2014 MSU Preview: What You Need To Know
Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun
Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun
Posted Jul 28, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Michigan State (Getty Images)

2014 Michigan State Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Michigan State Preview  

What You Need To Know About The Offense: The offense that was so abysmal early on last season against a few miserable defenses started to find what worked, and now it should hold up its end of the bargain – the defense doesn’t have to carry the team anymore. Connor Cook is poised and ready to become one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks after closing the season with a bang, and Jeremy Langford is overdue to receive more attention as a top back who can do just about everything for the Spartan attack. The line that was so critical to the improvement and the success has to do some reshuffling, and no one is going to worry much about the receiving corps, but all the O has to do is be above-average, not screw up, and let the defense and special teams handle everything else.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s defense turned in an epic year, finishing second in the nation in total defense, decent in rushing D, third in points allowed and third in passing yards allowed. Some of the superstars are gone, but the Spartans will still be outstanding at getting into the backfield with Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush on the outside, and the secondary will still be excellent even with Darqueze Dennard gone. Some shuffling needs to be done in the linebacking corps with Max Bullough gone from the middle, and the defensive tackles need to be replaced, but it’s reload time, not rebuild. There might be a wee step back overall, but be shocked if this isn’t one of the nation’s ten best defenses again, especially against the run.

Players You Need To Know

1. DE Shilique Calhoun, Jr.
The hope was for Calhoun to become a solid pass rusher in place of William Gholston, who took off early for the NFL. From the start, the 6-4, 257-pound Calhoun showed he was ready to become special coming up with a fumble return for a score against Western Michigan to help out a struggling offense, and he followed it up with a 56-yard interception return for a score and a fumble return for a touchdown against South Florida, once again saving the offense. That was it for the points, but he still came up with an All-America season making 37 tackles with 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss to go along with a whopping 18 quarterback hurries.

He could’ve taken off early for the NFL, and he would’ve been a first rounder with his combination of size, quickness off the snap, and closing ability, but he’s back to be the star of a good-looking, but revamping, defensive front. Extremely athletic, the former superstar recruit is showing why he was worth all of the hype.

2. FS Kurtis Drummond, Sr.
He took over a starting safety job two years ago and came through with 53 tackles and two interceptions. Last year, he used his 6-1, 200-pound size along with his tremendous range and quickness to finish second on the team with 91 tackles with four picks and six broken up passes. Great throughout the year, he was at his biggest late, with ten tackles against Nebraska and ten against Minnesota to go along with two interceptions against Northwestern and one more against the Huskers. While he’s versatile enough to play anywhere in the secondary, he found an all-star home at free safety and might be too good to move around.

3. RB Jeremy Langford, Sr.
The plan was to be a part of a rotation, but he turned out to be too good to not get the ball on a regular basis. At 6-0 and 205 pounds, he has enough size to hold up with 292 carries and 28 catches – he’s going to be even more of a workhorse this year after finishing with 1,422 yards and 18 scores, and cranking out 157 receiving yards and a touchdown. On fire in the middle of the year, he got the ball and he produced, coming up with eight straight 100-yard games and closing out with at least one rushing score in the final seven games. A jack-of-all-trades, he started out his career as a corner, moved to receiver and now he’s on the verge of being a superstar who’ll finally get his just due.

4. QB Connor Cook, Jr.
The job was right there for the taking, and Cook grabbed it. Sort of. It took a little bit of time before he grew into the starting gig, but he showed at the end of 2012 that he might be the best option after bailing the team out with a game-winning touchdown to beat TCU in the bowl win. At 6-4 and 219 pounds he has good size and excellent arm strength, and as he showed in the Rose Bowl, he has a short memory, overcoming an awful throw to make daring play after daring play to keep the offense moving. After struggling early on, he started to find his groove in the middle of the year with a 22-of-31 day against Indiana, and he was nearly perfect against Illinois connecting on 15-of-16 throws for 208 yards and three scores in the easy win. A bit inconsistent, he had his down moments, but when he had to shine late, he did with 636 yards and five touchdowns in the wins over Ohio State and Stanford to finish with 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns with six scores. While he’s not a runner, he has a little bit of mobility to get out of jams, running for 76 yards and a score.

5. CB Trae Waynes, Jr.
While he might not be Darqueze Dennard, he might not be all that far off. At 6-1 and 183 pounds he has excellent size and length to go along with good hitting ability and a great break on the ball. He’s not built to provide the big pop, but he came up with 50 tackles, was outstanding in the open field, and made three sacks and five broken up passes with two of the picks coming against Minnesota. One of the team’s fastest players, he has Wisconsin high school state champion-level sprinting ability and now will be one of the Big Ten’s top secondary stars – teams are going to start throwing away from him with Dennard gone.

6. P Mike Sadler, Sr.
Is he the nation’s best punter? He’s going to be in the mix for the Ray Guy with a terrific leg and the ability to work with the defense to flip the field and change the field position. He averaged 43.3 yards per kick in 2012 with 31 put inside the 20, and he followed it up by averaging 42.5 yards per kick with 33 dropped inside the 20. An academic all-star as well as a top producer on the field, there isn’t a more experienced or stronger returning kicker.

7. DE Marcus Rush, Sr.
While he took a bit of a backseat to Shilique Calhoun, he still managed to come up with a fantastic year on his own, coming up with 30 tackles with five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss with four quarterback hurries. At 6-2 and 255 pounds, he’s built more like a big inside linebacker than a dangerous playmaking end, but he’s strong, experienced, and can be a pure pass rusher at times with great speed to go along with his toughness against the run. The former linebacker can hit, but with all the attention paid to Calhoun, his job will be to take advantage of the single blocking and hit the quarterback.

8. LB Taiwan Jones, Sr.
Where will he play? One of the stars on the outside last season with 67 tackles with seven tackles for loss, and with 123 career tackles, he’s a veteran who knows what he’s doing. He’ll see time and chances in the middle, where he appears to be built for the job with 6-3, 252-pound size and excellent range. He bulked up a bit but kept his great burst and is always around the ball. If Jon Reschke turns out to be terrific in the middle, Jones will move back to the outside, but he’ll produce no matter where he plays.

9. C Jack Allen, Jr.
The line was terrific as last season went on, but now it has to undergo a bit of a change as the right parts need to fit. Allen is one of the set starters in the middle after starting for the last two seasons and earning all-star honors. Able to play guard or center, he’s better in the middle where he has the Academic All-Big Ten smarts and the body type at 6-1 and 300 pounds. Fine after a shoulder problem early in his career, this is his line to run and he needs to be its rock.

10. DT Malik McDowell, Fr.
His mother finally said it was okay, and Michigan State got its main man and the superstar for the defensive front for the next few years. The 6-6, 292-pound interior presence was the top prospect in Michigan with the quickness to become a devastating interior pass rusher, and the bulk to be an anchor against the run. The coaching staff has already said that McDowell is going to be a part of the mix right away, and with his skills and talent, he could quickly turn into a sensation – he’s ready to go right out of the box. He’s too good to keep on the sidelines.

- 2014 Michigan State Preview