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Monday, September 26, 2011

MSU defense statistically #1 in nation - Must prove it vs. Buckeyes

EAST LANSING - Statistically speaking, the Michigan State defense is having one of the best seasons in the nation.
Though the number of games and quality of opponents differ between teams, MSU ranks No. 1 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense after Saturday.
The Spartans are allowing 172 yards per game, just ahead of Alabama, Virginia Tech, Florida, Wisconsin and Texas.
MSU allowed only
112 total yards and forced four turnovers against Central Michigan in Saturday's 45-7 victory. It was the second time this season the Spartans have held an opponent to under 125 yards of offense.
"I think we were sound as a defense, but I also think more importantly guys made plays," sophomore linebacker Max Bullough said after grabbing an interception against the Chippewas.
Now the Spartan defense will head to Ohio State this Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC) to take on a program that has been the gold standard of Big Ten defense for the last decade.
"Anytime your defense is dominant, it is going to be very tough to lose that football game," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said.
Under Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes boasted smothering defensive units that helped lead Ohio State to a BCS national championship during the 2002 season with Dantonio as his defensive coordinator.
Other than Troy Smith's Heisman Trophy-winning season of 2006, it can be argued that the Buckeyes primarily rode their defenses to five straight Big Ten championships starting in 2005, without counting last season's vacated crown.
"Everybody likes defenses like that. You like seeing things like that," sophomore safety Isaiah Lewis said. "I hope our defense can become a defense like that - a well-known defense around the country."
It's been much of the same for Ohio State under new coach Luke Fickell. His team is ranked 16th in total defense through Saturday, allowing only 276 yards per game and posting a shutout against Akron in the season-opener.
"They're a great program - they have been perennially for many years. And, you know, we think we're a great defense, too," Bullough said. "We think we're a great football team despite what's happened (against Notre Dame), despite anything that's happened. And you know we're going to go in there, and we're looking to prove it in the Big Ten."

The Buckeyes' offense, however, remains a work in progress without Terrelle Pryor at quarterback.
Ohio State looked pitiful in a loss at Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 17, completing just four passes for 35 yards. After that game, senior Joe Bauserman was benched and the starting quarterback job was turned over to freshman Braxton Miller.
Passing still was a problem for the Buckeyes Saturday against Colorado. Miller was just 5 of 13 as he and Bauserman combined for 110 passing yards in a win over a Buffaloes program that hasn't won a road game since October 2007.
"We're a confident defense, and we can compete with the best," Lewis said. "They're a Big Ten team just like us, and I mean we know we can battle against them. I feel like we can dominate any offense - any opposing offense - and we're just going to keep continuing to do that."
There's dominating an opposing offense in terms of forcing three-and-outs, and then there's taking the ball away from them before they even get a chance to punt.
The Spartans' defense had four interceptions against the Chippewas, with Lewis taking one back 37 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
It came a week after MSU forced three turnovers in a 31-13 loss at Notre Dame.
"We're getting interceptions. We're getting turnovers," Dantonio said. "Those things are big positives right now."

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