MSU run defense putting up mind-boggling numbers

After holding Michigan to minus-48 yards, Spartans lead nation with 43.4 per game — a little more than half of the second-best average

It's a stat that would appear to defy logic: minus-48 rushing yards.

Isn't the idea to go forward?

Of course in college football, sacks count against the rushing total. And Michigan State's ferocious defense dropped Michigan's Devin Gardner seven times in the Spartans' 29-6 rout.

Still, minus-48 was an all-time program low for Michigan.

"It's a big number," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, "but it's not like they didn't run the ball for an inch."

Tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed eight times for 20 yards. The 2.5 per-carry average happens to match the goal the Spartans set each game.

Dantonio said when Michigan State evaluates its defense, it subtracts sack yardage from passing yardage. Gardner lost 49 yards on those seven sacks.

Michigan State leads the nation in rushing defense at 43.4 yards per game. The next-lowest average among FBS schools is Louisville's 80.5.

The Spartans have allowed just four rushing touchdowns, and their opponents' per-carry average is 1.6 yards.

"We've not given up 100 yards yet (in a game)," Dantonio said, "which is pretty amazing in modern-day football."

Asked about the minus-48 stat, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he would be eager to watch film from the game.

Michigan State, 5-0 in the Legends Division, can all but lock up a date with Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game by beating Nebraska (3-1) on Nov. 16 after an open date.

A ways away: Over the last two seasons, Michigan is 11-0 at home and 3-7 away from the Big House.

Some of those were tough draws — Alabama on a neutral field, South Carolina at the Outback Bowl — but the Wolverines can't explain away this team's failures: a narrow victory over 0-7 Connecticut, a four-overtime defeat at Penn State and Michigan State's 29-6 dismantling.

"I don't know if it's a lack of focus, lack of intensity, lack of preparation," coach Brady Hoke said. "You talk to as many people as you can (to get advice). We're not going to change our routine. … We've tried with this young team to go to the sites and stadiums (for walk-throughs) where they have not been before."

The good news for Hoke: Saturday's game against Nebraska will be played in Ann Arbor.

Remember me? Gary Andersen said it was "shocking" the first time he glanced at the Wisconsin schedule and saw BYU.

"One of the most surprising things in taking the job," he said, "was that BYU followed us all the way to Wisconsin."

Andersen spent the last four seasons at Utah State. He points to a 31-16 victory over BYU in 2010 as one that turned around his program. The Aggies were 5-11 under him before that win.

"That was huge," he said. "One of our goals had been to make that a rivalry again."

The Cougars are 6-2 with five straight victories — the last three over winning teams Georgia Tech, Houston and Boise State.

A big victory could help Wisconsin, which is 22nd in both polls used in the BCS standings. The Badgers need to get into the top 14 to be eligible for an at-large BCS berth.

This will help: Stud linebacker Chris Borland, who missed Saturday's game at Iowa with a sore hamstring, said he would be "shocked" if he could not get on the field against BYU.

Extra points: Meyer said he plans to focus on kick returns and pass defense during Ohio State's week off. He'll also watch the huge Thursday night games — Oklahoma-Baylor and Oregon-Stanford — and perhaps join Buckeye Nation in rooting for the undefeated Bears and Ducks to go down. … Minnesota will vie for its fourth straight Big Ten victory Saturday against Penn State. If that does not sound impressive, consider that the Gophers have not done that in 40 years. "Pretty amazing," acting coach Tracy Claeys said. Coach Jerry Kill, on medical leave, will watch again from the coaches' box. … Penn State coach Bill O'Brien noted the strides made by Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson, who posted career highs of 16 completions and 298 yards at Indiana. "I know we're not sleeping on (Minnesota's) passing game," O'Brien said. … Lost in Northwestern's Hail Mary misery at Nebraska was a Kain Colter scramble in which he juked about half of Memorial Stadium. "Chris Berman goes 'Woop!' 'Woop!' 'Woop!' " NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said of ESPN's airing of the highlight. "That was one of the most dynamic 9-yard runs I've ever seen. That's Kain. He gives it everything he's got on every play." … With so many players banged up, the Wildcats plan to do more walk-through work than actual practicing this week. … After getting sidelined by a knee injury in the third quarter against Wisconsin, Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock is expected to start Saturday at Purdue. Replacement C.J. Beathard completed 4 of 16 passes against the Badgers. … Illinois' Tim Beckman said he talks to his players "all the time" about the goal of reaching a bowl game. The Illini have to go 3-1 against Indiana, Ohio State, Purdue and Northwestern to get it done. … Purdue has been outscored 114-7 in its last three games, losses to Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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