Column: Four years makes all the difference

Michigan State's defensive numbers are ahead of school records, leading nation, who would have thought that four years ago?

Four years ago when Michigan State and Michigan squared off, I stood in the student section surrounded by frustrated fans watching Michigan come back from a 20-6 fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime.

With each pass from then-Wolverines quarterback Tate Forcier, the comments about Pat Narduzzi and his defense letting U-M back into the game rose.

"The prevent only prevents you from winning" and "Fire Narduzzi" were commonly tossed around by the masses that day.

Gazing down to the student section from the press box Saturday, I could not help but remember that October day in 2009. What a difference four years has made.

Narduzzi now is among the top defensive coordinators in college football and is the head of the nation's top-ranked defense – and he systematically dismantled Michigan from start to finish Saturday in a dominant 29-6 Spartans win.

After the game, all he really needed to say was "we do what we do."

"Defensively, we played like we should and we got the results," he said.

Results like holding Michigan 36 points and 278 yards below its season averages. Or results like having four Michigan drives result in negative yards, eight drives gain less than 10 yards and 10 drives gain less than 20.

Oh and held Michigan to 23 yards rushing on 20 attempts when sacks, a kneeldown and a bad snap are taken out.

The performance continued a dominant stretch since the Spartans kicked off against Purdue on Oct. 19. Since then, the Spartans have allowed just three field goals in three games.

Those are the results Michigan State fans are growing to expect from a defense that has kept getting better year by year.

"I think we've grown," coach Mark Dantonio said. "We've been good for three years. … In 2010, we were very good as well as 2011, 2012."

Even with those strong Spartan units, they don't stack up with the current Spartans defense statistically.

MSU lowered its yards per game allowed to 43 after Saturday, nearly half second-best Louisville's average of 80 yards per game. It also lowered the yards per rush to 1.62 – almost a full yard lower than the next best.

Such numbers aren't just nation-leading, but on pace to break school records set by some of Michigan State's best teams.

Bubba Smith and the Spartans defense of 1965 holds the school record for rushing yards allowed per game with 47.3. The 1966 squad was next with 51.4 yards and next in line is the 1987 team with 698. Three Big Ten championship teams, two national title teams and two Rose Bowl berths.

Fittingly, a reporter that has been around MSU for many years told me this was the most dominant performance against the Wolverines since the 1987 team.

And as Narduzzi said, it was just about doing what they do.

"How do we do it?," he said. "We just play good defense. Just play our defense. There were no surprises. What they saw is what they saw on tape and executed."

Needless to say, the only talk about Narduzzi coming from the student section Saturday likely was about trying to keep him in East Lansing longer.

Nobody doubts him anymore and the words "Fire Narduzzi" probably rank near "Go Blue" as the most offensive phrases to any Spartan fan.

Four years makes all the difference.

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