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September 25, 2008

Can the MSU defense repeat?

Coming off a dreadful performance in an overtime home loss to Northwestern last season, MSU's defense had to take on Indiana and Kellen Lewis -- who had five TD passes and one rushing in a blowout of the Spartans in 2006.

    Lewis took off on a 59-yard touchdown run on IU's first play from scrimmage. From there, the Hoosiers gained 134 total yards in a 52-27 loss at Spartan Stadium. Lewis was sacked five times, including a Jonal Saint-Dic hit that created a fumble and a 12-yard touchdown return for Ervin Baldwin.
    Every year and team is different, but MSU clearly had a great plan for Lewis last season. They found a way to keep him bottled and in the pocket -- after a first play of which defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said Thursday: "I think the guys were drooling out there. After the first snap, everybody calms down and says, 'OK, I've got to play.'"
    Narduzzi talked about a major difference in IU this season: a hurry-up approach on offense. That will make it difficult for MSU to change personnel, which makes it logical that the Spartans will go nickel, for the most part. That would mean Jeremy Ware in as the fifth defensive back in place of Oren Wilson, and Brandon Denson in at linebacker for Adam Decker.
    But Narduzzi made it sound like he expects a lot of snaps for Decker, who has been playing extremely well. It'll be interesting to see the Spartans' plan. Maybe it'll be nickel with Decker.
    It's also key against a hurry-up to get the defensive calls from the sideline quickly.
    Narduzzi said he woke up on his couch around 1 a.m. Wednesday night and looked up to see a replay of the MSU-Notre Dame game on TV. He watched about five snaps, while ND was hurrying up in the second half, and noticed that the players were receiving the signals well. He felt better.
    In other news:
    * A week after saying the defense as a whole was playing average, Narduzzi praised his linebackers for "above average play" against Notre Dame. He cited Otis Wiley, Chris L. Rucker and Dan Fortener for their play in the back end, and said Oren Wilson "had an exceptionally good game" against the Irish.
    * Asked about Antonio Jeremiah, who is falling on the depth chart and getting very little work, Narduzzi said: "He's coming around a little bit. A little bit, not a whole bunch." Jeremiah's weight continues to be a concern, along with his struggles to play with enough leverage.
    "He doesn't say he's eating too different," Narduzzi said, "but it sure looks like it."
    * Also in last season's game, Javon Ringer rushed for 203 yards, then a career high, and Devin Thomas had 13 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. Brian Hoyer completed 20 of 23 passes.
    A year earlier, in the 46-21 loss at IU that sealed John L. Smith's fate, Ringer was still out with a knee injury suffered four weeks earlier against Illinois.
    “I had the privilege of watching that sad game on my couch," Ringer recalled. "Watching us just get beat down."

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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