Michigan State needs its defensive backs to enforce the “No Fly Zone” with much more authority in the 2015 season.
The self-appointed nickname for the 2013 Spartan DBs was not quite as fitting for last season’s squad, as Michigan State struggled against the aerial attacks of the Oregon Ducks, Ohio State Buckeyes and Baylor Bears, allowing 300-plus passing yards to the Ducks and Buckeyes and a whopping 603 passing yards to the Bears. Without MSU’s miraculous 20-point comeback against Baylor, the Spartans would have lost all three games against their toughest opponents — a discouraging step back for a program returning a lot of talent from its 2013 Big Ten championship team.
While the Spartans were able to save face by capturing the Cotton Bowl victory, significant strides will need to be made by the 2015 secondary to prevent similar missteps against the Ducks and Buckeyes, who are both on the schedule again.
Oregon lost starting quarterback Marcus Mariota to the NFL, but as college football fans have seen over the past few years, the Ducks’ offense does not collapse when its stars leave campus. Oregon’s likely starting QB, Vernon Adams, will only be playing in his second game with the Ducks when they arrive at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 12, but the Eastern Washington transfer’s impressive FCS resume indicates he is fully capable of dismantling defenses — especially with the weapons at his disposal.
The defending national champions, Ohio State, will also be prepared to take advantage of the holes in MSU’s secondary if they aren’t patched up, with three star QBs returning in J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller.
These matchups, as well as the season finale against the Penn State Nittany Lions, pose as serious threats to Michigan State’s title aspirations given the questions surrounding their secondary.
Although a few notable contributors are returning, the Spartans may field three new starters in the secondary if former starting cornerback Darian Hicks, who lost his job late last season due to inconsistent play, does not reclaim his spot.
That said, there is reason to believe the group can get the job done. MSU will have a mix of proven veterans, upperclassmen who have been waiting in the wings and talented underclassmen ready to make an impact. The competition within the secondary was reportedly pretty heated during spring practices and is expected to continue this summer — a good sign for a less experienced group.
While Michigan State may not need its secondary to be as dominant as its 2013 unit to win given their explosive offense, they can’t serve as a weak point that top teams routinely exploit, either. With the Buckeyes’ return to prominence and the lurking threat of the Michigan Wolverines with new head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 2015 season will represent a turning point for Michigan State. If MSU wants to reach new heights, they will have to make sure their opponents don’t fly over them first.