Accusations of dirty play by Michigan State's defense against Michigan began almost immediately after Saturday's game, and a quote from Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi seemed to support the claims.
You've surely read it by now.
“That's what we tried to do, 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness."
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said at his weekly news conference Tuesday that Narduzzi's comment was taken out of context. Later Tuesday, Narduzzi addressed the comment and defended his defense.
“As you guys know, we don't teach foul play or dirty play at all," Narduzzi told reporters after practice. "You guys know that, I think. I think if you said four-and-a-half years, how many personal fouls we’ve had, we probably had more in one game than we had in four-and-a-half years, really. I don't think you can tally up five in four-and-a-half years. So we don't teach that. We're a classy football team. And I just want to make sure that [is clear]. [The comment] was kind of a joke, I know probably taken out of context, like a lot of things are. If you would have looked at the 30 words prior to and 30 after you could probably figure it out. But I just want to make sure the air is clear. We don't do that. We haven't done it for four-and-a-half years, we wouldn't start now."
The number of Michigan State penalties, specifically personal fouls, in the Michigan game definitely stood out as unusual. Having covered Michigan State for three-plus seasons, I've never considered the Spartans a dirty team or the defense atypically reckless with its play. While Michigan State hasn't been the most disciplined team as far as penalties -- the Spartans have ranked 91st, 73rd, 34th and 12th nationally in penalties per game during Dantonio's previous four seasons as coach -- we haven't seen a personal-foul spree like Saturday's.
Narduzzi, like many defensive coordinators, is a fiery guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve, but I wouldn't describe him as a dirty coach. After watching the replay of Saturday's game, the emotion between two rivals definitely seemed to spill over. Emotion certainly got the best of Spartans defensive end William Gholston, who drew two personal foul penalties and could face discipline from the school or the Big Ten. The combination of Gholston's two fouls should merit a suspension, in my opinion. But Michigan players weren't immune from the chippiness, either.
Narduzzi should have chosen his words better after the game, but I think he was speaking more to the defense's tough, physical approach against Michigan than any intent to go over the line. Later in his media session Saturday, he lamented the 15-yard penalties, saying, "We haven't done that all year."
It will be interesting to see how Michigan State's defense performs Saturday night against No. 6 Wisconsin, but I'd be surprised if we see another flurry of yellow hankies and the subsequent YouTube clips.