September 6, 2011

Denicos Allen surges into starting lineup

EAST LANSING - Michigan State expects to have new faces in the starting lineup in at least two positions for Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic.

According to the official depth chart, which was distributed at noon, sophomore Denicos Allen will start at Sam linebacker. He surpassed last week's starter Steve Gardiner.

Also, senior Jared McGaha - who started at left tackle last week - is listed as the No. 2 right tackle this week. The first-stringer at left tackle is listed as Dan France or Fou Fonoti.

"Left tackle is the one position that is a little bit more up for grabs now," Dantonio said during Tuesday's weekly press conference. "Dan France, Fou Fonoti, Jared McGaha, all three of those guys could figure in as playing at the left tackle position as we move forward. But I think it is important that we solidify the entire group, and not just left tackle."

France (6-6, 315, Soph., North Royalton, Ohio) split time with McGaha last week. Both players were flagged for a false start.

McGaha was involved in a pair of four-yard losses on zone runs to his side, allowing a defensive end to cross his face to the backside and gain penetration.

Fonoti (6-4, 300, Jr. Lakewood, Calif.) played a bit role in relief at right tackle at the end of the first half on Saturday, and at left tackle at the end of the game, with mixed results.

France had success blocking down on a power to his side during a Le'Veon Bell 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Linebackers Earn Passing Grades

At linebacker, Allen (5-10, 220, Soph., Hamilton, Ohio) ranked second on the team in tackles with nine, seeing action at Sam (strongside) linebacker and 'star' (slot area) linebacker.

"I thought Denicos Allen played pretty well, especially in the second half," Dantonio said. "Steve Gardiner was solid.

"I thought our linebackers played pretty well. They had to defeat cut blocks. This is the first time that really our guys were involved (in that). We cut in practice in scrimmages, but it's not game-like. So this was the first time they had to do that on a consistent basis on the perimeter.

"If they had to do anything better I felt like they had to adjust a little bit better on quick motions and things of that nature to get themselves in position for the correct leverage whether it's inside or outside leverage."

Breaking It Down

Allen rallied on Saturday after a slow start. He missed a tackle in the first quarter at 'star,' and was replaced by starter Chris Norman on the next play.

At Sam in the second quarter, Allen over-pursued on a counter draw. He bit on flow to the opposite side, got out of his gap and was the main culprit in allowing the 20-yard run to cut back through the area he should have been patrolling.

MSU defensive end Tyler Hoover also gave up a lengthy gainer in over-pursuing against a counter draw in the first half.

After adjustments at halftime, Allen and the Spartans were better against the counter draw. He stood firm on the back side, didn't bite on initial flow, and teammed up with Denzel Drone in holding it to a gain of 2. Youngstown didn't attempt the counter draw again.

Allen was excellent in the second half, often showing out as one of the more aggressive, active Spartan defensive players on the field.


  • With 6:00 to go, on a swing pass to Allen's side, the sophomore scooted to the outside to maintain leverage on the ball while patrolling the flat, then reacted upfield, leaped over a cut-blocking offensive lineman and helped make an initial hit on the ball carrier, and secured an ankle tackle.

  • On a tunnel screen, he defeated a wide receiver's inside-out block attempt, converged on the ball carrier and made a strong tackle. He played low and with burst to make that play.

  • In defensing a swing pass with 3:30 left, he converged on the ball outside-in, made the initial hit while Marcus Rush helped finish the tacke.

    "I thought they (the linebackers) played pretty well for seeing some of the things at full speed that they had not seen previous, because remember we were working against a team that has a little bit of that element of surprise going against us," Dantonio said.

    The Rest Of It

    In the understatement of the day, Dantonio said "Max Bullough had a pretty solid game."

    Bullough (6-3, 245, Soph., Traverse City) had 15 tackles in his first start at Mike linebacker.

    Chris Norman (6-1, 227, Jr., Detroit) had some issues on Saturday, but Dantonio was satisfied with the second-year starter.

    "I felt like Chris Norman played pretty well, as well," Dantonio said. "He got off blocks and made plays on bubbles. If you eliminate a bubble for a 4-yard gain, you're moving, you're getting guys on the ground."


  • Norman blew up a bubble screen on the first play of Youngstown State's second drive. He fought past YSU's best blocking WR, 220-pound Kevin Watts, closed on the ball carrier with good foot quickness and made the stop for a gain of 3.

  • On the first play of YSU's drive after MSU took a 14-6 lead, Norman blew up another bubble. Again he took on a WR, got off the block and made the tackle, for a gain of 2.


  • Dantonio on other linebackers:

    "I thought Taiwan Jones is going to be an outstanding player as a young freshman. He's going to show up for us. When and where, you don't really know. But he is a great athlete and I think he has the right type of temperament."

    [Jones played on special teams, Saturday. He was the only true freshman to see playing time.]

    "TyQuan Hammock came in and played a little bit at Mike linebacker but was sick earlier in the week and had limited practice reps. But I thought he made some hits at the tail end of the game."

  • Dantonio, expanding on his thoughts about the offensive line:

    "The offensive line is the position where it takes you the longest to get yourself on the field, it's the group that takes the longest to gel. In the first year, we had a group of seasoned vets but they had to adapt to what we do. The second year, we had a couple of guys that returned; they played okay, we had a good football season. The third year, we were relatively young and inexperienced and went through that gain. Last year, we had John Stipek and a couple of other guys who had not played much for us who came on and played pretty well.

    "This is the first year we can say, okay we have two young offensive tackles. We have a redshirt freshman (Skyler Burkland). We have a guy who was playing defense the last year and a half (France). And we have a junior college player (Fonoti), and then we have Jared McGaha, and Henry Conway and [/db]Michael Dennis[/db] who are younger players. Jared is a senior. So we are relatively young at that position. Our guards are older. Our centers are young. So it takes time.

    "The best teacher for us is going out here on this field with that atmosphere, with that crowd noise, with a different defense against you every week, and having to adapt. If one person steps wrong, or steps underneath themselves and doesn't step with power or goes the wrong way on a pass protection, they can make the whole group look bad. Sometimes those are going to happen when you have younger players. We hope to limit those at this point and complete omit those as we get into our fourth and fifth game of the season."

    Injury Updates

  • Redshirt freshman center Travis Jackson is inching toward a return. Jackson did not dress last Saturday due to an ankle sprain.

    Jackson was ahead of Blake Treadwell in the center position battle when Jackson was lost to the injury during the Aug. 21 scrimmage.

    "I thought Blake played pretty well in the game for his first time out there as an offensive center. He will start this game," Dantonio said. "Travis, if he is able to play - it's possible he will play - he would come in as more of a reserve mode this week."

  • Sophomore WR Bennie Fowler missed last week with a lower body injury.

    "We do expect Bennie back soon," Dantonio said. "Whether he will make it this week or not, it's just a rest type of thing."

  • Highly touted freshman LB Lawrence Thomas is back in pads this week, after being lost for nearly a month due to a shoulder contusion, early in August camp.

    "He will begin to work his way back to see what he can do," Dantonio said. "But right now, to be able to go and play in a game this week, I don't think that will happen. Maybe by next week."

  • Sophomore safety Jairus Jones will not be back soon. He suffered an Achilles tendon injury in late April, requiring surgery.

    "It's a four-month injury," Dantonio said. "He is able to run but he has to go 100 percent. You can't be a step slow and play in the secondary. If he was playing a different position right now, like offensive line or defensive line, he probably would be able to play. In the secondary, you have to be able to make too many quick movements."

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