There are two main national games to highlight today’s action: Michigan vs. Notre Dame and Michigan State vs. Oregon. Both of those games have national implications, but the more important of the two looks to be the latter. It for sure has the most intriguing match up: the Spartan defense against the Duck offense.
Just in time for that match up, Grantland’s Chris Brown takes a deep look at Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi’s defense. In short, the Spartans run a simple 4-3 with press coverage on the corners and they spice things up with well-placed zone blitzes. The gist is to play physical on the wide outs and allow no easy passes, yet play zone to protect against the vertical passing game employed by hurry up offenses nowadays. As Brown surmises:
What’s more, they know that great D isn’t the function of a magical scheme; it’s about mastering fundamentals and playing with discipline and effort. The scheme is there merely to channel the players’ energy and help them play fast and without hesitation. Right now, no defense in college football does that better than Michigan State’s. The Spartans have the scheme to take on the Ducks. They just need to execute.
In some ways, I see this as a shot at Nick Saban. He’s known as a defensive guru and along with that tag comes the idea that his defenses are extremely complicated. Plus, his defenses have struggled occasionally against hurry-up teams (at least in the media’s eyes) and didn’t look so good in the opener against West Virginia.
Meanwhile, everyone’s on the lookout for the defensive answer to these new-fangled offenses and our lonely eyes are apparently now looking to Dantonio and Narduzzi for the answers.