September 11, 2010

Spartans show new wrinkle with 3-4 defense

DETROIT - Michigan State showed some new wrinkles on defense, including a long-awaited look at the 3-4 defense, during Saturday's victory over Florida Atlantic.

MSU has been a base 4-3 defense since Dantonio's arrival as head coach. MSU coaches acknowledged that the Spartans experimented with a 3-4 defense during spring and August camp.

MSU used the 3-4 defense for the first time this season during the first three plays of the second half of Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic.

On first-and-15, MSU showed All-America linebacker Greg Jones as a weak outside linebacker rather than in his usual middle linebacker role.

On the other side, heralded freshman William Gholston stood up as a strong outside linebacker.

MSU used Eric Gordon as one of the two inside linebacker, and brought sophomore Mike Gardiner off the bench as the second inside linebacker to complete the four-LB look.

The first play went well for the MSU defense, as Gardiner blitzed to Gholston's side, and the Spartan defensive pressure resulted in a 2-yard loss, with Colin Neely registering the TFL.

On second-and-17, MSU stuck with the 3-4 and blitzed a cornerback. But FAU completed a play-action pass for a gain of 12.

Then on third-and-five, MSU brought a six-man blitz, and flushed the QB. But FAU's Jeff Van Camp found his tight end for a gain of 11.

"I like playing the outside 'backer in the 3-4," Jones said. "I think it can give us a chance to put some pressure on people and do some aggressive things."

When asked about the 3-4, Neely - who had an outstanding day - deadpanned, "What 3-4? I don't know anything about a 3-4."

The Spartans didn't show the 3-4 the rest of the day, but it's obviously in their arsenal. On Saturday, it was a pressure package. In upcoming Saturdays, opponents will have to prepare with the expectation that the package could expand.

As for other new wrinkles, the Spartans flip-flopped defensive ends for the first time in the Dantonio era. Neely played strictly as a right defensive end last week, and throughout last season. However, he moved to left defensive end in the FAU game, if the tight end went to that side.

Basically, rather than being a right defensive end, Neely was a strongside defensive end in this game.

That meant that Denzel Drone, normally a left defensive end, sometimes moved to the right side, as the weak side defensive end. In MSU's system, the weak side defensive end is termed the "rush end." But this was the first time that Drone actually served as an open-side, weak-side rush end.

"It was just something we put in for this game, for the way they (FAU) do things," Neely said. "We'll have to wait and see whether it becomes something we do every week."

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