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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Spartans keep edge, push Michigan over it by playing on it


EAST LANSING, Mich. -- By nature, defensive coordinators aren't the most composed people. Out of the public eye, they tend to be wild-eyed, crazy, paint-peeling troglodytes with their players. If some of that filters through to their unit, all the better.

Meet another member of that select clan, Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi. He doesn't have the salary of a defensive genius like Nick Saban. His eyeballs tend to stay in his head, unlike Florida's Will Muschamp. But you're going to know the Spartans' 45-year old budding star. You're going to know him because Michigan is going to spread the word.

One of the biggest wins in Michigan State history was summed up by these six ominous words.

"We don't want to hurt anybody," said Narduzzi after the Spartans' historic 28-14 win over Michigan.

That's comforting to some folks. Not Michigan, which was beaten and beaten up by Little Brother. It's safe to say that name hung on the Spartans by former Michigan tailback Mike Hart a few years ago is officially retired.

That's what happens when a defense gets seven sacks, a pick six and causes the worst day in a certain Heisman contender's career.

"One thing we said in the past, you don't win the Heisman in September," Narduzzi said referring to Michigan's Denard Robinson. "We told our kids, 'September is over.'"

And so may be Michigan for a while. A glorious program used to Hail to the Victors left the field to taunts of "Lit-tle Sis-ters" at Spartan Stadium. Narduzzi's unit came into the game No. 1 in total defense, allowing less than 200 yards per game. It came out having put several Wolverines in the turf and a message in their minds.

"They were definitely more physical," said Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs, admiring his Spartans counterparts. "They pounded us. They beat us up."

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It's one thing to defeat Michigan four consecutive times for the first time in almost 50 years. It's another to tap dance over their bruised and broken bodies. Figuratively, of course.

"Our defense does have an attitude, an attack mentality, a hit-you-in-the-mouth mentality," defensive end William Gholston said.

This is a snapshot of your Fightin' Narduzzis. For the feature-length version, as every coach says, you'll have to watch the film.

"Was it a late hit?" Narduzzi said outside a trailer that doubles as the Spartans' postgame interview room. "Was it really late or not so late?"

Narduzzi, a former Rhode Island, Northern Illinois and Cincinnati assistant, wanted to know because his unit plays on the edge, not unlike LSU and Alabama. The difference is few folks outside of Dixie know, or even respect, that fact. Narduzzi was referring to Michigan's last series, when quarterback Denard Robinson was knocked silly by aptly named redshirt freshman Spartans defensive end Marcus Rush.

Rush was flagged for roughing Robinson. Whether the hit was late or not didn't really matter. The game, at that point, was over. The hit officially ended Robinson's day, one of the worst of his career. His completion percentage (37.6) and rushing total (42 yards) were career lows as a starter.

What mattered is that Rush and the defense continued to play on that fine line. The defensive line, in particular, is young and irrepressible. Among 13 Spartans penalties Saturday were five personal fouls. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, a junior, has a tattoo on his left bicep depicting a Spartan stomping a Wolverine. Gholston earned a flag after retaliating against a Michigan lineman.

As a group, Michigan State's D-line was responsible for four of Michigan State's 10 tackles for loss. This is all very bad news for the next dual-threat quarterback on the horizon. Wisconsin's Russell Wilson -- Robinson with a completion percentage -- arrives here next week for another Big Ten showdown.

"We will take aggressive penalties ...," Narduzzi said. "If it's a late hit, they'll see it on film and say, 'Yeah, coach I'm a dummy.' Sometimes you don't know how an officiating crew is going to call it."

Rush is a 6-foot-2, 250-pounder from legendary Cincinnati Moeller, home to a former Notre Dame coach and more than a few Notre Dame players. After a redshirt year, Rush fit right in as a hybrid linebacker/end type. A couple of weeks after becoming Big Ten Freshman of the Week for his game against Ohio State, Rush contributed three tackles, one sack and loads of pressure.

That sack bookended Michigan's final possession. After getting flagged on the first play, Rush all but ended the drive by taking down Devin Gardner, Robinson's 6-4, 205-pound replacement, for a loss of 10.

"We had him in camp. We loved him," Narduzzi said of Rush. "Some people might say he's undersized but we're looking for speed. We want speed off the edge. We don't want a 290-pound end, we want guys who can rush the quarterback."

Clearly, Michigan State has figured out Robinson. In two meetings, Michigan's quarterback has thrown four interceptions. The line filled the gaps and kept him from getting outside. One of the few times he did, Robinson scored the game's first touchdown on a 15-yard scramble.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio finally figured out it was time to let go in the second half. Both sides played conservatively in the opening 30 minutes. They were intimidated by a 35 mph wind gusting out of the west. After a 7-7 tie, the teams went a combined 55 consecutive plays without scoring before Kirk Cousins threw his first of two third-quarter touchdown passes to Keshawn Martin.

How hard could it be with the swirling wind? At the end of the third quarter, Michigan State student Andrew Johnson came out of the stands and nailed a 40-yard field goal into the wind to win a 2012 GMC Arcadia.

All that controlled aggression seemed to boil over in the fourth quarter. Safety Isaiah Lewis sealed it with a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown that will be memorable long after Saturday. As he was nearing the end zone, Allen stuck the ball out in the direction of Robinson who was chasing him.

It was a violation of the new rule that takes points off the board if a player is flagged for taunting on his way to the end zone. But officials seemed to be screened on the play. It also didn't matter much to the Spartans.

"You have to play this game a little bit angry," Dantonio said.

It was just a matter of how ravaged the once-proud Wolverines would be by the defense.

"We have a lot of guys trying to make names for themselves," cornerback Johnny Adams said.

Fightin' Narduzzis isn't taken.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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