Q&A: Is this Pat Narduzzi's best D? 'It could be'

It’s good to be Pat Narduzzi. The Michigan State defensive coordinator has it rolling right now, pushing the buttons on what was the Big Ten’s best defense last season (274.4 ypg) and No. 4 in the nation. In fact, it was the second season in a row the Spartans paced the Big Ten in defense.

Want more? The Spartans are one of just five FBS schools, along with Alabama, Florida State, Florida and LSU, to rank among the top 10 nationally in total defense the past two seasons. In addition, MSU and Alabama are the only two programs to rank in the NCAA FBS Top 15 the past two seasons in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense.

Success like that has made Narduzzi a man in demand, as Tennessee and Texas A&M have come after the 47-year-old in recent years to run their defenses. But Narduzzi’s next stop figures to be as a head coach.

I caught up with Narduzzi, who is in his seventh season in East Lansing and added the title of assistant head coach in the offseason, to get his views on his 2013 defense that returns eight starters.

[ RELATED: Check out all of our spring football coverage ]

Q: You have some holes to fill along the line. How does that group looking going into the offseason?
A: I think we will be fine. We lose (end) Will Gholston and (tackle) Anthony Rashad White, two guys who played a lot of football for us. (End) Marcus Rush is back, and he has been a great football player for us. And we get a guy back who played a fifth or fourth of the time last year in (end) Shilique Calhoun. We are really excited about his development and ability to make a lot of plays. You could see that in the TCU game when he made some plays. As a redshirt freshman, he came on in pass-rush situations and he’s a great technician in the run game. He’s gonna be a great football player for us.

Q: What did you think of William Gholston’s career?
A: He had a great career. It’s too bad he didn’t have another year. We tried to tell him he needed another year. He never redshirted. He was one of those babies who was drafted. He had a great career for us. MSU fans respect what he did the last three years to help elevate our defense. He’ll have a great NFL career. If he had played another year, I think he would have been a first-rounder.

Q: The linebackers look every bit as good as last year, right?
A: It should be better, to be honest with you. We really don’t lose a big-time starter. Chris Norman was a starter for us for a long time, but he eventually got beat out. He never got a whole lot better but the other guys did and they passed him. Taiwan Jones came on in the Indiana game. And he played great ever since. He was a little inconsistent here and there. And we have a guy who played some safety in Jairus Jones who will play outside linebacker for us, too. He can do a little bit of both. We are excited about the linebacker spot. Jones and Kurtis Drummond were banging heads last year at safety for six games—and Kurtis was the starter based on what we saw in games. Jairus is a guy good enough to start six games for us last year. He’ll get up to 210 pounds and play outside linebacker for us, too.

Q: Will Isaiah Lewis be a leader in the secondary?
A: He will be a great leader for us. He’s a hitter who will line up with Kurtis Drummond on the hash. Darqueze Dennard will be back. I think he’s one of the best corners in the Big Ten and the country. He’ll be highly sought after following next season. A guy who played for an injured Johnny Adams in the bowl game was Trae Waynes, who had a spectacular spring. And I don’t say that about many guys in the spring. He played a great bowl game vs. TCU and shut down a pretty good receiver—and that carried over to the spring. He has become a very good corner for us.

Q: Why wasn’t corner Johnny Adams drafted?
A: I don’t know. He was an all-conference corner who had great success. Was he a little skinny? A lot of times it comes down to what teams need.

Q: Could this be your best defense since arriving at Michigan State?
A: I don’t know. That’s hard to say. You have to make plays to be that. It could be. It depends on how we start off and how we gel. A lot of it has to do if guys are gonna play as a team or if are they play as individuals who are concerned about going to the (NFL). This certainly could be as good as any defense we have had here. Whether it’s better or not, that’s a steep thing to say.

Q: With a veteran defense, will you install any more complex packages?
A: We will do some different things. We already did some in the spring. A lot of people look at us and say that we are simple but complex. Then I talk to another d-coordinator, and he wondered how we do so much on defense. Sometimes I look at us and think everyone knows what we are going to do. I think we are simple. I don’t know how the opponents look at us, but we are gonna do what we do and have some tweaks here and there for different people and situations.

Q: Have you visited any other schools in the offseason to glean ideas?
A: You always are trying to get some pointers here and there and make yourself better. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. We did make some trips but I don’t want to say where.

Q: Have teams come to see you for ideas?
A: We had a lot more last year come to see us than this year. But I shut it down a little bit because we have to get our work done, too.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (13 Comments)
Reality Check on 5/6/2013 @ 3:07pm EDT Said:

Decent defense for Sparty this year but they wont have the foot speed to keep up with Michigan or be able to handle the Wolverine front seven.

Doug on 5/6/2013 @ 3:54pm EDT Said:

Mark, that is one of the funniest posts you’ve had, and you’ve had plenty, have you tried therapy? Ask Denard who finished 1-3 vs Sparty how fast that defense is

Will Edwards on 5/6/2013 @ 5:34pm EDT Said:

The Michigan State defense is light years faster than Michigan’s offense. Drew Dileo and your running backs literally don’t scare anybody. Ohio State and MSU play at a different speed than the rest of the B1G.

Jack on 5/6/2013 @ 6:11pm EDT Said:

Not enough foot speed? MSU replaces Gholston with Calhoun who is faster off the edge, ARW’s snaps will go to a quicker Lawrence Thomas and Norman’s snaps will be taken by a a former safety in Jones Waynes may not be as fast as Johnny Adams but he was plenty fast enough to not allow a completion of longer than 10 yards against him all spring. Meanwhile, Michigan loses their fastest player in Drob, and MSU had plenty of speed to keep UM out of the endzone last year. If anything, speed on defense is the least of their worries.

Hank Moody on 5/6/2013 @ 6:46pm EDT Said:

My God, Michigan fans are dumb.

Faygo on 5/6/2013 @ 7:07pm EDT Said:

Of course the Wal-Marters weigh in, but one name not mentioned in this article is Max Bullough, and he will make sure Sparty’s D plays hard, which means best in the nation. Can’t wait for the Wal-Marters to visit Spartan Stadium this year and face that defense. Admittedly, the offense has issues, including Andrew “Happy Feet, Please Don’t Hurt Me” Maxwell.

Will on 5/6/2013 @ 8:04pm EDT Said:


Lewan manhandled (to put it lightly) Gholston every single time he was supposed to pass rush Denard. Funny how Jack suddenly praises DRob now that he’s no longer gonna play for us. Finally, Gallon was on pace to reach 1000 yards for a 13-game season once Gardner became the starter. he burned that SEC cornerback from South Carolina nearly every play Devin threw

Will on 5/6/2013 @ 8:10pm EDT Said:

Will Edwards,

Please don’t act like your OSU’s equal. Their offense would leave yours in the dust. they had 5 consecutive Big Ten titles from 2005-2010, while you have lost 8 of the last 12 to us, your main rivals. Michigan will be upgrading its starting roster because now those inconsistent high 3* and low 4* players will be replaced by more talented recruits. losing so many starters is a blessing in disguise

Doug on 5/7/2013 @ 11:06am EDT Said:

Will, no Lewan held, twisted, and punched Gholston about every single play, to put it lightly. Gardner needed to complete a hail mary just to beat NW and we saw in crunch time vs OSU and SC that he failed, just like DRob in big games. good luck with those 4 and 5 star busts like will campbell, MSU will be just fine with 3 and 4 stars, those star ratings are a joke that only michigan fans put stock into. Hank, you said it well.

Spartyfan51 on 5/7/2013 @ 2:14pm EDT Said:

What I love is UM fans have become so blinded by not being in the cellar anymore that they think it will just go back to UM and OSU in this conference. Those days are over, Nebraska is getting better, Wiscy has been there (future will tell under new regime) and MSU has hands down the best defense in the conference. Their offense doesnt have to be world beaters, they just need to not beat themselves. Cut down on the dropped passes, hope the O-line can stay semi healthy for a change and hopefully this Freshman kicker is as good as advertised and doesnt miss his usual 1-2 a game which would be the difference. Just take what the defense gives you. If MSU can be a bit better and more effective than a year ago offensively MSU could push for Indy. Either way that defense is scary good pffffffffffff Walmart Wolvy’s talking about how they have more speed than MSU can handle SMH

Will on 5/7/2013 @ 3:36pm EDT Said:

why do you think the Big Ten is looked down upon so much in the media? It’s not getting any better. the bowl losses are piling. the Big Ten was OK around the season but has declined ever since. this is not a coaching problem. this is a talent and recruiting problem. it’s no coincidence that the SEC has the best recruiting hotbeds and the best performance in bowl games. we’ve got to be able to recruit at their level and pull guys out of their territory or we will continue to be an relevant conference. Michigan and Ohio State right now are the closest to doing that

Scott J. on 5/8/2013 @ 10:00am EDT Said:

‘Reality Check’ wrote, “Decent defense for Sparty this year but they wont have the foot speed to keep up with Michigan or be able to handle the Wolverine front seven.”

This article is about MSU’s defense. So I’m not even sure what this guy means. What is an offensive front seven? The Spartan defense won’t have the footspeed to keep up with Michigan’s offense?

Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure that MSU’s defense has the footspeed to keep up with Michigan’s offensive linemen.

Doug on 5/9/2013 @ 11:05am EDT Said:

Scott, Reality Check, AKA Mark, is a biased Michigan fan who’s mad MSU turned him down so he had to go to Washtenaw C.C., poor guy