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Michigan State Defensive Player to Watch: LB/DE Jacoby Windmon

Windmon, a UNLV transfer, has acclimated quite well to the Big Ten, and should be viewed as one of its most fearsome pass rushers.

Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Not unlike 2021, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker scoured the transfer portal to add to his current roster in East Lansing. Unfortunately, those additions have not yielded similar success (to that of 2021). The Spartans are currently 2-3, having suffered three straight defeats. And the level of competition will only increase this weekend, as the Ohio State Buckeyes roll into town. It should present a challenge for both teams, seeing as though OSU spent the first month plus of the season playing home games in The Shoe. This will be their first road game of the 2022 season. And for that reason, I am only cautiously optimistic for Saturday.

MSU has been average (at best) on both sides of the ball – and ranks statistically better on defense – which comes as a bit of a surprise, given what we saw last season. Their offense was never a huge concern, but they finished dead last in passing defense — by a considerable margin. It was something the team could not overcome in losses to Purdue and Ohio State in 2021. Although, let’s face it, they would have needed supernatural intervention to defeat the Buckeyes. It was a 56-7 final, after all. But Tucker and his staff have somewhat righted the ship through five games thus far, with a defense that ranks 54th nationally in points per game allowed and is “only” allowing an average of 275 yards through the air. That defense is led by homegrown talent Cal Haladay (by way of Pennsylvania, but an original MSU commit) and, you guessed it, a number of experienced transfers.

Now, to be clear: There is nothing wrong with Tucker and his staff taking advantage of the transfer portal. It’s not shady or hurtful to anybody. They are providing opportunities for players, and those players clearly gel with and want to play for, a coach who has a strong reputation as a leader... But I still don’t like it. I am a traditionalist, and a revolving door of hired guns is not what college football should be about. It worked for Tucker last year, but if it remains his go-to model, I believe it will eventually yield results similar to those we have seen in 2022. A different argument for a different day, I suppose.

One of the many transfers who chose to attend Mercenary U. in East Lansing is fourth-year linebacker (and oft-used pass rusher) Jacoby Windmon. This former UNLV Rebel was a hot commodity on the transfer market, and for good reason. He finished 13th in FBS in total tackles last season, racking up an impressive 119 stops. He also added 6.5 sacks and 11.5 TFL, on his way to Second Team All-Mountain West honors. Windmon has quickly become a feared and productive defender for the Spartans, making him this week’s Defensive Player to Watch.

Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Windmon saw the field very early at UNLV, appearing in 12 games as a freshman, including at least one start. But it was during his second season that this star defender began to flourish. The pandemic seemed to have little-to-no impact on his preparation and/or improvement, as he finished the shortened 2020 season with 39 total tackles and five sacks. He also averaged more than one TFL per, finishing with 6.5. He did so primarily from an edge position, but it was clear that all the skills were there for a transition. So Windmon made the switch to inside LB last year and became one of CFB’s most efficient tacklers.

As mentioned earlier, the Rebel turned Spartan was a menace during the 2021 season. He patrolled the middle, rushed the passer, stopped the run, you name it. Windmon totaled at least six tackles in each of UNLV’s 12 games, maxing out with 16 in two different contests. Unfortunately, his team was awful. The Rebels finished with a 2-10 record, and outside the top 100 in points allowed per game. So that might lead you to suggest Windmon was a good stats/bad team type of guy, but that could not be further from the truth.

On a much better team, this hybrid defender has hit the ground running... and that might be the understatement of the century. In his first game donning the green and white, Windmon was credited with seven total tackles and four (!) sacks against Western Michigan. He followed that up with 1.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in a blowout of Akron. Granted the competition was not great, but that is about as good a debut as one could hope for. His pace has obviously slowed, but he still leads the team with 8.0 TFL and 5.5 sacks.

Windmon is built like a MAC truck and possesses above-average speed. He is a 6-foot-2, 250-pound wrecking ball, with a tremendous nose for the ball and plenty of positional versatility. So the Buckeyes – and specifically, the offensive line – need to be on high alert this weekend. There will be more than a few talented defenders lined up across from C.J. Stroud and Co., but Windmon is the dominant force I will have my eyes on. I suggest Paris Johnson Jr., Dawand Jones, and others up front do the same. Go Bucks!