It helped establish and identity that carried on for a decade, even after he was gone. It helped a program elevate to national status by way of growth through conference play. Pat Narduzzi’s defense was a major reason why Michigan State blossomed during the Mark Dantonio era.

Because of Narduzzi, the Spartans were known for their ironclad defense that was often among the best in the country. And then, following the 2014 season, he left to take the head coaching job at Pittsburgh, where he’s been ever since.

On Dec. 30, Narduzzi will get a chance to face his former program during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This past Saturday, now-No. 13 Pitt (11-2) beat up on Wake Forest, 45-21, during the ACC Championship Game — so it’s a bit more in game rhythm than No. 10 Michigan State, which hasn’t played since its snowy regular-season finale vs. Penn State.

Coaching-wise, this will be a test for Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, the Big Ten Coach of the Year — he’ll face one of the better coaches in the country in Narduzzi, who’s won shares of 3 ACC Coastal Division titles since assuming control during the 2015 season. It’s always a battle when heady coaches collide, especially in bowl games.

Expect to see the best that both sides have to offer, offensively and defensively. If we’ve learned anything from bowl season, it’s to expect the unexpected. Trick plays, etc., will definitely be displayed by the Spartans and the Panthers. But expecting a crazy shootout might be a leap right now. Instead of postseason fireworks via offense, the Peach Bowl could end up being a defensive standoff.

Tucker and Narduzzi both have strong backgrounds on the defensive side of the ball, having years of coordinator experience on their resumes. Sure, the Spartans weren’t always too strong against he pass — look at their dead-last pass defense ranking — but they were decent against the run this season and controlled the tempo of most of their games, despite some high-scoring contests.

Pitt has the No. 40-ranked total defense but found itself in a handful of close, high-scoring games too — Tennessee, Western Michigan, Miami (Fla.) and Virginia immediately come to mind. Pitt was 2-2 in those games, losing to Miami and Western Michigan.

Through championship weekend, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is among the nation’s best, coming in at No. 5 overall. He’s thrown for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns and an economical 7 picks (6:1 TD-INT ratio). Pickett stands to be the fourth high-yardage QB the Spartans will face this season.

Michigan State’s best chance will be to limit Pickett, applying pressure and clogging lanes, and then running the hell out of the ball. Running back Kenneth Walker III, a one-time Heisman contender, will likely be the focal point of Michigan State’s offensive efforts on Dec. 30 in Atlanta. With 1,636 yards, Walker finished No. 2 in the nation and turned in one of the top-5 greatest single-season rushing efforts in Spartans history.

Star vs. star: One runs, the other throws.

A familiarity with MSU and Narduzzi. Two high-level coaches who are certainly among the best in their respective leagues. The Peach Bowl should satisfy anyone’s appetite for college football, not just those who follow Pitt or Michigan State. Two outcomes seem likely: Either a defensive struggle, based on the coaches’ backgrounds, or a one-dimensional offensive attack — Walker for MSU and Pickett for Pitt — that fuels a high-scoring duel at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Either way, it promises to be one of the better New Year’s Six bowls.