No. 8 Michigan State readies defense for opener against JSU - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

No. 8 Michigan State readies defense for opener against JSU

Posted: Updated:
Mark Dantonio cares more about how Michigan State plays than how many plays Jacksonville State can run with its fast-tempo offense in Friday's season opener for both teams.(AP Photo/Al Goldis, File) Mark Dantonio cares more about how Michigan State plays than how many plays Jacksonville State can run with its fast-tempo offense in Friday's season opener for both teams.(AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Mark Dantonio cares more about how No. 8 Michigan State plays than how many plays Jacksonville State can run with its fast-tempo offense in Friday's season opener for both teams.

The Spartans coach said Tuesday he likes what he sees in a retooled defense after a 13-1 season that included Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships. But he stressed the importance of playing a sound game against a Football Championship Subdivision title hopeful.

"We had one of the top defenses in America last year with the rules as they are," Dantonio said. "I do think people tend to get hurt when they're tired. But you've got to sub them out and figure out some way to do that."

With six new starters on defense — seven with the move of Taiwan Jones from outside linebacker to the middle — the Spartans will have to pay attention against the Ohio Valley Conference favorite. The Gamecocks return 18 starters from an 11-4 team that set 49 school records.

"We've got certain guys playing new positions," Dantonio said. "You basically want to see guys bend their knees and play in space and tackle and play the ball in the deep part of the field. There are certain things you can do schematically. Then, it comes down to making plays."

Michigan State will try to do that with one of the nation's top pass rushers, Shilique Calhoun, back at defensive end and with veterans Kurtis Drummond and Trae Waynes leading a revamped secondary. The linebacking corps also looks different, though seven players are capable of filling three spots, Dantonio said.

Though Calhoun's bookend, Marcus Rush has started 40 games in the past three years, the Spartans are still young on defense, with six true freshmen, four redshirt freshmen, eight sophomores and just five seniors on that side of the depth chart.

Michigan State proved to be more than opposing offenses could handle again last season, holding every team below its season average for points and total offense. The Spartans led the Bowl Subdivision in total defense for 13 straight weeks and was the only school to rank among the top three in four major statistical categories.

That could change with the loss of linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, tackles Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds, safety Isaiah Lewis and especially cornerback Darquese Dennard, winner of the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back.

But Michigan State has more depth, especially on defense, than it has had in nearly a half-century. It also has its highest preseason ranking since 1967 as it tries for its 16th straight win in a home opener.

"I know all three of those (starting linebackers) are fourth-year players," Dantonio said of Jones, Ed Davis and Darien Harris. "They've played a lot of football for us, Ed probably as much as anyone. He's a big-play guy. And Darien started or played a lot in the Rose Bowl."

That comeback win over Stanford on Jan. 1 is filed in every player's memory. But it won't show up on the scoreboard this season when Michigan State is one of the hunted.

"It's a statement game," Dantonio said of the opener. "If can't get excited about playing in Spartan Stadium the first game of your senior year, junior year, sophomore year or freshman year, maybe it just isn't happening for you. But If things don't go right for us, it won't be because we overlooked Jacksonville State."

Notes: Michigan State dedicated a $24.5 million addition to Spartan Stadium on Tuesday in front of some 600 program donors. Former All-America offensive lineman Flozell Adams gave $1.5 million for Michigan State's new locker room, which is named in honor of his later mother Rachel Adams. Spartan Stadium opened as College Field in 1923 and now has a capacity of about 75,000.

  • Latest StoriesMore>>

  • Hundreds flee 3 California wildfires; homes burn

    Hundreds flee 3 California wildfires; homes burn

    Monday, September 15 2014 9:01 PM EDT2014-09-16 01:01:21 GMT
    Two raging wildfires in California forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes, including one near a lakeside resort town that burned nearly two dozen structures.More >>
    A wildfire that broke out in far Northern California on Monday burned at least 75 structures, forced the evacuation of about 1,500 residents and caused the closure of a major interstate freeway.More >>
  • Corporal punishment: How far is too far?

    Corporal punishment: How far is too far?

    Monday, September 15 2014 7:18 PM EDT2014-09-15 23:18:11 GMT
    Corporal punishment is legal in the state of Alabama. But, too many parents go too far. Child abuse investigators in Jefferson County answer several calls each week reporting what is believed to be child abuse.More >>
    Corporal punishment is legal in the state of Alabama. But, too many parents go too far. Child abuse investigators in Jefferson County answer several calls each week reporting what is believed to be child abuse.
    More >>
  • Five teens with masks & fake guns stopped in Hueytown

    Five teens with masks & fake guns stopped in Hueytown

    Monday, September 15 2014 5:50 PM EDT2014-09-15 21:50:27 GMT
    Halloween masks, even the scary ones, are meant to be fun. Pair a mask with a gun and you've got a formula for disaster. That's why a tipster called police over five teenagers in Hueytown. Turns out the "guns" weren't real. But the police chief is convinced this tipster stopped a crime and perhaps saved lives. Hueytown police chief Chuck Hagler believes these five teenagers will not be charged with any crime. They should be thanking police. Hagler is convinced they were headed for trouble....More >>
    Halloween masks, even the scary ones, are meant to be fun. Pair a mask with a gun and you've got a formula for disaster. That's why a tipster called police over five teenagers in Hueytown. Turns out the "guns" weren't real. But the police chief is convinced this tipster stopped a crime and perhaps saved lives. Hueytown police chief Chuck Hagler believes these five teenagers will not be charged with any crime. They should be thanking police. Hagler is convinced they were headed for trouble....More >>
  • Griffith says he will give up salary like Bentley if elected

    Griffith says he will give up salary like Bentley if elected

    Monday, September 15 2014 3:28 PM EDT2014-09-15 19:28:31 GMT
    Democrat Parker Griffith says he will give up his salary if elected governor and redirect the money to public education.More >>
    Democrat Parker Griffith says he will give up his salary if elected governor and redirect the money to public education.More >>
  • Miss America: More to worry about than red cup

    Miss America: More to worry about than red cup

    Monday, September 15 2014 2:41 PM EDT2014-09-15 18:41:07 GMT
    The new Miss America followed in the footsteps of her predecessors and posed for pictures in the Atlantic City surf.More >>
    The new Miss America says there are more important things for people to worry about than her little red cup.More >>
  • Bentley creates Small Business Commission

    Bentley creates Small Business Commission

    Monday, September 15 2014 2:28 PM EDT2014-09-15 18:28:05 GMT
    Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is creating a commission to recommend ways the state can help small businesses get started and expand.More >>
    Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is creating a commission to recommend ways the state can help small businesses get started and expand.More >>
  • EPA training sessions in Birmingham to combat pollution

    EPA training sessions in Birmingham to combat pollution

    Monday, September 15 2014 2:11 PM EDT2014-09-15 18:11:14 GMT
    The Environmental Protection Agency will host a Clean Air Act Rulemaking and Permitting training session September 16-17, 2014.More >>
    The Environmental Protection Agency will host a Clean Air Act Rulemaking and Permitting training session September 16-17, 2014.More >>
  • 16th Street Baptist Church remembers bombing anniversary

    16th Street Baptist Church remembers bombing anniversary

    Monday, September 15 2014 1:50 PM EDT2014-09-15 17:50:20 GMT
    September 15th marks a tragic event in our city and nation's history that galvanized the civil rights movement.16th Street Baptist Church commemorated the 51st anniversary of the bombing that killed four little girls.A ceremony started at the same time Sunday school began on that horrible day.Bells rang at 10:22.. the estimated time the blast killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson.Pastor Arthur Price said their death empowered everyone to strive for a bet...More >>
    September 15th marks a tragic event in our city and nation's history that galvanized the civil rights movement.16th Street Baptist Church commemorated the 51st anniversary of the bombing that killed four little girls.A ceremony started at the same time Sunday school began on that horrible day.Bells rang at 10:22.. the estimated time the blast killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson.Pastor Arthur Price said their death empowered everyone to strive for a bet...More >>