Sunday, January 1, 2012
Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. Georgia
By Adam Rittenberg
Both Michigan State and Georgia fell short in their respective league title games, and as a result they'll meet in a Florida bowl for the second time in four years. The Spartans are searching for their first bowl win under coach Mark Dantonio. Georgia is 7-3 in bowls under coach Mark Richt but had an ugly performance last year in a loss to Central Florida.
Let's take a look at the Outback Bowl, taking place Monday in Tampa.
WHO TO WATCH: Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins. He played his best football in the final stretch of the regular season, recording passer ratings of 160 or higher in each of his final five contests and tossing 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions during the span. But Cousins will go against the best defense he has faced all season, a Georgia unit ranked third nationally in yards allowed and fourth in pass efficiency defense. Cousins struggled against Nebraska's defense on Oct. 30 and had a very rough day last year against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Captain Kirk should set the tone for MSU in this game as he looks to spread the ball to wideouts B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Spartans defensive line going against Aaron Murray and Isaiah Crowell. Murray can pick apart a defense if given time, and Michigan State will need to pressure the Georgia quarterback with a line that doesn't have great depth entering the game. The Spartans will look for Jerel Worthy, William Gholston and others to log significant snaps and make plays. Crowell, the Bulldogs' heralded freshman, is expected to play despite an ankle injury, although Ken Malcome and Richard Samuel also are expected to get carries. Michigan State ranks 12th nationally in rush defense and seventh in sacks. The bowl is the time for Pat Narduzzi's defense to shine.
WHY TO WATCH: After a heartbreaking loss in the Big Ten championship, Michigan State tries to respond and win its first bowl game since the 2001 Silicon Valley Football Classic. The Spartans arguably ended the season playing better than any Big Ten team, and a victory would secure a second consecutive 11-win season and possibly a spot in the top 10 of the final polls. Dantonio always talks about the need to "play up," and after an embarrassing bowl loss to Alabama last year, Michigan State has a great opportunity to take down an SEC team and send a historically successful senior class out on a good note.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 21, Georgia 20. The teams are evenly matched and it could go either way, but Cousins and the Spartans' seniors are hungry to check off one of the few milestones they haven't achieved in their college careers. Michigan State gets a strong performance from the defense, and the offense once again emphasizes the quick passes it executed in the Big Ten title game to get Cunningham and Martin in space. Cousins finds Cunningham for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute.