Nov. 1, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Darqueze Dennard established the No-Fly Zone over Michigan State's defensive secondary last spring.
It has been highly successful at deterring aerial incursions through the first eight games while leading the Big Ten in pass defense. The Spartans are allowing a league-low 160.6 yards through the air with a league-high pass-defense efficiency rating of 168.7.
Dennard, fellow cornerback Trae Waynes, strong safety Isaiah Lewis and free safety Kurtis Drummond are wary of an explosive threat that will be aimed directly at them when Michigan visits Spartan Stadium on Saturday.
Jeremy Gallon, the Wolverines' 5-foot-8, 184-pound wide receiver, is coming off a Big Ten-record, 369-yard performance (on 14 catches) in the 63-47 win against Indiana. He also had two touchdowns against the Hoosiers and is second in the league with 118.7 yards per game.
"I've been seeing him since 2011 when we played them," Dennard said. "He's a small guy, he's not that big, but he's a quick-twitch guy. He's fast, runs good routes and he's breaking well. He got a lot of balls thrown his way (against Indiana). He made a couple of great catches and runs as he catches, and he's a good player."
Keeping receivers like Gallon from getting under MSU's radar is why Dennard saw the need to create the No-Fly Zone to complement the rush defense.
"I did a lot of film study, and a lot of those games that we lost last year pretty much fell down on (the defensive backfield)," Dennard said. "In the spring I didn't participate, but I pretty much talked to my guys every day and went into the meeting room, and I said, `Hey, at the end of the day, this year is all going to come down to us because everybody knows what our front seven is going to do with (linebackers) Max Bullough and Denicos (Allen) and all those guys up front.
"So, that's how the No-Fly Zone came in - just basically me just telling them (opponents) can't pass on us. That's the way we're going to win games, just locking them down. We've got a lot more plays left to be made."
And, it would appear the Spartans will get plenty of opportunities against the Wolverines, who are third in the Big Ten with 262.6 passing yards per game.
Like his predecessor, Denard Robinson, U-M quarterback Devin Gardner is a threat to pass or run and leads the league in total offense (328.4). He's second in the league with a 254.1-yard passing average, by just 0.8 yards, and in touchdown passes with 13. He also has thrown 10 interceptions, the most in the conference.
"I think the difference is, Devin Gardner is a bigger guy," Dennard said. "He's more of a pro-type quarterback, as well. He can run and I'd say he throws a better ball than Denard. "He reads more coverage and he's a student of the game. I tip my hat to him because you can tell from watching film he watches what's going on, tries to read the defense and does a good job with that."
Nevertheless, Dennard likes the defense's chances of getting the ball back into the offense's hands by creating turnovers as MSU goes for what would be a third consecutive win over Michigan at Spartan Stadium for the first time in school history.
"I know the No-Fly Zone back there, we're kind of happy," Dennard said. "He throws the ball a lot, he's got a lot of faith in his receivers and we're going to have a lot of opportunities to make plays on the ball.
"I know me and the rest of the guys in the secondary, and on the defense, are just ready to make plays."