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Pat Narduzzi’s claims have merit, but OSU actually just took its old defense back

Pat Narduzzi is seen as a defensive guru — a wizard at identifying talent and coaching it up real quick, as well as creating havoc for opposing offenses on game day. Over the past four or five years the Michigan State Spartans defense was easily the most feared in the Big Ten.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that other teams would eventually try to emulate it. After all, success breeds copy-cats, especially in the world of college football.

On Monday, Narduzzi went on a Lansing, Michigan radio station to claim the Buckeyes stole his defense and won a national championship because of it.

“Ohio State’s facing the same problem (against offenses), because they stole our defense, too,” said Narduzzi, via “There’s a lot of teams throughout the country. You go watch them, they’re exactly us, whether they admit it or not.

“They’re exactly us, and they weren’t before. They won a national championship with the defense.”

Narduzzi isn’t lying, as OSU did bring a lot of the same principles to the table as Michigan State does on defense. It went all-out to stop the run and played a lot more man-to-man coverage in 2014 than it had in previous seasons.

However, Narduzzi may need to understand that Ohio State wasn’t stealing Michigan State’s defense at all. Instead, it was really taking back what was “theirs” in the first place.

How so? After all, none of the Michigan State defensive coaching staff went over to Ohio State between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Well, one needs to do a bit of a history lesson and figure out where those defensive philosophies have their roots. The reality of that history lesson is that Michigan State’s modern defense has its roots in its head coach, Mark Dantonio.

Dantonio didn’t just come up with this defense as he took the MSU coaching job in the mid 2000’s either. Rather, his defensive philosophy has deep roots in the state of Ohio.

It all started with his time as an assistant at Youngstown State, where many of the Ohio State coaching staff of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s cut their teeth. His stint from 1986 to 1990 as the defensive coordinator was a big part of building his current philosophy, and he did so under one Jim Tressel too.

His time at YSU was important, but it was his time spent with Tressel as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State that really gave him an opportunity to embrace the philosophies his teams are really associated with to this day.

True there was a four-year period where Dantonio got to learn under Nick Saban (1996-2000) as the defensive backs coach, but most of the credit Dantonio gives to a coach influencing his philosophies goes to his time with Tressel.

“I talk to Coach Tress every now and then,” Dantonio said back in 2013 before the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State. “I talk to him just to settle me as a person. I listen to his advice. Doesn’t talk X’s and O’s. He’s been a great friend and mentor. Also hear from (Alabama coach) Nick Saban a little bit.

“But it’s nice because people who have an influence on me over the course of my life. This is a big moment.”

Following Dantonio’s three-years stint as the defensive coordinator, he was hired as the University of Cincinnati’s head coach. It was Dantonio who hired Narduzzi and thus began his progression in understanding that defensive philosophy, one that continued up until this very day.

Proof of the roots going back to Dantonio’s OSU roots comes from the improvements made under him during his three years there — going from 33rd in team defense in 2001 (334 yards per game) to 23rd the very next season (320 yards per game) and 10th in 2003 (296.8 yards per game).

In all three seasons that Dantonio ran the defense his way, the Buckeyes managed to rank inside the top 20 nationally in scoring defense. OSU gave up just 19.4 points per game in his first season (20th), then ramped it down to just 13.1 points per game in 2002 (2nd) and 17.6 points per game in 2003 (16th)

No stat showed what would be the foundation of any and all Dantonio-coached teams in the future than OSU’s run defense. After ranking 51st against the run in his first season, Dantonio ranked third and second in that category the next two seasons.

MSU is known as a stout run-stuffing defense, but once again, it is those Ohio State roots that started it all for Dantonio and eventually Narduzzi as well.

While MSU may have taken things up a notch or two, Narduzzi probably should realize the real roots of what he knows and does really well come from that state down south of Lansing, Mich.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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