Though there were a fair amount of missed blocking assignments on Saturday, Michigan State deserves some credit for the way that they defended the Michigan offense, particularly the way they tried to hold down Denard. Primary among their schematic counters to Denard was blitzing both outside linebackers and spying Denard with middle linebacker Greg Jones.
This strategy did a few things effectively: More important than the blitzes actually getting to Denard was keeping him in the pocket. The blitzing outside linebackers acted as contain players while also bringing extra heat on passing downs. This obviously leaves them susceptible to some passing plays (Webb TD below), but they more or less kept Denard in the middle of the field where MSU's best defensive player was waiting. The blitzes also made sure that Denard couldn't beat them on scrambles. With Jones spying Denard--and sometimes coming on a delayed blitz--the MSU defense was daring Denard to sit in the pocket and beat them through the air. We saw how that ended.
But that was only when the pocket wasn't moving. When MSU blitzed their outside linebackers and Michigan moved the pocket, it forced Greg Jones to track Denard to the playside of the field and essentially opened up the entire backside of the play. One of the ways MSU was so effective against Michigan on Saturday was because they were overselling to the playside. Michigan has almost no counter plays in their offensive arsenal, and on the zone read, MSU defensive ends were instructed to always stay high, forcing Denard to hand the ball off. So no matter what Michigan ran, MSU was flowing downhill into the play.
Michigan did run at least one counter, however, and it was the walk-into-the-endzone Martell Webb touchdown in the second quarter.
MSU got a lot of positive plays on gambles like this. Blitzing their outside linebackers frequently gave Michigan opportunities that they just couldn't capitalize on, either because of a poor play by Denard (these were new looks and he was noticeably uncomfortable for most of the game) or just the wrong playcall against it. This scheme was another example of teams being able to neutralize Michigan by attacking the line of scrimmage, which Notre Dame had some success doing.
Michigan is unlikely to see this exact scheme in the future because they now have real game experience with it, and because there aren't a lot of teams that have the kind of confidence in their middle linebacker as MSU does in Jones. However, teams will continue to blitz their linebackers to try and close off any holes for Denard to run through. Unfortunately, Iowa, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all feature stellar defensive lines and shouldn't need as much linebacker help in Denard support. The offense against those teams will probably look similarly sloppy despite their linebackers not blitzing as much. Regardless, Michigan needs to implement more counter plays like the Webb touchdown if they're going to keep defenses honest.