EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — It was fitting that the Michigan State spring game began with an interception on the first play from scrimmage.
Yes, the Spartans have lost a few big names off their sensational defense from a season ago, but coach Mark Dantonio isn't planning on a major drop-off.
"We'll come up with turnovers and we'll compete," Dantonio said. "Our defensive staff will have the guys ready to compete. We'll run at the ball. We'll play hard."
Michigan State won the Rose Bowl last season behind one of the best defenses in the country, but the Spartans must now move on without linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen and defensive backs Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is back, and it will be up to him to build around lineman Shilique Calhoun and safety Kurtis Drummond.
"Our defensive goals are just executing, making no mental mistakes, flying around, and making plays," Drummond said. "We look at each day as another day to get better. We are not exactly where we want to be as a complete team, so we use every day as a chance to get better. We just need to know what we're doing."
Michigan State finished second in the nation in total defense and against the run in 2013.
For a while, the Spartans were winning in spite of an offense that struggled to find its footing, but by the end of the season, they were able to move the ball more consistently, and the result was a team that finished ranked No. 3 in the AP poll after beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
The Spartans may not have to lean on their defense quite as much this year. Quarterback Connor Cook returns, and so does Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,422 yards last season.
"I think now when you look at our football team, our offense is measuring up. The defense is measuring up as well," Dantonio said. "Maybe the defense isn't as dominant right now, but maybe that's because the offense is a better offense."