Big Key for an Outback Bowl Win for Michigan State over the Georgia Bulldogs: Physical Play!

Hondo S. Carpenter

Spartan defense brings physicality that Georgia hasn’t seen.

The Georgia Bulldogs play in the best conference for college football in the nation in the SEC. They are finesse defenses predicated on speed. After watching all of the 2011 Georgia Bulldog games there is one thing that stands out to me: the physicality of the MSU D could pose a big problem. How will Georgia respond? Does their speed nullify MSU’s ability to knock them around?

Earlier this year MSU DC Pat Narduzzi drew the ire of Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany when asked about his teams physical approach he said, “We want 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness.” It is that mentality that the Bulldogs haven’t faced.

That isn’t to say they haven’t faced great defenses because they have. They will be facing one in MSU that brings a different mentality. While the SEC has defenses with the speed of Sugar Ray Leonard, the Spartans bring the raw power of Larry Holmes

I am not foolish, the SEC is full of great defenses, but I do see the way MSU plays as an advantage. The Spartans will swarm to the football, they will attack with multiple people and they hit and hit hard.

I asked MSU DC Pat Narduzzi about what I surmised and he agreed. He told me, “I think so. We'll find out. It should be. Any time you're physical, it should be your advantage in any game really. I think that's key.”

The Bulldogs bring a no huddle fast paced offense to the game. It isn’t the same pace as Notre Dame, but they do like to go no huddle and they are much bigger. Their OL is over 25 pounds heavier than the MSU DL and with that faster pace they like to lineup and go.

Dantonio described their offense this way when asked, “We played a lot of no‑huddle football teams, some with a much more rapid tempo than Georgia will use.
It keeps you off balance. We're going to have to prepare from that, especially from a conditioning standpoint. We've been conditioning extra. Had the indoor up to 80 plus degrees every day.
Usually I think what happens is you settle in on the tempo of the football game as you go. We've had a tendency to play a lot of football players when we've done this. We've played a lot of football players in general on defense throughout the season.
It's not something we're not used to. They will do it out of a two‑back set as well, and they'll run the ball as well. It's not totally passing. We've seen quite a few people do that, Northwestern, Michigan obviously, and a few different people throughout.”

With the MSU physicality brining the wood on every play it will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs respond. They are great athletes so I don’t expect intimidation, but the response could be key.

Narduzzi described the Bulldog offense this way, “You know, what sticks out most to me is obviously they're huge up front, pretty athletic, real good at the skill positions. The thing that sticks out to me most is they really get the ball out quick. First we thought it was three‑step. It's a real quick five passing game, so they don't really give you a chance to get much pressure on them, so we're going to have to be very careful with pressure because they'll beat you with the ball.

Their tailback doesn't even stay in to protect. He's going to free release all day long, so we're going to have to cover him up and get good four‑man pressure. That will be critical.”

Georgia loves to throw the ball and when they do, their QB distributes it all over the field. Double-digit players have caught touchdown passes this year and it opens an interesting can of worms for Narduzzi.

He described the Bulldog aerial attack like this, “Well, they're an 11 personnel lot, which means there's three receivers in the game. His favorite target is his tight end.  It's difficult, but you know what, it doesn't matter how slow that guy is out there or how big he is, if he's a 300‑pound wide receiver, you've go to cover them all, you can't say they're not going to throw to that guy because as soon as you don't cover them‑‑ so it's tough anytime they line up with four or five receivers and go run a route, that's what they're going to do; they're going to have five quick receivers. They might as well line up on empty based on how much their tailback gets out on the route.”

So how does MSU counter essentially an empty set on so many occasions? Do they move to a constant dime or nickel package? No. Narduzzi said, “We won't have to do that. We've got our outside linebacker on the field that's pretty athletic and he can play the run and the pass pretty well based on what he needs to do, so we feel pretty good with our base personnel. They're a no‑huddle offense, so if we would have to go five or six D‑backs, you struggle getting those guys in, then they'll snap the ball quick and get you with too many ‑‑ illegal participation. So that's one of our advantages to a no‑huddle is we don't have to switch our personnel.”

The Bulldogs are a finesse team.  They can run and they can pass. The big question mark is going to be the ability and the desire of MSU to turn this into a heavyweight fight and not a super middleweight punch fest.

I can’t wait to see the Bulldog response to the Spartan attack. This is one chess match worth the price of admission.

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