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Michigan State Football: The Spartans have the No. 1 rush defense in the nation

Michigan State v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

It hasn’t been the most impressive start to the 2018 football season for the Michigan State Spartans, but one area where MSU has absolutely dominated is against the run. The Spartans have allowed just 98 yards on the ground through four weeks (three games), which ranks No. 1 in the entire country.

What’s even more impressive is that the 98 rushing yards have been allowed on 86 carries — an average of 1.1 yards given up per attempt. That also ranks the Spartans first in the NCAA, and is a full yard better than the second place school, San Diego State. Additionally, MSU is also best in the nation in terms of total rushing yards allowed per game with a mark of 32.7 yards allowed, which is almost half of the amount of yards the team in second place allows per game (also San Diego State with a 64.5 YPG mark). Granted the Aztecs have played one more game than the Spartans.

The Spartans haven’t faced weak rushing attacks, either. MSU’s last opponent, Indiana, was averaging 235 rushing yards per game coming into the contest. Arizona State averages 127.5 yards per game, and if you throw out the game against Michigan State, the Sun Devils average 155.3 yards per game against the other three opponents. Utah State averages 187 rushing yards per game, and if we take out the MSU game here, that average bumps up to a ridiculous 241 rushing yards per game.

Looking at each team’s top running backs, here is how they fared against MSU and against each additional opponent (we’ll look at two backs for Utah State and one back for the other opponents):

Gerold Bright, Utah State
vs. Michigan State: two carries, -2 yards, -1.0 YPC, zero touchdowns
vs. New Mexico State: 14 carries 134 yards, 9.6 YPC, one touchdown
vs. Tennessee Tech: 13 carries, 55 yards, 4.2 YPC, one touchdown
vs. Air Force: 11 carries, 101 yards, 9.2 YPC, two touchdowns

Darwin Thompson, Utah State
vs. Michigan State: 10 carries, 28 yards, 2.8 YPC, two touchdowns
vs. New Mexico State: six carries 96 yards, 16.0 YPC, one touchdown
vs. Tennessee Tech: six carries, 107 yards, 17.8 YPC, one touchdown
vs. Air Force: six carries, 34 yards, 5.7 YPC, two touchdowns

Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
vs. Michigan State: 13 carries, 27 yards, 2.1 YPC, zero touchdowns
vs. University of Texas at San Antonio: 16 carries, 131 yards, 8.2 YPC, one touchdown
vs. San Diego State: 13 carries, 21 yards, 1.6 YPC, zero touchdowns
vs. Washington: 26 carries, 104 yards, 4.0 YPC, one touchdown

Stevie Scott, Indiana
vs. Michigan State: 11 carries, 18 yards, 1.6 YPC, zero touchdowns
vs. Florida International: 20 carries, 70 yards, 3.5 YPC, zero touchdowns
vs. Virginia: 31 carries, 204 yards, 6.6 YPC, one touchdown
vs. Ball State: 18 carries, 114 yards, 6.3 YPC, two touchdowns

When you break it down to this view, it’s nothing short of impressive to look at what Michigan State has been able to do against the leading rushers from its opponents.

Of course, it’s still really early in the season, and there’s no way these kind of numbers are sustainable for the MSU defense, however, this should still be a top-10 unit in the country by season’s end, and likely at the top of the Big Ten.

Now if only the Spartans could stop the passing attack. But that’s a conversation for a different day. Either way, MSU’s rush defense has been truly elite.