Norman, MSU’s defense suffocate U-M Former Renaissance High star key in Spartans nationally ranked defense

normanEAST LANSING — In one of the more important games in the Michigan State and University of Michigan rivalry in recent memory, both state of Michigan universities met with the Big Ten Legends Division lead on the line.
    Coming into the big rivalry, U-M sported a formidable 6-0 record and MSU entered the contest with a 4-1 record in the fight for state’s rights. After the Spartans had outlasted the Wolverines 28-14, that left them with only one blemish on their 2011 season — a loss to Notre Dame in South Bend.
    Michigan State entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, and its defensive line gave U-M quarterback Denard Robinson problems all day. Cleaning up the leftovers from the d-line’s pressure was linebacker Chris Norman. The former Renaissance High player led MSU’s domineering defense in tackles with 10.
    With the Spartans’ impressive victory at home they jumped from 23th in the national polls to 15, U-M fell to 18 from its high of 11. The Spartans have now won four straight against Michigan for the first time since 1959-62, equaling Michigan State’s longest streak in the series.
    Michigan State took the field in special green-and-bronze Nike Pro Combat uniforms. In a surprise move, Michigan showed up in “legacy” uniforms by Adidas that included pants that were white instead of the usual maize. All of that increased the hype of the game.
    “It’s a big win, a program win,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “To do that a fourth straight year says a lot about our players. I said all along I thought this is a winner-take-all type of game.”
    Said Norman: “We are happy about our recent success over U-M, but this was a new year and we knew we had to prepare and work hard to continue what we started. Our game plan helped us win, but it was the emotion and passion that comes with playing Michigan that kept us focused. The Michigan game was the biggest game of the season. We were playing for bragging rights, recruiting and all my people back home.”
    MSU’s defense held Robinson to 78 yard rushing and Michigan to 14 points.
     “This is what we expected from our defense,” Norman said. “Coach has been on us since the Notre Dame game to step our effort up and we have.”
    The previous week’s 10-7 defensive gem at Ohio State highlighted that the Spartans might finally be over the loss of starting linebackers Greg Jones (New York Giants) and Eric Gordon (Cleveland Browns). Norman, as the only remaining starting linebacker returning to the co-Big Ten champion Spartans, knew more was expected of him. With the offense not quite in sync, the defense has been stepping up and in the middle of it all is junior linebacker Norman.
     “We lost some senior leadership in linebackers Jones and Gordon,” Norman said. “So in the off season I tried to take myself to a different level. I worked in the weight room and put on another eight pounds. Physically and mentally I tried to get myself better as a person and player. Also I wanted to come in and help be a leader.”
    After six games Norman, a former high school All-State, SuperPrep and PrepStar All-American, is second on the team in solo and assisted tackles. He knows he and his teammates will have to keep it up to harness the explosive Wisconsin offense.
    Norman said the Detroit Public School League (PSL) prepared him well.
    “The PSL gets a lot of flack because it is in the city of Detroit,” he said. “But I’m thankful for my experiences in the PSL. The toughness that it gave me got me ready for Big Ten football and MSU academics. People talk about character, but I have three former high school teammates on this team and we are all good people. We all want to represent the PSL at MSU.”
    Leland Stein can be reached at or Twitter @LelandSteinIII.

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