EAST LANSING - With Michigan State's defense sitting near the top in several national statistical categories, high individual rankings were sure to follow.
Michigan State's Denicos Allen and Will Gholston rank among the top seven in the Big Ten in tackles for loss, heading into the Spartans' bye weekend.
Allen is tied for first in the Big Ten in TFLs with 7.5, along with Penn State senior defensive tackle Devon Still.
Gholston is tied for seventh in the Big Ten in TFLs with 5.5, along with Wisconsin sophomore linebacker Chris Borland.
Allen and Gholston just happen to be sophomores.
"A lot of our great players are younger players," said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio[db].
Michigan State, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense, has five sophomore starters on defense, plus one freshman defensive starter in defensive end [db]Marcus Rush.
Rush was named Big Ten Freshman Player of the Week after recording four tackles including a sack during the Spartans' 10-7 victory at Ohio State on Saturday.
Gholston and Allen are two of Michigan State's most explosive young defensive players. They have yet to harness a level of consistent productivity in their young careers, but Saturday's game saw them play with more burst and finishing ability than at any point in their brief status as first-year starters.
Allen had two sacks, and Gholston had one. Both players showed good agility, the ability to deliver a blow in get off blocks and then finish.
"When you do things well there's a confidence factor and that settles you in a little bit, relaxes you somewhat and allows you to play at a higher tempo," Dantonio said.
That seemed to be the case with Allen and Gholston during Saturday's sack party in Columbus.
Allen was coming off a team-leading five-tackle performance a week earlier against Central Michigan. But Saturday's game marked his first noisy game against a credible opponent.
As for Gholston, he had never had a game approaching the play-making ability he enjoyed at Ohio State.
Gholston had five tackles and 3 TFLs against Buckeyes, along with one pass break-up.
"I thought Will was dominant," Dantonio said. " A lot of great plays by William Gholston."
A second look at Gholston's explosive plays at Ohio State, with some subtleties you may not have noticed:
Against the pass (ranked in order of impact):
1. Gholston sacks Bauserman, on third-and-15 with 12:44 remaining in the game.
What Happened: Gholston stunted inside and shot the right A-gap to corral QB Joe Bauserman. This was part of a six-man rush in the nickel defense.
What Really Happened: It looked like MSU drew up this pressure to spring Gholston loose. His stunt to the inside was assisted by two teammates occupying blockers which parted the sea for Gholston.
Inside The Play: Johnathan Strayhorn played nose tackle in the 30 nickel on this play. He occupied the OSU center. Max Bullough blitzed and occupied the right guard. Strayhorn and Bullough worked the blockers in opposite directions to create an alley for Gholston.
Gholston didn't beat a blocker to get the QB, but his fine agility was a major factor. At the snap, Gholston took one hard upfield step, to create an outside reaction from the right tackle. Then Gholston pivoted and changed direction to head inside on his stunt loop. The right tackle couldn't run with him, even if it had been a sound idea.
Gholston changed direction again to continue his stunt loop and once he got into the traffic area he changed direction slightly for a third time to converge on the QB. Gholston's good, nimble footwork allowed a well-conceived pressure to get home.
2. Gholston sacks Bauserman on the first play of the next OSU drive:
What Happened: Gholston pursued from the back side to collect Bauserman for a sack after Johnny Adams and Anthony Rashad White already had gotten a piece of him. Gholston finished it and got credit for the sack.
What Really Happened:Gholston did a superb, disciplined job of staying home and playing his gap, playing his responsibility, limiting an escape route for the QB, and eventually the play came to him.
Inside The Play:Gholston was at right DE on this play. Bauserman sprinted out in the opposite direction, away from Gholston, behind an offensive line sliding with the QB.
Gholston lined up outside of the back-side LT but was assigned to cross the face of this LT and engage the LG. Gholston did so with gusto.
Gholston had Adams and Chris Norman blitzing from his side of the ball. Gholston was basically assigned to run interference for Adams and Norman as Adams blitzed off of Gholston's right shoulder and Norman blitzed off of Gholston's left shoulder.
At the snap, Gholston made first contact on the LG, issued dominant hand placement, pressed the left guard back with two hands and locked his elbows and was now free to read the play while controlling the blocker.
Gholston continued to control the LG and moved him back into the moving pocket while Adams arrived at the QB. Adams missed the tackle and the sack.
Gholston contiued to control the LG while Norman appeared to have the choice of shooting a gap to either side of Gholston or scrape across formation and look to pursue to the other side. Gholston and Norman resisted the temptation of committing upfield too soon. They held firm to gap control concepts in "putting a fence around the QB," even though OSU had changed to a less-mobile QB.
Gholston controlled the LG and used him as a blocking sled, moving him back, while reading the backfield. Gholston was controlling the LG while watching Adams miss the sack.
Gholston continued to control and move the LG toward trouble while watching Rashad White converge for a shot at the QB. At that juncture, Gholston disengaged from the LG, brushing him off to the right, and then Gholston leaned forward into the backfield to secure the sack after the QB had spun off of White.
Gholston was perfect in his choice of timing the disengagement, and perfect in commanding where the disengagement would take place, having moved the left guard back toward the QB.
Gholston wasn't the first man in, and some might wrongly view this sack as garbage collecting, but the fact of the matter is that Gholston carried out his task in a team-pressure concept and was terrific throughout the play, both from a physical standpoint, and in reading the play and deciding when to disengage.
Also Credit Drone:Also credit Denzel Drone on this play. He was the DE on the play-side. He got upfield on the pass rush with a pretty good take-off, getting a step on the tight end in pass protection. This caused the RB to choose to help the TE against Drone. Meanwhile Drone got far enough upfield to cut off Bauserman's ability to escape the pocket and continue his sprint out.
In short, Drone occupied two blockers and sent the QB back toward Gholston.
3. Gholston bats down a pass on second-and-13 in the 2Q:
What Happened: Gholston served as the right DE on this play, took on the left tackle, read the quarterback, timed his leap and broke up the pass.
What Really Happened:Gholston wasn't assigned to charge upfield with a pass rush move on this play, with OSU in an I formation with "21" personnel (a tight end, a tailback and a fullback).
Gholston engaged the LT, rather gently, read the backfield, then tried a rip move but didn't have much success with it as he was operating from a virtual standstill. The rip attempt brought Gholston inside a step or two too far. As the QB Braxton Miller stepped to the outside, Gholston realized he was in danger of losing outside containment, and began to work back to the outside to try to keep Miller corralled in the pocket. By moving in that direction, Gholston also moved himself in the line of fire for Miller's attempted pass.
Gholston's top plays against the pass:
1. Gholston tackles Hall for no gain on a second-and-3 with 10:40 left in the 3Q.
What Happened: Gholston beat the right tackle inside, swallowed up RB Jordan Hall and single-handedly foiled an inside zone lead for no gain.
What Really Happened: This was Ohio State's first drive of the second half. The Buckeyes had just moved the ball for gains of 5, 9 and 7 yards on the ground, issuing their best consistent forward progress of the day.
Gholston ended that momentum with this stoppage on second-and-3 at the Michigan State 47-yard line. [Marcus Rush stuffed OSU on third-and-three, forcing a punt and allowing the Spartans to stave off an OSU threat.]
2. Gholston tackles Ohio State RB Jordan Hall for a 2-yard loss on first-and-15 in the 3Q:
What Happened: OSU tried to spring a delayed lead draw out of the I-formation. Gholston came upfield slowly and engaged the right tackle while reading the backfield. Gholston was in perfect position to defend a draw, having not charged upfield or committed to a gap.
While reading the play, Gholston also controlled the RT and was able to disengage and extend the long arm of the Gholston law out to grab Hall as Hall tried to squirt outside to daylight.
3. Gholston tackles Ohio State QB Braxton Miller for a gain of 1 on third-and-9 in the 1Q:
What Happened: Miller ran a speed option out of the shot gun to the right, and Gholston tackled him from the back side.
What Really Happened: OSU's blocking scheme for this play called for the back-side DE (Gholston) to go unblocked, figuring that he wouldn't have the speed to chase it down from behind. But Miller cut upfield abruptly on this play because Jerel Worthy had penetrated the backfield and put a buldge in the blocking scheme. When Miller cut back, he encountered a blitzing Max Bullough. When the QB tried to cut back in the direction he came from, he ran into Gholston.
Gholston has deceptive straight-line speed as an athletic long-strider. He doesn't have great one-step speed and take-off quickness as an edge pass rusher. But when he gets moving in open space, he can cover ground quickly and change directions abruptly. He put these agile talents to use on this play.
4. Gholston tackles RB Jordan Hall for a loss of 1 on second-and-12 in the 1Q:
What Happened: Gholston pursued from the back side on a lead play to the weak side out of the I formation.
What Really Happened: Gholston showed some of the best take-off speed and quickness of his short college career on this play. He was unblocked on this play, as OSU thought they would have time to spring the play through the LT/TE gap on the other side.
OSU sent the FB through the LT/TE gap to lead block. But that FB encountered Denicos Allen in the hole. Allen met him head-up at the line of scrimmage and didn't give an inch, despite giving up two inches and 30 pounds to Buckeye FB Zach Boren (6-0, 252).
The RB had no room betwen the LT/TE gap, and tried to bounce outside around the TE. But Marcus Rush stood up the TE Jack Stoneburner (6-5, 245) at the line and didn't give an inch. Hall might not have been able to do much even if Stoneburner had cleared Rush off the line of scrimmage, because Gholston converged so quickly on him.
Interestingly, Gholston was assigned to vary his take-off speed, changing it up based on formation, down-and-distance, in accordance to MSU's sideline call. On this play, he charged full-bore against an I-formation on second-and-long. At other times during the game, against the same formation and down-and-distance, he would engage more slowly and make what appeared to be two-gap reads.
MSU likely won't disclose when and why they altered Gholston's take-off assignment, but one thing is clear heading into the the Spartans bye week: Gholston appears to be on the verge of a breakthrough.
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