Spartans D big challenge in Narduzzi's finale

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DALLAS (AP) — Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is in for quite a curtain call.

The Spartans, a top-10 defense for the fourth season in a row, play high-powered Baylor at the Cotton Bowl in Narduzzi's final game before he takes over as Pittsburgh's head coach.

"It's almost surreal, but you're excited for him. ... He deserves it, and you know it's his dream job," cornerback Trae Waynes said. "The only thing you can really do is just be supportive, and just enjoy the time you have left with him."

Even after taking his new job last week at the school about an hour from where he grew up, Narduzzi wanted to finish this season with coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartans (10-2).

"If I didn't come down here and coach in this bowl game, I'd be letting every one of these 115 guys down and the rest of the staff down, and, oh gosh, Coach D. That's what it's all about," he said. "It's about these kids and how hard they worked to get in this game. It's all about this game."

Narduzzi has spent 11 seasons on Dantonio's staff, the last eight at Michigan State after three seasons at Cincinnati, though he had other opportunities before now to take other jobs. This is their 10th bowl game together.

Florida is the only other team to finish in the top 10 in total defense every season since 2011, a feat that Michigan State is trying to match. The Spartans finished this season seventh, allowing 294 total yards per game.

Two-time Big 12 champion Baylor (11-1) again has the nation's top offense, averaging 581 yards and 49 points a game. While the Bears run a spread offense, with quarterback Bryce Petty throwing for 3,305 yards with 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions, Shock Linwood (1,228 yards rushing, 16 TDs) gave Baylor a 1,000-yard rusher for the fifth season in a row.

"It's a great challenge," Narduzzi said. "That's what we coach for."

After Michigan State is done Thursday in the Cotton Bowl, Narduzzi will stay in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Pitt plays Friday against Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl.

When the Spartans gathered in Dallas over the weekend to begin preparations for the bowl, Narduzzi said the players congratulated him before they turned their focus to preparing for the Bears. Defensive end Marcus Rush said the Spartans will miss Narduzzi's schemes and passion for the game.

"You're just proud he had the opportunities he had because of how hard he's worked over the years," All-Big Ten end Shilique Calhoun said. "A lot of people don't see it, and we don't get to see all the hard work he put in. ... He's so selfless. It's not about him. He wants it to be about his players."

And those players want to give Narduzzi another victory, and finish top 10 again, as a parting gift.

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