Big 10

MSU pass rush facing big test against Minnesota’s offensive line

October 12, 2017

Last year the Spartans finished the season with 11 sacks, the lowest in the Big Ten. Through five games this season, the Spartans already have 13. 

If the Spartans want to continue that trend, they’ll have a challenge this weekend against Minnesota on the road, a team that has allowed just one sack on the year and is averaging 0.2 sacks per game.

“Averaging 0.2 sacks a game is obviously incredible,” sophomore linebacker Kenny Willekes said. “So that kind of gives us a goal and makes us want to get out there and see if we can get a couple on them.”

The Golden Gophers’ 0.2 sacks allowed per game is the best in the conference and No. 2 in the FBS. 

Minnesota quarterback Conor Rhoda’s capability to get the ball quickly out of his hands is an instrumental part in the Golden Gophers’ ability to limit sacks. 

“He gets rid of the ball … so we’re going to do what we do,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “When we get to him, we’ve got to get him down on the ground — wrap him, squeeze him and get him down. But more than that, you’ve got to have good coverage, make it hard for him, make the windows tough for him, and then maybe we’ll get a chance to get to him.”

In MSU’s upset victory over then-No. 7 Michigan last Saturday, the Spartans’ defense got to Michigan’s John O’Korn four times. It was the second time this season MSU has recorded four sacks in a single game.

“It’s definitely a huge confidence booster having already surpassed our sack record from last year,” Willekes said. “It’s just a testament to all the hard work we’ve put in this offseason. We have a lot of different guys that can go in and rush the quarterback. It’s been good.”

Chris Frey leads the team with 2 ½ sacks, while linebackers Willekes and Joe Bachie both have two sacks on the year. DT Raequan Williams, DL Gerald Owens, S Khari Willis, S Andrew Dowell, DE Demetrius Cooper and DE and LB Brandon Randle each have one sack. 

“As far as our defensive line, when I go and watch or self-scout ourselves, I watch ourselves play against these five teams we played against,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “I see what I would call clinic-quality tape, which is just like you draw it up, just like you want it. That is a positive because we are young up there. I see people playing square, being in a good football position, being in a dominant position, basically winning their respective challenges up front.”

Sophomore defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk said communication will be vital in getting opportunities to sack Rhoda Saturday night.

“Just communication, working off each other; that’s going to be really big for us,” he said. “A guy goes in high, we go low — just a bunch of stuff. Communication is going to be key for us this upcoming week.”

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