This is not your brother’s “No Fly Zone” Michigan State Spartans defense anymore folks. Gone is the reputation that strikes fear in to the heart of every Big Ten team. That’s just a fact, especially when you look at the film of Michigan State’s 2015 defense.
Yet, the reasons seem to be varied. Some believe it’s the personnel gone, some believe it’s just the natural trend of working through many new pieces and things will return to fear-inducing defense soon. Others believe it is just simply offenses catching up to MSU’s defense for a change.
However, few seem to acknowledge the one reason that is most likely — the loss of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
There is little doubt that the Michigan State Spartans built their national reputation with a scary defense. Along with head coach Mark Dantonio, that reputation was built thanks to Narduzzi.
He’s off to his first head coaching gig at Pitt, and life in East Lansing was supposed to go on as if nothing ever happened. After all, this team has been used to plugging and playing talent at any and every spot. There was also the return of guys like Riley Bullough and star defensive end Shilique Calhoun to spark this defense.
Oh, and MSU didn’t need to go outside of the current coaching staff to make the hire of Narduzzi’s replacement. Instead, it was plug and play for the coaching staff as well, with Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel stepping up to co-defensive coordinator roles.
Change means differences in style and coaching are going to happen, but given the continuity on Dantonio’s staff, this group was expected to be just fine.
It hasn’t been all things normal in East Lansing though, as the Spartans defense is simply missing something these days.
Take the last two weeks for example, as redshirt freshman Markell Jones of Purdue ripped off 157 yards and two touchdowns on just 22 carries and Rutgers’ star wide receiver Leonte Carroo single-handily kept the Scarlet Knights in the game with seven receptions for 134 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s clear something is missing, and even players are acknowledging the differences happening.
“We were playing the way the Spartan dogs usually play,” said star defensive end Shilique Calhouhn after the Rutgers game. “I think we lost a little bit of our focus. Drives before that kind of got us uneasy about other things.
“Toward the end we realized we could only do our job and trust and faith in our teammates to do what they need to be doing. That’s what happened.”
A Spartans defense losing focus? Maybe chalk it up to some youth on the roster and in key positions. However, that’s never stopped an MSU defense from being sharp, mentally focused and prepared in the past.
Could those just have been blips on the radar? Maybe, however, the year-to-year stats simply don’t lie — this defense just isn’t as good as its predecessors.
It can’t be a coincidence that this happens the moment Narduzzi leaves. Not acknowledging that as a big contributing factor is just sticking your head in the sand.
Notice that this season is worse than last season’s numbers in all but scoring defense so far. Additionally, the 2015 Spartans defense is worse than the average of every defense put together by Narduzzi.
Coincidence? That’s highly unlikely.
Perhaps things turn around as the biggest games of the season come up against Michigan and Ohio State in the next few weeks. But, unless significant improvement is made this Spartans squad could be in some serious trouble on the defensive side of the football.
Few thought Michigan State would miss a beat with Narduzzi gone, but the numbers and talk of this team indicate something is missing. That one common denominator certainly appears to be Narduzzi’s absence in the locker room and on game days.