LINCOLN — Michigan State linebacker and leading tackler Max Bullough doesn't dip in coachspeak when he talks about the style of the Spartans' defense.
He uses words like “intimidate,” “tough” and “intense.”
“We play with swagger,” Bullough said of the Big Ten's top rushing, total and scoring defense. “Fast, physical and downhill.”
If an offense wants to find gaps in Michigan State's run fits, it'll discover linebackers Bullough, Taiwan Jones and Denicos Allen close holes fast. And good luck running around a front four anchored by defensive ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush. Good luck running, period: The Spartans give up 91 rushing yards per game.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi doesn't take his foot off the gas on passing downs, either. He prefers an aggressive, blitzing style that forces quick throws and adjusted routes.
Yes, even against mobile quarterbacks, who are sometimes perceived to be blitz-beaters because they can escape the pocket. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini occasionally blitzes mobile quarterbacks, but he's better known for containment strategies. Against Michigan's Denard Robinson, for example, NU rushed more than four guys just once.
The Spartans choose to roll the dice more.
“If you sit on your heels all the time, they just burn you,” Bullough said. “We've done a good job of limiting mobile QBs.”
Coach Mark Dantonio — a former defensive coordinator himself who more than doubled Narduzzi's salary in the offseason to $500,000 — had a more philosophical take.
“Just because a guy can move around back there, you can't let that take you out of who you are,” he said. “Sometimes, when you have a very elusive quarterback and you're only sending four at him, he just can buy time. So we have to create pressure points for him just like he's creating pressure points with his running ability.”
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is comfortable with defenses being aggressive. During Monday's press conference, he said he “prefers” blitzes because it leaves “gaps” in the defense.
In 2010, he torched Oklahoma State's blitz-happy defense for 323 yards and five touchdowns in a 51-41 win. One year later, Fresno State brought heat, and Martinez finished with 219 passing yards — on 10 completions — and one touchdown in a 42-29 win. And Martinez's best pass in a 29-28 win over Northwestern — a 37-yard touchdown to Kenny Bell in the second quarter — was thrown into the teeth of a blitz.
For most of the 2011 Michigan State game — a 24-3 Husker win — Martinez struggled. And he only had 103 total yards for the game. But he completed six passes and drew a pass interference penalty on two touchdown drives in the third quarter that clinched the win.
Nebraska had 270 yards for the afternoon. But Bullough said the Spartan defense — which knows what a good defensive performance feels like, even when the team loses — wasn't satisfied.
“We got outphysicaled,” Bullough said.
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