On Tuesday, the best defense in Division I college football received a little bit of recognition, as four defenders from the Big Ten Champion and Rose Bowl bound Michigan State football team (12-1) were named AP All-Americans.
MSU senior corner back Darqueze Dennard was named to the first team, while sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun was named to the second team, and senior linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, the third team.
The lone member who was named to the first team, Dennard, adds to his list of post season accolades, having just been awarded the Jim Thorpe award, which annually goes to the top defensive back in the nation.
It’s much deserved recognition for the four defensive All-Americans, who led the Michigan State this year into becoming one of the best defenses in the country.
The Spartan defense ranks 4th in the country in scoring defense (12.7 ppg), 1st in total defense (248.2 ypg), 1st in rushing defense (80.8 ypg), 6th in passing defense (167.4 ypg) and 1st in defensive 3rd down completion percentage (27.7%).
Throughout the Spartans’ cinderella run this season, there were several big moments on the defensive side of the ball that led them to where they are at today: Big Ten Champions and on their way to a Rose Bowl to take on the No. 5 Pac-12 Champion Stanford Cardinal (11-2).
Of all these moments though, here are the top ten:
11. Max Bullough’s fiery press conference before the Big Ten Championship game
Okay, so this one wasn’t on the field. But with Michigan State set to take on Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game, Bullough gave one of the more spirited press conferences the MSU media had seen in quite some time.
And after listening to Bullough speak up on the podium, you realize how much of a leader he has become and how much he understands the game of football. The Michigan State defense will have a hard time finding a replacement for him.
“It’s what we talk about it winter conditioning. It’s what we talk about in summer conditioning and spring ball and camp,” Bullough said when talking about the potential of playing in the Rose Bowl. “All those things in reality you don’t want to do…That’s what makes college football hard and that’s kind of the goal and the vision and what you talk about every day in order to get through those things.”
“We haven’t been there in a long time so it’s kind of a neat thing for us to have the opportunity to make all those things we talk about…To make that a tangible feeling. To be able to feel that feeling and know what it’s like. To say I’ve done it. To say we’ve brought Michigan State back to where we think it should be. I think that creates a tangible goal instead a dream or a vision that’s out in front of you all the time.”
10. Goal line stand against Illinois
With Michigan State leading 7-3 with just over 8 minutes left in the half, Illinois found themselves with an 1st and goal from the Michigan State 5 yard line. However, three plays later it was 4th and goal from the 1 yard line. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase turned and handed it off to running back Jon Davis who was stuffed for no gain.
It was as close as Illinois would get to scoring for the rest of the game.
From there, Michigan State would go on a 15 play, 99 yard drive that spanned over 8 minutes to take a 14-3 lead in the half, going on to take the game by a final score of 42-3.
9. Trae Waynes’ two interception day vs. Minnesota
With Wayne’s teammates playfully getting on him a bit for never getting an interception, Waynes stepped up big against Minnesota with two of them.
After picking off his first one, teammates mobbed him from all over to congratulate him on his first career interception as the MSU football team would go on to win 14-3 and improve to 11-1.
8 . Darqueze Dennard’s two interception day against Iowa
En route to his All-American and Jim Thorpe award winning year, Dennard had a big day in a victory over Iowa, intercepting two passes from Hawkeye quarterback Jake Rudock, including one with 5:09 left in the game that likely sealed the deal for a 26-14 Spartan victory.
7. Shutout of Purdue
This Michigan State defense did a lot of good things this season, including holding their opponents out of the end zone 6 different times.
But they only had one shutout, doing so against Purdue to improve to 6-1, winning 14-0. The shutout also saw this play of Bullough knocking the ball loose from Purdue quarterback Danny Etling and Allen returning the fumble 45 yards for a touchdown:
6. Denicos Allen tackles Braxton Miller short of the first down on 4 & 2
After a blocked punt gave Ohio State terrific field position at the Michigan State 47 yard line, the Buckeyes, trailing 27-24 with 7:36 to play, were given a great opportunity to drive down the field and take the lead late in the Big Ten Championship game.
Three plays later on 4th and 2, Miller took the snap from the 39 yard line, scrambled out to the right, where he was immediately met by Allen and brought down short of the first down.
From there, the MSU football team would drive down the field and clinch the victory with a 26 yard touchdown run by Jeremy Langford.
Here’s the play of Allen wrapping up Miller:
5. Jarius Jones interception and pitch to Kurtis Drummond for a TD
Does anybody even remember Jarius Jones?
Well before suffering a season ending knee injury against Notre Dame, back in week one against Western Michigan, he had two interceptions. And after grabbing his first interception of the night, Jones turned and shuffled the ball back to junior safety Kurtis Drummond, who then ran it back for six to put Michigan State on top 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Here’s the play:
4. Shilique Calhoun’s touchdowns
Back when the Michigan State offense was completely incapable of putting up points, Calhoun handled much of the scoring for the Spartans. His scores included a 16 yard fumble return against Western Michigan, a 56 yard interception return against South Florida and this 4 yard fumble recovery score which most notably prompted a celebration out of MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo.
3. Kurtis Drummond one-handed interception against Western Michigan in week one.
This play was just absolutely ridiculous. Drummond soared through the air, threw his arm back and hauled the ball in as if he does it in his sleep.
Here it is:
2. Three straight sacks of Michigan’s Devin Gardner (-48)
After Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook threw an interception late in 3rd quarter against in-state rival Michigan, the Wolverines took over from the Michigan State 41 yard line, trailing 16-6.
On first down, Michigan quarterback took the snap and attempted to dance around in the back field. With nowhere to go, he was dropped for a 5 yard loss.
On second down, he was sacked again.
And on third down, again.
When it was all said and done, Michigan State won the game 29-6, while holding Michigan to just -48 yards rushing.
1. Kyler Elsworth stops Stanford on 4th and 1 to win the Rose Bowl
With 1:46 to go in the 100th Rose Bowl and Michigan State leading Stanford 24-20, the Cardinal were faced with a 4th and 1 from the their own 34 yard line with the game on the line. To pick up the first down, the Cardinal brought their jumbo set out on the field and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan turned and handed the ball off.
With the help of both Darien Harris and Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State senior linebacker Kyler Elsworth, filling in for a suspended Max Bullough, leaped over the line and stopped the Cardinal short of the first down, securing a Rose Bowl victory for the Spartans.