2018 Season Outlook
Spartans return 19 position starters, tied for most in the nation.
With the first practice of preseason camp starting on Thursday, Aug. 2, msuspartans.com takes a position-by-position look at the 2018 Spartans.
SPARTAN FOOTBALL NOTES
• After finishing the 2017 campaign with a 10-3 record and a No. 15 ranking by The Associated Press, Michigan State is looking to use the momentum built from last year into another successful season in 2018. The Spartans capped the greatest single-season turnaround in school history with a dominating 42-17 win over No. 18 Washington State (CFP ranking) in the Holiday Bowl to record their sixth double-digit win season in the last eight years.
• After featuring one of the youngest teams in the nation last season, Michigan State returns a total of 48 letterwinners and 19 position starters in 2018. A total of 33 players returning have starting experience (16 offense, 14 defense, three special teams). Out of a combined 286 possible starting positions in 2017 on offense and defense throughout the course of 13 games, the Spartans are returning 239 of those starts (84 percent). The 19 position starters returning on offense and defense are tied for the most in the FBS along with Florida, and the 22 overall starters (including specialists) are also tied for first (Baylor).
• On defense, the Spartans return 23 letterwinners and nine starters from a unit that finished ranked in the FBS Top 10 in rushing defense (No. 2 at 95.3 ypg) and total defense (No. 7 at 297.6 ypg). Out of a possible 143 starting positions last season over the course of 13 games, the Spartans are returning 120 of those starts (84 percent). Five of those nine returning starters started in all 13 games last season (LB Joe Bachie, LB Andrew Dowell, DT Mike Panasiuk, NT Raequan Williams, S Khari Willis).
• The Spartans will welcome 10 starters back on offense, tied for most in the nation, including senior running back LJ Scott and junior quarterback Brian Lewerke. The only starter lost on offense was center Brian Allen. MSU returns 100 percent of its passing yards from the quarterback position, 82 percent of its receptions, 81 percent of its receiving yards, and 71 percent of its rushing yards. Out of a possible 143 starting positions last season over the course of 13 games, the Spartans are returning 119 of those starts (83 percent).
• Michigan State is in the midst of its winningest decade in school history based on total wins, as the Spartans are 78-28 (.736) since the beginning of the 2010 season. During that span, MSU has won five bowl games (2012 Outback, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings, 2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton, 2017 Holiday), three Big Ten Championships (2010, 2013, 2015) and three Big Ten Division titles (2011, 2013, 2015). MSU’s .736 winning percentage this decade is second best in school history (.766 in 1950s, 70-21-1). The Spartans’ 78 victories since 2010 rank tied for 10th most in the FBS, and the 49 wins since 2013 are tied for ninth most. In addition, the Spartans have earned 10 bowl bids since 2007, including a school-record four consecutive bowl victories (2012 Outback against No. 18 Georgia, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings against TCU, 2014 Rose Bowl Game against No. 5 Stanford, 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic against No. 4 Baylor), which also tied a Big Ten record.
HEAD COACH Mark Dantonio NOTES
Mark Dantonio owns a 100-45 (.690) record. He is one of just eight active FBS coaches to own at least 100 victories at his current school. For the fourth time in his career, Dantonio was named a semifinalist in 2017 for the George Munger College Coach of the Year, presented by the Maxwell Football Club. Dantonio has won the most Big Ten Championships (three) and bowl games (five) of any Spartan head coach and also ranks first with 10 bowl appearances. He is the only Big Ten coach to win multiple Big Ten Championships (2010, 2013, 2015), claim a victory in the Rose Bowl (2014), and coach in the College Football Playoff (2015).
• The second-winningest coach in school history with 100 victories, trailing only Hall of Famer Duffy Daugherty (109), Dantonio also ranks first in program history in conference winning percentage (.667, 60-30 record, minimum 10 games), tied for first in AP Top 25 finishes (seven), second in Big Ten wins (60) and home wins (59), and fifth in overall winning percentage (.690). Overall, Dantonio owns a 118-62 (.656) record in 14 seasons as a head coach (18-17 in three seasons at Cincinnati; 100-45 in 11 seasons at MSU).
• Dantonio’s incredible run at Michigan State ranks among the best in Big Ten history. Dantonio is one of just six Big Ten coaches to have at least six 10-win seasons on their resume (Bo Schembechler, Michigan; Jim Tressel, Ohio State; Joe Paterno, Penn State; Lloyd Carr, Michigan; Urban Meyer, Ohio State) and one of four to have at least five 11-win seasons (Tressel, Paterno, Meyer).
• Dantonio became the first coach in Big Ten history to record five 11-win seasons in a six-year span (11 in 2010; 11 in 2011; 13 in 2013, 11 in 2014; 12 in 2015), and his five 11-win seasons are tied with Joe Paterno of Penn State for third most in Big Ten history (Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer of Ohio State with six; Paterno with five at Penn State as Big Ten member). Prior to Dantonio’s arrival, MSU had not recorded an 11-win season in its history, and had just two 10-win seasons (1965, 1999).
• A two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (2010, 2013), Dantonio has led Michigan State to Top 25 finishes seven times (2008: No. 24 in both polls; 2010: No. 14 in both polls; 2011: No. 10 USA TODAY/No. 11 AP; 2013: No. 3 in both polls; 2014: No. 5 in both polls; 2015: No. 6 in both polls; 2017: No. 15 AP/No. 16 USA TODAY). His seven AP Top-25 finishes are tied for the most in school history. Duffy Daugherty’s teams posted seven Top-25 finishes during his 19-year tenure from 1954-72.
• Dantonio also ranks first in school history with 10 bowl appearances, including a school-record streak of nine straight bowl games from 2007-15. He is 5-5 in bowl games at Michigan State, including a school-record four-game winning streak (2012 Outback, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings, 2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton). Dantonio has led his teams to 12 bowl berths in 14 seasons as a head coach (10 at MSU, two at Cincinnati).
• From his first day on the job, Dantonio has pledged to support student-athletes as they pursue excellence, both in the classroom and on the playing field. In his first 11 seasons, a total of 203 players have earned their undergraduate degrees. In addition, 162 Spartans have earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, including eight Academic All-America selections (five first-team honorees). Michigan State has placed three student-athletes in the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Class during Dantonio’s tenure.
QUICK LOOK AT THE 2018 SCHEDULE
• Michigan State will face seven teams on its 2018 schedule that appeared in bowl games last season, including two of its three nonconference opponents (Aug. 31 vs. Utah State; Sept. 8 at Arizona State). Spartan Big Ten opponents Northwestern (Oct. 6), Penn State (Oct. 13), Michigan (Oct. 20), Purdue (Oct. 27) and Ohio State (Nov. 10) also played in bowl games last season.
• Michigan State’s 2018 season opener against Utah State is set for 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31 at Spartan Stadium. This marks the seventh time in the last eight years that the Spartans will open on a Friday night. The Spartans are 6-0 in their previous Friday night games under Dantonio. A member of the Mountain West Conference, Utah State went 6-7 last season and lost in the Arizona Bowl. The matchup will be the first between the two schools.
• Michigan State and Arizona State will meet in Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 8 in the first matchup between the two schools since 1986 and just the third overall in series history. MSU defeated ASU in the first-ever meeting, 12-3, at Spartan Stadium in 1985, but the Sun Devils returned the favor the following season in Tempe, 20-17.
• Now in the third year of the nine-game Big Ten Conference schedule, MSU has five home games and four road games in 2018. MSU will open Big Ten play at Indiana on Sept. 22 and will also travel to Penn State (Oct. 13), Maryland (Nov. 3) and Nebraska (Nov. 17). The Spartans will host Northwestern on Homecoming Oct. 6, Michigan on Oct. 20, Purdue on Oct. 27, Ohio State on Nov. 10 and Rutgers on Nov. 24. MSU will play Northwestern, Purdue and Nebraska from the Big Ten West Division in 2018.
• Michigan State will be looking for its ninth win in 11 tries against Michigan on Oct. 20 in Spartan Stadium. The Spartans have won eight of their last 10 meetings over the Wolverines, including four of the last five matchups in East Lansing.
SPARTAN COACHING STAFF PROMOTIONS, UPDATES
• MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has repeatedly stressed the importance of continuity on his coaching staff as one of the main reasons for Michigan State’s success during his tenure. Three of MSU’s nine assistant coaches have been at MSU since Dantonio’s arrival in 2007 (assistant head coach/offensive line coach Mark Staten, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Mike Tressel, co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Dave Warner). Those three also coached under Dantonio at Cincinnati. Dantonio, Staten and Tressel have been on the same staff since 2004.
• In addition, quarterbacks coach Brad Salem is in his ninth year on the staff, wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel is in his eighth year, and defensive tackles coach Ron Burton is in his sixth year. Co-offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Jim Bollman, who is also in his sixth season, has coached with Dantonio on three previous occasions: Youngstown State (1986-90), Michigan State (1995-97) and Ohio State (2001-03).
• Mike Tressel, who served as Michigan State’s co-defensive coordinator the past three seasons (2015-17), was promoted to defensive coordinator on Jan. 19, 2018. He has been on the same staff with Dantonio for the past 14 seasons, including the last 11 at Michigan State. Tressel will remain coaching the linebackers.
• Michigan State has three new assistant coaches on its staff for the 2018 season, although all three of them have Spartan ties. Don Treadwell, who served as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator for four seasons from 2007-10 under Dantonio, has returned to the Spartan coaching staff. Treadwell will assist coaching defensive backs and special teams. In addition, Treadwell will serve as freshmen head coach, a new title created to support first-year players in their growth and development both on and off the field.
• Paul Haynes, who has more than 20 years of collegiate coaching experience, most recently as the head coach at Kent State for five seasons (2013-17), will coach the secondary. Haynes spent two years in East Lansing (2003-04) coaching defensive backs before coaching seven seasons (2005-11) on the defensive staff at Ohio State.
• Chuck Bullough, a 22-year coaching veteran who has experience in both the NFL and college, will coach the defensive ends. Bullough spent seven years in the NFL with both the Chicago Bears (1999-2003) and Cleveland Browns (2011-12) and has coached 14 seasons in college, including stops at Lake Forest College (2004), Western Michigan (2005), UCLA (2006-10), Syracuse (2013-15) and Eastern Michigan (2016-17).
2018 SPARTAN CAPSULE
Lettermen Lost: 21 (12 offense, 8 defense, 1 specialist)
Lettermen Returning: 48 (21 offense, 24 defense, 3 specialists)
Starters Lost: 4 (1 offense, 2 defense, 1 specialist)
Starters Returning: 22 (10 offense, 9 defense, 3 specialist)
Offensive Starters Lost (1): C Brian Allen
Offensive Starters Returning (10): LG David Beedle, RT Luke Campbell, LT Cole Chewins, WR Felton Davis III, RG Kevin Jarvis, QB Brian Lewerke, RB LJ Scott, TE Matt Sokol, WR Darrell Stewart, WR Cody White
Starting Specialists Lost (1): KO Brett Scanlon
PERSONAL BRIEFING: OFFENSE
Letterwinners returning (1):
• #14 Brian Lewerke (2L, Jr., 6-3, 220, Phoenix, Ariz./Pinnacle)
(13 games/13 starts, 246-of-417 passing (.590), 2,793 yards, 20 TDs, 7 INTs)
After a sensational sophomore season, Brian Lewerke returns for his second year as the starting quarterback in 2018. Lewerke became the first Spartan quarterback to throw for more than 2,500 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in the same season while leading MSU to a 10-3 record and a No. 15 AP ranking in 2017. He was also just one of six quarterbacks among Power 5 schools to record more than 2,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in 2017, and is only one of three returning Power 5 QBs in 2018 with those credentials (Kelly Bryant, Clemson; Daniel Jones, Duke).
Lewerke set MSU sophomore records for total offense (3,352 yards), passing yards (2,973), passing attempts (417) and passing completions (246); in addition, his 3,352 yards of total offense were the second most in school history. A true dual-threat quarterback, Lewerke also finished last season with 559 rushing yards on 124 carries, the fourth most by a Spartan QB in a single season and the most since Drew Stanton had 687 in 2004.
During the course of his first year as a starter, Lewerke’s passing skills were on full display, as he became just one of three Big Ten quarterbacks in the last 20 years to throw for 400 yards in consecutive games. He set school single-game records for passing yards (445), total offense (475) and completions (39) in the triple-overtime loss at Northwestern on Oct. 28, and followed that effort by completing 33-of-56 passes for 400 yards to defeat No. 7 Penn State the next week on Nov. 4. In MSU’s 42-17 win over No. 18 Washington State in the Holiday Bowl, Lewerke was named the Offensive MVP after finishing with 286 yards of total offense; he was 13-of-21 passing for 213 yards and three touchdowns, and set a Spartan bowl record for most rushing yards by a quarterback (14 carries for 73 yards).
Lewerke’s three favorite targets from 2017 – Felton Davis III, Darrell Stewart and Cody White – all return for the Spartans in 2018. That trio combined for 1,767 yards, 140 receptions and 15 touchdown catches last year in their first season working with Lewerke.
In 17 career games, including 15 starts (10-5 record), Lewerke has completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,174 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Letterwinners returning (3):
• #11 RB Connor Heyward (1L, So., 6-0, 229, Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge)
(12 games, 3 carries, 10 yards, 3.3 avg., 0 TDs)
• #40 FB Collin Lucas (1L, Sr., 6-1, 236, 13 games/5 starts)
• #3 RB LJ Scott (3L, Sr., 6-1, 225, Hubbard, Ohio/Hubbard)
(12 games/7 starts, 201 carries, 898 yards, 4.5 avg., 8 TDs, 74.8 ypg.)
Michigan State’s running game received a boost when LJ Scott announced he would be returning for his senior season following his 110-yard, two touchdown effort in the win over No. 18 Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. Scott led the Spartans in rushing for the third consecutive year in 2017, finishing with 898 yards and eight TDs on 201 carries. He is looking to become just the third running back in school history to lead the program in rushing four straight seasons, joining Lorenzo White (1984-87) and Javon Ringer (2005-08).
Scott finished eighth in the Big Ten in rushing (74.8 avg.) and tied for ninth in rushing TDs (8). He recorded three 100-yard games for the Spartans in 2017, including a career-high 194 yards at Minnesota on Oct. 14, and owns nine career 100-yard rushing games. Scott enters his senior season ranked 11th in MSU history in carries (531), 12th in rushing yards (2,591) and tied for 12th in rushing TDs (25).
Sophomore Connor Heyward, who had a chance to show his diverse skill set as a true freshman by returning kicks, catching passes and carrying the ball in the backfield, will have a chance to earn even more playing time in his second season with the Spartans in 2018. He displayed his potential in the spring game with 48 yards on 12 carries, including a 6-yard touchdown run.
At fullback, fifth-year senior Collin Lucas returns as the starter after playing in all 13 games last season, including five starts.
Letterwinners returning (6):
• #21 Cam Chambers (1L, So., 6-2, 214, Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek Regional)
(13 games, 5 catches, 66 yards, 13.2 avg., 0 TDs, 5.1 ypg)
• #18 Felton Davis III (3L, Sr., 6-4, 200, Richmond, Va./Highland Springs)
(13 games/13 starts, 55 catches, 776 yards, 14.1 avg., 9 TDs, 59.7 ypg)
• #12 Nick Krumm (1L, Jr., 5-10, 185, Commerce Twp., Mich./Walled Lake Central, 5 games)
• #13 Laress Nelson (1L, So., 5-8, 179, Fort Lauderdale, Fla./American Heritage)
(10 games, 3 catches, 29 yards, 9.7 avg., 0 TDs, 2.9 ypg)
• #25 DARRELL STEWART (2L, Jr., 6-2, 217, Houston, Texas/Nimitz)
(13 games/4 starts, 50 catches, 501 yards, 10.0 avg., 2 TDs, 38.5 ypg)
• #7 Cody White (1L, So., 6-3, 210, Novi, Mich./Walled Lake Western)
(13 games/6 starts, 35 catches, 490 yards, 14.0 avg., 4 TDs, 37.7 ypg)
Michigan State brings back all three of its starting wide receivers in senior Felton Davis III, junior Darrell Stewart and sophomore Cody White. The trio accounted for 1,767 yards, 140 receptions and 15 touchdown catches last season.
A second-team All-Big Ten selection by the media, Davis led a young receiving corps in 2017 with career highs in receptions (55), receiving yards (776) and touchdown catches (9), all of which ranked among the Big Ten leaders (tied for third in TD catches with nine; tied for seventh in receptions at 4.2 pg; seventh in receiving yards at 59.7 ypg). Davis’ career-high nine TD catches also tied for 25th in the FBS. He registered career highs in catches (12) and receiving yards (181) in the win over No. 7 Penn State on Nov. 4 and was named the Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week vs. Iowa (nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns). In the Holiday Bowl victory, Davis recorded his third 100-yard receiving game of the season, hauling in four catches for 118 yards, including a career-long 49-yard touchdown pass from Brian Lewerke in the second quarter. In 32 career games, Davis is MSU’s active leader in receptions (69), receiving yards (976) and TD catches (10).
Stewart ranked second on the team in catches (50), receiving yards (501; 38.5 ypg) and all-purpose yards (813; 62.5 ypg), while White, a BTN All-Freshman Team selection in 2017, closed his first year in the Green and White with the most receiving yards by a true freshman in school history with 490. His 35 catches were second most by a true freshman (RB Sedrick Irvin with 40 in 1996) and most by a true freshman wide receiver (B.J. Cunningham had 41 catches for 528 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2008). White, who started the last six games in 2017, ranked third on the team in catches (35) and receiving yards (490) and second in touchdown receptions (4). He recorded 30 of his 35 catches in the second half of the season and set another MSU freshman single-game record with 165 receiving yards at Northwestern on Oct. 28.
Sophomore Laress Nelson could see an expanded role in the offense at flanker as a after hauling in three catches for 29 yards as a true freshman, and fellow sophomore Cam Chambers also returns to the lineup at split end (five catches for 66 yards in 2017). In addition, two-year letterwinner and fifth-year senior Brandon Sowards, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will also compete for playing time.
Letterwinners returning (4):
• #84 Noah Davis (1L, So., 6-4, 251, Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier)
(11 games/4 starts, 3 catches, 22 yards, 7.3 avg., 2.0 ypg)
• #89 Matt Dotson (1L, So., 6-5, 250, Kenwood, Ohio/Archbishop Moeller)
(10 games/1 start, 2 catches, 19 yards, 9.5 avg., 1.9 ypg)
• #94 Chase Gianacakos (2L, Sr.-5, 6-6, 296, St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles North)
(12 games/2 starts)
• #81 Matt Sokol (3L, Sr.-5, 6-6, 260, Rochester, Mich./Adams)
(13 games/11 starts, 21 catches, 222 yards, 10.6 avg., 1 TD, 17.1 ypg)
Another position of strength for the Spartans in 2018 will be at tight end, where the Spartans return four letterwinners, including starter Matt Sokol. Sokol had a career-high 21 receptions for 222 yards and one touchdown as a junior while starting in 11 games last season.
Rising sophomores Noah Davis (three catches for 22 yards) and Matt Dotson (two catches for 19 yards) also caught passes in 2017. Fifth-year senior Chase Gianacakos made the transition from guard to tight end last year and provided an extra blocker on the line for the Spartans.
Letterwinners returning (7):
• #66 C Matt Allen (1L, So., 6-3, 300, 11 games)
• #59 OG David Beedle (3L, Sr.-5, 6-5, 330, 10 games/9 starts (6 at LG, 3 at RG))
• #62 OT Luke Campbell (1L, So., 6-5, 290, 13 games/12 starts at RT)
• #61 OT Cole Chewins (2L, Jr., 6-8, 290, 13 games/13 starts at LT)
• #75 OG Kevin Jarvis (1L, So., 6-4, 321, 13 games/9 starts at RG)
• #70 OG Tyler Higby (2L, Jr., 6-5, 285, 13 games/7 starts at LG)
• #55 OT Jordan Reid (1L, So., 6-4, 275, 13 games/1 start at RT)
The Spartans are returning four starters and seven letterwinnners on the offensive line in 2018, and six of those letterwinners have starting experience. Although MSU lost veteran center Brian Allen to graduation, the line should be a strength for the Spartans this fall in protecting quarterback Brian Lewerke and creating holes for LJ Scott. Last season, Michigan State allowed just 21 sacks, tied for second fewest in the Big Ten.
On the ends, MSU returns both starting tackles. Junior Cole Chewins started all 13 games at left tackle and has started 16 consecutive games, while sophomore Luke Campbell earned starting assignments 12 times at right tackle to earn BTN All-Freshman Team honors. Sophomore Jordan Reid also saw significant playing time (more than 275 snaps) at right tackle and has the abiltity to play any position on the offensive line. Promising sophomore AJ Arcuri, who spent most of last season sidelined with an injury, also saw reps in spring practice at tackle.
The Spartans are also solid at guard as three players have served in starting roles throughout their careers. Fifth-year senior David Beedle, who started the first three games in 2017 at right guard, made the move to left guard midway through the season and started the last six games at the position. Beedle didn’t allow a sack all season and finished second on the team with 13 dominators to pick up third-team All-Big Ten accolades from the coaches and media.
Rising junior Tyler Higby started the first seven games at left guard before Beedle took over the starting role in Week 8. Higby has 13 career starts to his credit and will be counted on as a key contributor in 2018; he has also seen action at center during his time as a Spartan during practices. At right guard, rising sophomore Kevin Jarvis started more games on the offensive line than any other true freshman offensive lineman in the Mark Dantonio era. Jarvis started his first career game in the Big Ten opener against Iowa and didn’t look back, starting the final 10 games of the season.
Sophomore Matt Allen, who served as his brother Brian’s backup in 2017 at center and played nearly 50 snaps while earning his first letter, enters preseason camp as the likely candidate to start at the position in 2018.
PERSONNEL BRIEFING: DEFENSE
Letterwinners returning (8):
• #52 DE Dillon Alexander (2L, Sr.-5, 6-4, 235, Forsyth, Ga./Lambert)
(11 games/4 starts, 4 tackles)
• #93 NT Naquan Jones (1L, So., 6-4, 339, Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township)
(13 games, 13 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 PBU)
• #41 DT Gerald Owens (2L, Sr.-5, 6-2, 310, Thorofare, N.J./West Deptford)
(12 games, 11 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
• #96 DE Jacub Panasiuk (1L, So., 6-3, 254, Roselle, Ill./Lake Park West)
(13 games, 15 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack)
• #72 DT Mike Panasiuk (2L, Jr., 6-4, 285, Roselle, Ill./Lake Park West)
(13 games/13 starts, 25 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 PBU)
• #80 Matt Seybert (1L, Jr., 6-4, 250, Traverse City, Mich./Buffalo, 5 games) *
* Lettered as a tight end in 2017, but made the move to defensive end in spring
• #48 DE Kenny Willekes (1L, Jr., 6-4, 260, Rockford, Mich./NorthPointe Christian)
(13 games/12 starts, 73 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 7 sacks, 2 PBUs, 2 FR, 1 FF)
• #99 NT Raequan Williams (2L, Jr., 6-4, 300, Chicago, Ill./DePaul College Prep)
(13 games/13 starts, 31 tackles, 6 TFLs, 2.5 sacks)
Michigan State returns seven letterwinners to the defensive line in 2018, including three starters. The Spartans will be strong up the middle once again as juniors Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams, who both earned honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades in 2017, enter their second season as full-time starters. Panasuik and Williams have started 16 consecutive games alongside each other on the interior of the defensive line and should only continue to improve this fall. Panasiuk recorded 25 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore, while Williams had 31 tackles, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. They were both key in helping Michigan State rank No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 2 in the FBS in rushing defense (95.3 ypg).
The Spartans bring back plenty of depth on the inside behind Panasiuk and Williams, including Naquan Jones, a 6-4, 339-pound sophomore who showed flashes of his potential during his redshirt freshman season in 2017. Two-year letterwinner Gerald Owens also returns.
At defensive end, junior Kenny Willekes had a breakout season in his first year as a starter in 2017, leading the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. The Ted Hendricks Award nominee also collected a career-high 73 tackles, which ranked second most among Big Ten defensive linemen and third overall on the team.
Sophomore Jacub Panasiuk, who played in all 13 games as a true freshman and compiled 15 tackles, including three for losses, looks to have an increased role at defensive end, along with fifth-year senior Dillon Alexander, who started the first three games last year and played in 11 games overall. Fourth-year junior Justice Alexander was one of the breakout players from spring practice, earning a starting assignment during the spring game at defensive end, and should see an increased role on the defense in 2018. Junior Matt Seybert, who played five games at tight end in 2017, made the transition to defensive end in the spring and provides depth to the group, along with fellow converted tight end Jack Camper. Drew Beesley, who played in three games as a redshirt freshman at defensive end, adds depth at the position.
Letterwinners returning (7):
• #35 Joe Bachie (2L, So., 6-2, 238, Brook Park, Ohio/Berea-Midpark)
(13 games/13 starts, 8.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 PBUs, 1 FR, 2 FF)
• #38 Byron Bullough (3L, Sr.-5, 6-1, 232, Traverse City, Mich./St. Francis)
(13 games, 13 tackles, 1 TFL)
• #5 Andrew Dowell (3L, Sr., 6-1, 225, North Ridgeville, Ohio/St. Edward)
(13 games/13 starts, 74 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 4 PBUs, 1 FR, 1 FF)
• #44 Grayson Miller (3L, Sr., 6-3, 215, Georgetown, Ky./Scott, 11 games, 7 tackles) *
* Three-year letterwinner at safety made the move to linebacker in spring
• #26 Brandon Randle (1L, So., 6-2, 234, Battle Creek, Mich./Battle Creek Central)
(13 games, 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
• #34 Antjuan Simmons (1L, So., 6-0, 220, Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer)
(13 games, 34 tackles, 1.5 TFLs)
• #17 Tyriq Thompson (2L, Jr., 6-1, 245, Detroit, Mich./King)
(12 games, 11 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
Bachie, who started all 13 games at middle linebacker as a sophomore for the Spartans in 2017 and led the team in tackles (100; 7.7 avg.), was named the recipient of the Governor’s Award, which is given annually to the program’s most valuable player as voted on by the team. He was the first Spartan sophomore to win the Governor’s Award since quarterback Drew Stanton in 2004. In addition to leading the team and ranking seventh in the Big Ten in tackles, he ranked second on the team in tackles for loss (8.5 for 29 yards) and interceptions (three) and fourth in sacks (3.5 for 16 yards). He also led the team in production points during the regular season with 289. A third-team All-Big Ten choice by the coaches and media, Bachie was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice in 2017 (vs. Michigan and Indiana). The 6-2, 238-pound Bachie led the Spartans in tackles eight times, including double-digit stops in five games (career-high 13 vs. Indiana; 11 vs. Maryland; 11 against Western Michigan; 10 vs. Michigan and Bowling Green). He also displayed impressive leadership skills in just his second year, as he was named to the team’s Eagles Leadership Council.
Dowell, who ranked second on the team with a career-high 74 tackles as a junior, returns for his third season as a starter at Star linebacker. He leads all active Spartans with 163 tackles and has played in 38 career games, including 21 starts.
Sophomore Antjuan Simmons led the Spartans in special teams tackles as a true freshman with 10 and was credited with 34 tackles overall.
Brandon Randle, who was a third-down edge rusher in his first season, saw more time at strong side linebacker during the spring. During his limited action at defensive end as a redshirt freshman, Randle was still productive, recording five tackles, one sack, three quarterback hurries and one fumble recovery. Randle battled with Tyriq Thompson in the spring for time at Sam linebacker. A two-year letterwinner, Thompson tallied 11 tackles in 12 games last season and has played in 23 career games during his first two seasons.
Fifth-year senior and three-year letterwinner Byron Bullough has played in 29 career games and will provide experience at middle linebacker and special teams. Fellow senior and three-year letterwinner Grayson Miller made the move from safety to Star linebacker in the spring and showed exceptional open-field tackling ability, tying for the team lead with seven tackles during the spring game. Miller will likely see time in the playing rotation, along with having a role on special teams.
Letterwinners returning (9):
• #19 CB Josh Butler (2L, Jr., 6-0, 184, Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite)
(12 games/4 starts, 12 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks, 3 PBUs)
• #6 S DAVID DOWELL (2L, Jr., 6-1, 206, North Ridgeville, Ohio/St. Edward)
(13 games/10 starts, 52 tackles, 5 INTs, 4 PBUs, 1 FR)
• #2 CB Justin Layne (2L, Jr., 6-3, 185, Cleveland, Ohio/Benedictine)
(13 games/9 starts, 40 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 1 INT, 8 PBUs, 1 FF)
• #9 S Dominique Long (1L, So., 6-2, 195, Westerville, Ohio/Westerville South)
(11 games, 10 tackles)
• #10 S Matt Morrissey (3L, Sr.-5, 6-3, 211, Lincolnshire, Ill./Adlai E. Stevenson)
(13 games/3 starts, 35 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 4 PBUs)
• #24 S Tre Person (1L, So., 5-10, 165, Atlanta, Ga./Westlake)
(6 games, 4 tackles)
• #22 CB Josiah Scott (1L, So., 5-10, 175, Hamilton, Ohio/Fairfield)
(12 games/12 starts, 30 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INTs, 10 PBUs)
• #15 CB Tyson Smith (3L, Sr., 5-11, 170, Southfield, Mich./Orchard Lake St. Mary’s)
(13 games/1 start, 5 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
• #27 S Khari Willis (3L, Sr., 6-0, 215, Jackson, Mich./Lumen Christi)
(13 games/13 starts, 71 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, 1 FF)
Nine letterwinners and all four starters from the secondary return in 2018 for the Spartans in what has the potential to be one of the best defensive backfields in Dantonio’s tenure.
Safety Khari Willis, who is the veteran of the group and the only senior starter, looks to build off his career year as a junior in 2017 as he ranked fourth on the team with 71 tackles, including 5.5 for losses and four sacks. He also broke up three passes, forced a fumble and recorded two interceptions as the Spartans ranked No. 17 in the FBS in pass efficiency defense.
Junior safety David Dowell earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media in his first year as a starter after leading the team and ranking tied for second in the conference with five interceptions, the most by any player in the Dantonio era. Dowell had two interceptions apiece in the wins over No. 7 Michigan and No. 7 Penn State and also had a pick at No. 11 Ohio State. In addition, he was credited with a career-high 52 tackles and four pass break-ups.
Fifth-year senior and three-year letterwinner Matt Morrissey also has starting experience and will be relied upon at safety and on special teams, while sophomores Dominique Long and Tre Person will compete for playing time.
The Spartans boast an impressive starting duo at cornerback in rising junior Justin Layne and true sophomore Josiah Scott. In Layne’s first full year as a starter – he made the transition from wide receiver as a true freshman in 2016 – he tallied 40 tackles, eight pass break-ups and one interception to garner honorable mention All-Big Ten plaudits. Scott, who started more games (12) than any other freshman position player in the Dantonio era, was named a first-team Freshman All-American after leading the team and ranking sixth in the Big Ten with 10 pass break-ups to go along with his two interceptions and 30 tackles.
Just like at safety, both of the backups at cornerback have starting experience under their belt, as junior Josh Butler started four games last season and fifth-year senior Tyson Smith has six career starts.
PERSONNEL BRIEFING: SPECIAL TEAMS
• Placekicker: Sophomore Matt Coghlin tied a Spartan freshman record with 15 field goals last season en route to earning BTN All-Freshman and honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades. He led the team in scoring with 83 points, going 15-of-19 on field-goal attempts and 38-of-38 on point-after attempts. Coghlin was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after making the game-winning 34-yard field goal as time expired against No. 7 Penn State.
• Punter: Fifth-year senior Jake Hartbarger is back for his fourth year as the starter. A 2017 Ray Guy Award nominee, Hartbarger averaged 42.0 yards per punt and placed a career-high 28 punts inside the 20 to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades. He enters his senior season ranked eighth in MSU history in punting average (41.89) and 11th in punts (180) and punting yards (7,540). Hartbarger is one of just three starting punters since Dantonio’s arrival in 2007, joining Aaron Bates (2007-10) and Mike Sadler (2011-14).
• Long Snapper: Junior Collin Caflisch returns for his third year as the starting long snapper in 2018. Caflisch was instrumental in the special teams unit that didn’t miss a PAT or have one field goal or punt blocked last season.
• Kickoff Specialist: The starting kickoff specialist duties will be up for grabs in preseason camp as 2017 starter Brett Scanlon graduated.
• Kick Returner: Connor Heyward, who took over the kick returner job midway through his freshman season in 2017, led the Spartans with 436 kick return yards on 20 returns (21.8 avg.). Darrell Stewart (six for 152 yards) and Andre Welch (three for 61 yards) also had multiple kick returns last year for the Spartans.
• Punt Returner: Sophomore Cody White took over the punt returner duties midway through last season (seven returns for 22 yards). Laress Nelson (seven for 34 yards), Darrell Stewart (six for 20 yards) and Connor Heyward (one for 6 yards) also returned punts in 2017.