Prior to the start of the season, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said his linebackers would be the strength of the Spartans defense. With senior linebacker Greg Jones leading the way, it's easy to see why.
For his part, Jones said he was up to Dantonio's task.
"I feel that's a pretty big statement," he said. "It takes a whole defense to win games, not just linebackers. … I'm very humbled by that, being one of the leaders on the linebacking corps, but I feel like we do have a lot of guys that can step up and lead."
Jones will undoubtedly be one of those leaders. He already ranks sixth on Michigan State's all-time tackle list with 379, and he has racked up 20 in two games so far this season. Jones was also named to the preseason watch list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, the Butkus Award (top collegiate linebacker), the Lombardi Award (college lineman of the year), the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (nation's best defensive player), the Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year) and the Lott Trophy (defensive impact player of the year).
While that impressive honor roll may lead some players to believe that they can do it all themselves, Jones is quick to deflect praise to his teammates.
"I have guys to help me out, like [linebackers] Eric Gordon and Chris Norman," Jones said. "I'll try and do what I can do, but ultimately, I have to step up if my name is called."
Dantonio said he wasn't surprised by Jones' growth, both on the field and in the locker room.
"Greg Jones has developed into not just a great playmaker, but a leader for us," Dantonio told msuspartans.com. "He does everything a hundred miles an hour and wins with effort. Whether it's the winter conditioning program, studying film or practice on a spring day, he's going to give everything he's got — it's important to him."
Irish coach Brian Kelly knows his offense has a tough task facing the consensus All-American. Notre Dame has shown flashes of success rushing the ball this season, averaging 153.5 yards per game on the ground. The Spartan defense, led by Jones, will be tasked with slowing down that running attack.
"Obviously, defensively Jones, rightly so, is one of the best linebackers in the country," Kelly said in his press conference Tuesday. "Very physical up front. Experienced at the linebacker position."
Just because the Spartans have a player of Jones' caliber on defense doesn't mean the Irish will alter their game plan significantly. Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said while the Irish will be aware of Jones' presence, they will still run their offense.
"They have 10 other football players out there also, so we can't just put all our focus on Greg Jones," Molnar said. "We know who he is, we know his number, we know where he lines up. After that, every play that we run we have somebody that's supposed to block him. Sometimes it's a center, sometimes it's a guard, sometimes it's a running back, and at the end of the day we expect our guys to get the job done."