SAN DIEGO – Joe Bachie is a special player.
Special enough to be the first sophomore in 13 years to be named Michigan State’s Most Valuable player and the first in 11 years under coach Mark Dantonio.
Bachie also is special enough to get the attention of Washington State coach Mike Leach.
A fearsome tackler and who also has three interceptions and 4 1/2 sacks, Bachie will be the man in the middle as MSU tries to fend off Luke Falk and the Washington State offense in Thursday night’s Holiday Bowl.
“Just real physical, great against the run. Just a strong, physical guy. He plays real hard, too,” Leach said after the Cougars’ practice Tuesday at Southwestern College.
More than any other player, the 6-foot-2, 233-pound middle linebacker was the catalyst for one of the nation’s best defenses.
With 94 total tackles (42 solo), Bachie leads a group that is ninth in total defense (giving up 298 yards per game) and just 20.3 points (24th best in FBS).
That alone should give pause to WSU fans, who watched the Cougars struggle in last year’s Holiday Bowl against a Minnesota defense that wasn’t remotely as good as this Spartan outfit.
And once again, Falk will be without two of his top targets. Last year it was River Cracraft and Gabe Marks; this year the Cougs are without the combined 1,381 receiving yards of Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack, who have left the program.
On the other hand, MSU has shown vulnerability against the short passing game. Apart from Bachie, the ‘backers haven’t been strong in coverage, and crossing routes have been a problem.
MSU ranks fifth in rush defense but only 32nd against the pass.
However, safety David Dowell is a first-team all-conference selection who leads the Big Ten with five picks; cornerback Josiah Scott was a third-team all-Big Ten pick.
MSU likes to bring pressure, mostly its down linemen and Bachie, who has a high motor in the pass-rush.
But Bachie recognizes that the Cougars are a different animal.
“We play an Iowa or Michigan and they’re gonna run the ball and be in regular personnel,” Bachie told the Detroit News earlier this month.
“Then you come to this team (WSU) and … they throw the ball 65 times a game. That’s something you got to prepare for. We’ve been putting in some different stuff, throwing some different looks at them,” Bachie said.
“It’s gonna be a challenge but we’re up for it,” added Bachie, who knocked down an end-of-game Hail Mary as the Spartans won 14-10 at Michigan earlier this year.
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