East Lansing — If there is one word to sum up Michigan State's victory over Michigan last season it has to be domination.
It's the goal every week for No. 8 Michigan State, specifically defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's unit, and the physical beating it delivered to its biggest rival in a 29-6 victory was startling. If seeing Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner continually drag himself to the sideline wasn't evidence enough, the numbers sure were.
The Wolverines had minus-48 yards rushing, were sacked seven times and despite entering the game averaging better than 445 total yards a game, they managed just 168 against the Spartans.
It was also the second straight meeting in which the Wolverines were held without a touchdown. Their last in the series came in Michigan State's 28-14 victory in 2011.
But as the latest edition of the rivalry resumes Saturday at Spartan Stadium, MSU players insist last year is far from their minds.
"It's a new opportunity for this defense to go out there and make a name for themselves," said junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who had two sacks against the Wolverines last season. "I mean, we definitely watch the film and we watch what we've done well, but we've also been very critical of that game when it was negative 48 yards.
"So we were just trying to make an improvement on it. We're not looking at a goal or anything, but we're trying to improve upon it more so than look upon it and say, 'Wow, we did a great job,' because there is always room for improvement."
As senior linebacker Taiwan Jones said, "Last year was a different goal. This year we have new goals. We're not going to think about last year anymore."
That would sound like good news for a Michigan offense that has fallen far short of the numbers it had last year coming into this game. This season, the Wolverines are 12th in the Big Ten in scoring offense and last in total offense, averaging 340 yards game. They have also turned the ball over 16 times, more than any other team in the conference.
But that doesn't mean the Spartans are taking this game lightly. They are convinced Gardner has the ability to make things happen and wide receiver Devin Funchess is one of the more talented players in the Big Ten.
"He's always been an athletic guy," senior defensive end Marcus Rush said of Gardner. "He can throw the ball and he can also run the ball. So you've got to watch for — it's kind of hard as a D lineman, because you want to get a good pass rush. But at the same time, you've got to watch for him scrambling. That's what he does well."
Calhoun described Gardner as "shifty," something that did not help him last season as he was hit on a routine basis.
And even with six starters gone from last year's defense, Michigan State hasn't seen any drop-off in terms of playmakers. Calhoun has had a sack in four straight games and linebacker Ed Davis, who had 2.5 sacks against Michigan last season, leads the Spartans with six sacks.
This year's Spartans will see a bit of a different attack from the Wolverines as Doug Nussmeier is in his first season as offensive coordinator.
"I see a lot of differences as far as their run and I think they've got a philosophy," Narduzzi said. "That's why I expect to see more run this year than we saw a year ago, because they have continued to try to run it on people."
The Wolverines have the benefit of an extra week to get ready after a bye last week following its victory over Penn State. That simply means Narduzzi and his staff have been especially diligent with their film work.
"We know they've got two weeks to prepare, so we've done a good job going back and self-scouting what we did against them last year, watching a lot of that stuff," he said. "We know they'll have some different stuff in. So we've gone back through two years ago of Alabama and we've got every trick play they ran back there, we've got every wheel route they ran. It was a wheel fest at Alabama, stuff flying out all over the place. We've got a lot of different stuff to work with."
Regardless of the game plan, regardless of who lines up for the Spartans, the same type of performance will be expected from the Michigan State defense. They understand minus-48 yards rushing might be hard to achieve, but that doesn't change their attitude.
"We're not looking back on what we did last year against Michigan," Rush said. "It's a new year, a new team. So we're just trying to dominate again, and that's what we're practicing for this week."
Even if that goal of dominance isn't quite reached, Narduzzi is more worried about the end result.
"We've got to play every play and it doesn't matter," he said. "The outcome is a win or loss, ultimately. I can still be mad if there's a play here or there left on the field. Yardage don't matter, stats, I've told you guys. It doesn't matter."