When Pat Narduzzi left Cincinnati to follow Mark Dantonio to Michigan State in 2007, becoming the Spartans’ new defensive coordinator, he began a career spanning nearly a decade as the successful architect of some very talented defenses. .
Narduzzi won the Broyles Award as the best assistant coach in college football in 2013, helping the Spartans to a record-breaking 13-1 season in which the MSU defense allowed just 13 points and 250 yards per game. His defenses in the early 2010s regularly led the Big 10 to the heyday of Dantonio’s Spartans.
When he left for Pitt, after a New Years Six Cotton Bowl victory over Baylor in his last game as Michigan State Defensive Coordinator, he inherited a program that had gone on for a long time. of mediocrity in the early 2010s.
Although it took a while, with an ACC Coastal title a few seasons ago, Narduzzi led Pitt to his best season in about four decades. With an electric attack led by Kenny Pickett and a defense that completely stifled a powerful attack from Wake Forest to win the first conference title in the program’s history, Pitt has arrived.
After the biggest game of his career, Pitt’s New Years Six Peach Bowl at the end of the month now comes to the fore as Narduzzi’s biggest game as a college head coach. And it just so happens against the Michigan State No.10.
However, for Narduzzi, it’s just another game Pitt has to go 1-0 in.
âWe’re obviously thrilled to be in this game,â Narduzzi said during the Peach Bowl coaches Zoom media call. âBut it’s a football game. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. We have a big opponent. Never mind that I trained there for a few years. It won’t play any role.
Dantonio resigned his position as Michigan State head coach in 2020, and then head coach Mel Tucker resigned to take the job in East Lansing, Michigan. Tucker also has ties to the state of Michigan, having served as a graduate assistant to then-Nick Saban head coach Nick Saban. And just to come full circle here, the Narduzzi-less Spartans lost to Saban’s Alabama in the 2015 CFP semifinals.
With Tucker’s new staff in place, Narduzzi said the players and almost all of the coaches who were in place during his time at East Lansing have since moved. However, Narduzzi has been watching Tucker from afar for some time now and he likes what he sees.
âYou know, I admire Coach Tucker from afar,â Narduzzi said. âWe didn’t have the chance to work together, but we just admired his work. I know he’s been a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach throughout his career, and I know Mark Dantonio spoke very, very well about him when he worked with him. This is my knowledge of Mel.
Tucker’s coaching career has been curvy, spending time in the NFL as a defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Chicago Bears and through college football with the Ohio State, the Alabama and Georgia before heading to Colorado in 2019.
After a season shortened from 2 to 5 by COVID in 2020, Tucker’s Spartans got off to an 8-0 start and placed No.3 in the CFP poll this season after beating rival Michigan in East Lansing. And despite a 2-2 end to the season, that was enough to earn Big Ten Coach of the Year honors and a new 10-year, $ 95 million contract.
With an offensive approach to the ground and the pound, led by running back Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State’s offense can get through close games and burn time in late-game opportunities, but defense of the Spartans is not quite on par with Narduzzi’s defenses of yesteryear. The Spartans have been ablaze in the air defensively this season, giving up a ton of yards to opposing quarterbacks. See Ohio State Loss for reference.
Despite a lackluster defense at times this season, Michigan state’s defense is strong against the run and includes athletes who can take it out on the quarterback. Narduzzi, who has obviously seen his fair share of Big Ten football, thinks the experience could be a benefit.
âI think so,â Narduzzi said. âI know Big Ten football a bit. But football is football. Different players, different colored jerseys, different logos, but football is football. But just a little bit where they’re from, I think it helps a bit.
And while Pitt’s defense isn’t quite at the state level of Michigan under Narduzzi in the early 2010s, he feels like MSU fans who remember his defenses will feel a certain level. deja vu looking at Pitt’s aggressive defense.
I think so, âNarduzzi said. “Yeah, I think they’ll see – they’ll sort of know what that looks like.” It’s the same aggressive defense style we had in East Lansing, and that’s kind of what we do. Randy Bates, our defensive coordinator, is doing a good job.
In a battle of contrasting yet effective offensive styles, whatever defense can stop the pass attack from Pickett and Pitt or the ground and pound attack from Walker and MSU will emerge victorious. With two defensive-focused head coaches, it’s more than familiarity and homecoming, it’s a game of football.