Big Ten: Valero Alamo 2009 bowls

A shorthanded Michigan State team put forth a great effort, but made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball to beat Texas Tech. The Spartans blew a fourth-quarter lead and didn't have enough offense to rally in the end, losing 41-31. The Big Ten drops to 3-3 in bowls, so it all comes down to Iowa's performance Tuesday against Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

How the game was won: Michigan State couldn't hold a 31-27 lead as Texas Tech backup quarterback Steven Sheffield led an impressive scoring drive midway through the fourth quarter. The Red Raiders were more aggressive with their decisions down the stretch, and it paid off. Sheffield and starting quarterback Taylor Potts flummoxed Michigan State's defense and outplayed Spartans signal caller Kirk Cousins, who completed just 13 of 27 passes for 220 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and he imploded in the second half. Texas Tech too many times capitalized on a soft Spartans' secondary.

Turning point: After Michigan State played it safe and settled for a field goal, Texas Tech interim head coach Ruffin McNeill and receivers coach Lincoln Riley played it bold down the stretch. They went to Sheffield for the first time, and the backup led an eight-play, 77-yard scoring drive. The Red Raiders completely regained the momentum, and Cousins threw an interception on Michigan State's ensuing series. The Spartans never recovered.

Player of the game: For Texas Tech, it's got to go to Potts and Sheffield. For Michigan State, freshman running back Edwin Baker introduced himself to the college football world tonight. The heralded high school prospect had 12 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. After being overshadowed by classmate Larry Caper for much of the fall, Baker showed that the Spartans have another solid option in the backfield.

Best call: Down 27-21 in the fourth quarter, Michigan State lined up for a 43-yard field-goal attempt, but ran an excellent fake, as punter Aaron Bates threw to tight end Charlie Gantt for an 18-yard gain. Then, on first-and-goal from the 8-yard line, wide receiver Keshawn Martin found fellow wideout Blair White in the end zone. Both Bates and Martin played quarterback in high school.

Second guessing: Michigan State led 28-27 and faced third-and-12 from the Tech 29-yard line, but called a simple run play that didn't gain much. The Spartans had been aggressive and innovative with their play-calling for much of the game, and playing it safe there seemed out of place, even with left tackle Rocco Cironi injured. Texas Tech responded with the go-ahead touchdown and reclaimed all the momentum. Lesson: you've got to go for touchdowns against Texas Tech.

What it means: Few thought a Spartans team playing without 14 players would hold a fourth-quarter lead against Texas Tech. The Spartans deserve credit for fighting hard, but a 6-7 record wasn't what anyone had in mind heading into this season. There's a very exciting young nucleus in East Lansing, but this program still hasn't turned a corner yet. Cousins and Keith Nichol will continue to compete at quarterback, but the talent at running back and wide receiver is very good. Head coach Mark Dantonio's biggest offseason priority will be a defense that must get tougher, especially in the secondary.

Video: Alamo Bowl preview

January, 2, 2010

Adam Rittenberg previews the Valero Alamo Bowl matchup between Texas Tech and Michigan State.

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

January, 1, 2010
It's time for a quick look at arguably the most bizarre bowl game of the year, as Michigan State (6-6) takes on Texas Tech (8-4) on Saturday night in San Antonio (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).

WHO TO WATCH: Blair White and Keshawn Martin. Michigan State's wave of suspensions hit the wide receivers harder than any other position group. The Spartans will be without their No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts in B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell, who combined for 74 receptions and five touchdowns this season. White and Martin need to pick up the slack for the Big Ten's top passing offense in a game where Michigan State likely needs to score 28 points or more. Quarterback Kirk Cousins can rely on White, a first-team All-Big Ten selection who has a knack for finding the end zone. Martin also emerged as a difference maker down the stretch, especially on special teams. The Spartans need Martin to break off some nice returns to win the field-position edge.

WHAT TO WATCH: Michigan State's secondary. Head coach Mark Dantonio talked up this group in the preseason, but the secondary has fallen well short of expectations. Quarterbacks like Dan LeFevour, Jimmy Clausen, Scott Tolzien and Adam Weber had their way with Michigan State's defensive backs, who face arguably their biggest challenge in Taylor Potts and the nation's No. 2 pass offense (380.7 ypg). The Spartans will be without starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker (suspension), so they need big performances from defensive backs Danny Fortener, Jeremy Ware, Trenton Robinson and others.

WHY TO WATCH: Do you really need an explanation here? You've got one team (Michigan State) missing 14 scholarship players because of one very troubling stretch on Nov. 22. You've got another team (Texas Tech) that learned Wednesday that its head coach had been fired after wide receiver Adam James filed a complaint. I'm about to make a prediction on this game, but who really knows what will happen? One team will come out of the game looking extremely resilient amid adversity. The other could end up looking like a train wreck.

PREDICTION: Mike Leach's shocking dismissal will impact Texas Tech early, as Michigan State takes a lead. But I don't have enough confidence in the Spartans' secondary to think they'll keep the Red Raiders in check for 60 minutes. Potts gets hot late and Texas Tech rallies to win, 31-27.