clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Did MSU Actually Run a Prevent Defense Late vs. Iowa?

Calls for the head of Pat Narduzzi have accompanied a general anger about the constant failings of the Spartan defense in fourth quarter situations. Just to recap, here are the four game tying or game winning drives engineered against Michigan State in 2009:

Score@Drive Start  Time of Drive  # of Plays  Yards  Result 
MSU 13, Iowa 9
1:32 10 70 TD
MSU 27, CMU 26 0:29 4 27 FG
MSU 30, ND 26 4:09 8 73 TD
MSU 20, UM 13 2:53 12 91 TD

The most popular theory, one that was espoused to Mark Dantonio at last weeks luncheon, is that MSU changes from its base 4-3 to a "Prevent" defense in fourth quarter situations which in fact only prevents Michigan State from winning games. This appeared to be most obvious Saturday night, as the previously staunch MSU defense gave up a 70 yard last ditch drive with all the yards coming through the air. A Spartan front four (plus a blitzer) had pressured Ricky Stanzi all night, but this approach seemed to be tossed in favor of a "rush three, drop everyone else into soft zone." Here is DrDetroit from TOC, discussing D-Co Pat Narduzzi:

I put this loss entirely on him. There is two minutes left and MSU goes into a soft zone on defense only rushing 3. So, no pass rush and the WRs eventually get open for big gains.

At the aforementioned luncheon, Dantonio denied running a "prevent" late in games. So let's clear this up once and for all. Here is a play by play of the Spartans defensive formations on the final drive.

1st-10, Iowa 30. Deep crossing route to McNutt for 16 yards. MSU is sitting in the 3-3 formation and gets no pressure on Stanzi, who has tons of time to sit and wait for McNutt to get open. McNutt makes the catch with 5 green jerseys around him.

1st-10, Iowa 46. Same defensive formation again, as Stanzi waltzes around before springing forward for a two yard gain. No blitzing from the 3-3. The corners are up on the wide receivers and the safety's are 12 yards off the LOS. The definition of prevent defense is this:

A defensive formation or strategy that employs an additional pass defender in an attempt to prevent long gains by the offense, usually near the end of the game.

Most of us non-collegiate level players know the prevent defense from Madden 0whatever, but Narduzzi's formations fit the bill so far

2nd-8, Iowa 48. No blitzing or wrinkles here. An offset 3-3. Incomplete pass.

3rd-8, Iowa 48. Well, it looks like DrDetroit is correct so far. No pressure on Stanzi and the linebackers aren't blitzing. Actually, Greg Jones had middle short contain here, but vacated to cover a running back. Trey Stross catches a short slant and runs for 21 yards. No one has laid a hand on the quarterback on this drive.

1st-10, MSU 31. Iowa is driving, will we see any defensive changes? We do! Jones blitzes left side and is almost pancaked. The five Iowa linemen are putting a nice halo around Stanzi. Deep ball incomplete to DJK.

2nd-10, MSU 31. It looks like a normal 3-3, with the LB's spread all over the field. But Narduzzi dials up (I love saying that) a big blitz here, with GJ from the outside, Gordon from the middle, and Jeremy Ware (?) from the corner spot. No one touches Stanzi, who unloads in rhythm to DJK between three defenders for 16 yards.

1st-10, MSU 15. MSU is still in the 3-3, but it's unbalanced, with two LB's creeping up on the right side. The movement confuses the Iowa O-Line, allowing Chris Norman to smash into Stanzi right after he releases the ball. Finally, a quarterback hurry from the Spartan D. Rucker is called for the hold on DJK and the rest is history.


I won't go over the goal line plays because it's awfully hard to run a prevent inside the 10 yard line. But in case anyone asks, yeah, Michigan State went away from their tried and true 4-3 during the final drive. And if you want to get technical, I don't really know if a 3-3 with soft zone coverage is a "prevent" formation. The safeties weren't going completely over the top of the outside wide receivers, choosing to quickly mark the receivers running deep routes.. And if you want to make a little common sense chit chat, I could imagine this being less of a scheme problem and more of an issue with the secondary breaking down under pressure.

But the fact remains: While in a 4-3, MSU played some solid defense Saturday against Iowa and limited the Hawkeyes to 78 passing yards until the final drive. The instant Narduzzi switched to the 3-3 soft zone, bad things happened. A flustered quarterback all of a sudden looked confident and a previously effective pass rush disappeared.