student section during the 1st half of a game against Central Michigan at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports


The linbacking group had a new challenge this week. After passing the test of losing Ed Davis thus far, the new challenge was to overcome the loss of Riley Bullough for a half. With Bullough suspended for the first half of the game, Shane Jones got his first career college start.

Must Read: MSU Football: Grading the Spartans’ win over CMU

Jones collected five tackles before giving up his spot to Bullough in the second half. He also collected praise from his captain and position mate, Darien Harris. Despite the nice job Jones did filling in, the defense rallied around Bullough when he came back in.

What went well: Next man up

The linebackers continue to live by that “next man up” mantra — whether it’s Jon Reschke for Ed Davis, Andrew Dowell for Darien Harris or Shane Jones for Riley Bullough. There was a lot of gloom and doom when Ed Davis went down, but MSU has shown that it is pretty deep at the linebacker position with the two-deep all playing significant reps already. Not only does this bode well for this particular team, it means that the linebacker spot will be stacked for years to come.

What didn’t: Pass coverage

A few years back there was pretty widespread worry among the MSU fanbase that former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s scheme was fatally flawed in that it required its linebackers to cover quick slot receivers and running backs out in the flats.

The worry came from teams like Indiana having a lot of success against the defense. But Narduzzi got the issue fixed with a mixture of tweaking the scheme and getting faster linebackers — through recruiting and sometimes moving safeties to linebacker.

Now the bigger issue is the deep ball, but the linebacker pass coverage problems are shaping their way back into the defense. Darien Harris has not gotten the job done on pass coverage. The weakness was glaring against Oregon who ran the same flare screen over and over, but there were times it happened against Central, too.

In previous years, the coaching staff sometimes dealt with this by playing converted safeties against spread teams and playing the bigger guys against more traditional teams. This way the scheme stays the same and simple, but you have players more comfortable in space and with the skills to cover in space playing there.

Jalyn Powell was supposed to fill that role this year, but he transferred because he thought he was too small to play linebacker. Andrew Dowell might be this year’s fix, but he still has a lot to learn for him to be trusted against the likes of Ohio State.

Next: Secondary