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December 27, 2013

Spartans on Stanford offense

Wisconsin isn't making a fourth straight trip to the Rose Bowl, but the Badgers are still relevant to this year's clash between Stanford and Michigan State, at least in the eyes of Spartan defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

Narduzzi compared the Cardinal's offense to the Badger unit Michigan State faced in 2012. As a result, Narduzzi thinks the Spartans will have a degree of familiarity with how Stanford's offense intends to operate.

"Strategically, (Stanford) runs - they're not a spread offense," Narduzzi said. "They're going to line up in two backs and try to pound it at you and line up in two tight ends and two backs. But we faced that in the Big Ten, we face it with our offense, and personally I think they're very similar to what a Wisconsin was. I've said this before, was a year ago. I think their staff and Brett Bielema's staff have gotten together the last 10 years because I think it's very similar, and I think that's what we're going to face."

Narduzzi pointed to the Spartans' shutdown performance against Wisconsin's offense last season as evidence that Michigan State is up to the challenge against the Cardinal.

"Wisconsin has got a bunch of offensive linemen in the NFL," Narduzzi said. 'They're very similar to a Wisconsin team we played a year ago, and our defense held them to 19 yards rushing. And I think they rushed for like 500 yards against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship a year ago. So they've showed the capabilities of running the ball against everybody, but we were able to shut the running game down. So they were almost identical to Stanford."

The Badgers and Cardinal possess an offensive style Michigan State embraces playing against.

"You know, you're playing football in a phone booth as opposed to playing it on a true football field," Narduzzi said. "And the spread offense is going to make you defend the 100 yards and 54 yards width, they're not making you defend as much of that. They're putting you in a phone booth, and it comes down to toughness and attitude, and I feel like that's an advantage for us because I think we're built on toughness and attitude. And I think that's an advantage for us."

The stats support the claim that Michigan State is better equipped than many teams to handle Stanford's power-run game oriented offense. The Spartans are ranked No. 1 nationally in rush defense; they allow only 2.7 yards per carry. (By comparison, Stanford is ranked No. 3 nationally in rush defense. The Cardinal allows 2.97 yards per carry.)

"One of our power parts is stopping the run," Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis said. "Stanford, they're running the ball, and we see that all the time playing in the Big Ten, that's what you see all the time, teams pounding the ball, stacking a lot of guys on the line just trying to pound the ball, run you down the field. That's one of our things, stopping the run. We pride ourselves on stopping the run, and that's what makes us such a great defense. That's what we're going to do, try to stop the run, let them try to pound the ball, let them do that, get those little yards as they can. Just keep on doing what we do because they're going to do what they do regardless, so we've got to stop the run because that's what they're going to do. It's going to be a good game, going to be a high velocity kind of game. We've got to stop the run, and then we'll be good.

Then again, as Kevin Hogan and Stanford's offense showed in its Pac-12 title game victory over Arizona State, there's more to the 2013 Cardinal offense than its running game. Stanford generated multiple explosive passing plays against the Sun Devils; three receivers (Michael Rector, Jordan Pratt and Devon Cajuste) made catches that went for gains of 30 or more yards, and a fourth (Ty Montgomery) scored two touchdowns.

"They've got a lot of good receivers," standout Michigan State defensive back Darqueze Dennard said. "Ty Montgomery, he's pretty impressive, especially after the catch. He's a great player, along with the other receivers, as well."

Still, Michigan State feels the 100th Rose Bowl will be decided by the battle in the trenches.

"It's going to be won up front," Narduzzi said. "You win the game up front against a team like this. And we've gotta be good up front. Our two deep tackles that are in the game have gotta play strong; they've gotta play flat back, and if we don't win it in there, we won't win the game. And we've gotta make it one dimensional. You watch any of these bowl games or watch NFL games, which I had a chance to watch this past weekend, with Christmas break, and I see some teams go out there and give up runs. They don't pass; they don't stop anything. It just reaffirms what we do. We've gotta be able to stop the runs. So they can throw a fake up all they want, we're going to try and stop that run. If we can't stop that, then we can't stop anything."


What about Stanford's offense surprised Pat Narduzzi when he watched the Cardinal on film?

"Well, you know, I think they do a great job at play calling," Narduzzi said. "I think Coach does a great job play calling, running the offense. And you know, I think that's most impressive thing. It's almost like they script the whole game.

"Some people come out and they have their first series is scripted. They've already wrote it down like you're writing it down there, hey, first play is going to be this; boom, boom, boom, boom, they just keep going down the list, like this. Really they did their - they've planned the game out like a video game and said I'm going to call this play; we're going to run X, O and then we're going to play action pass them. Seems like they do that, they mix it up and keep you off guard as a defensive coordinator, so I think that's going to be the most interesting thing."

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