Oct. 27, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
On paper, Michigan State has the No.1 defense in the nation.
It looked that way again on the field as the Spartans throttled Illinois' offense en route to a resounding 42-3 victory Saturday afternoon in Champaign, and that's all that matters to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
"The kids may look at that stuff, but we've never thrown a sheet in front of them and said, `Look where we are,' " he said. "I fear that as soon as you do that, the next week someone will put up 500 (yards) on you, so it's kind of superstitious with me.
"I never look at that stuff and I don't care about it."
Nevertheless, with a tremendous goal-line stand serving as the fulcrum that broke the game open in the second quarter, MSU played even better than its numbers while holding the Fighting Illini to:
─ 128 total yards, 100 fewer than its nation-leading average of 228 going in;
─ 25 rushing yards, down from 59.1, which also was first in the country;
─ 103 yards passing, an improvement from its fourth-place average of 168.9;
─ Three points, which could result in an upgrade from the fourth spot in America with 13.6 allowed.
"Maybe it's motivating to the kids," Narduzzi said. "I'm still not going to say anything about it, but coming into the year they wanted to be No. 1 in the country and it kind of fuels the fire for them. I don't care what it takes, and if that's the case, good for them."
The Fighting Illini were expected to challenge Narduzzi's defense with a potent offense that was averaging 35.3 yards per game, 446.2 yards per game and 287.7 yards through the air, which was second in the Big Ten.
Narduzzi also expected Illinois to try to run the ball against the Spartans.
"I told our guys that no question they'll try to establish the running game and they really didn't," he said. "They tried reverses and stuff like that, but they didn't really say, `We're going to run power at you,' to find out what would happen, which I really was shocked by.
"Any time you can make them one-dimensional and are forced to throw it on every down, you know what's going to happen and it puts your kids in a good position."
The Illini moved the ball efficiently with a mixture of passes and runs on their first drive, which produced a field goal.
Trailing 7-3, Illinois threatened to retake the lead by driving all the way to the MSU 1-yard line. However, on third-and-goal, safety Isaiah Lewis and end Denzel Drone sniffed out a trick play and stopped it cold.
"We didn't do anything fancy and just played a lot of base defense," Narduzzi said. "(Linebacker) Kyler Elsworth had a big play on that. He came through the C-gap and kind of blew up the fullback and knocked him into the guard, and really slowed the whole play down.
"It's just one guy after another stepping up to make plays, and that's what it takes to be a great defense."
The offense made it a 14-point swing by driving 99 yards the other way and scoring a touchdown with nine seconds remaining in the first half.
The Illini are the third team MSU has held without a touchdown this season, and the second Big Ten team, on the heels of the 14-0 victory against Purdue a week earlier, in a row.
"There are still some little mistakes we need to clear up going into the (Michigan game), but I think it was based on what Illinois had done in games and then didn't do," Narduzzi said. "But, the kids are playing fast and there's no question they're playing well."