Dallas Colleges: Le'Veon Bell
Pretty much everybody thought the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl would be a low-scoring game, given the two outstanding defenses and the, uh, challenges facing the offenses. TCU and Michigan State lived up -- or down, depending on your point of view -- to expectations. But the finish was exciting.
The Spartans looked completely lost on offense for the first three and a half quarters, punting on each of their first eight drives. But they rode their workhorse, tailback Le'Veon Bell, and caught a big special-teams break in rallying for two late touchdowns and a 14-13 lead in the fourth quarter. The Horned Frogs answered on Jaden Oberkrom's 53-yard field goal with 2:42 left. But Michigan State won it 17-16 on a 47-yard field goal from Dan Conroy with 1:01 left.
Here's a quick review of how it all went down:
It was over when: TCU's Trevone Boykin threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-18 in the final minute, extinguishing the Horned Frogs' chances. After scoring 13 points on its first four possessions, TCU had just a field goal in its final nine drives. Michigan State's defense limited the Horned Frogs to just 74 yards in the second half.
Game ball goes to: Michigan State's Bell. After a slow start, he carried the ball 32 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a 29-yard pass out of the Wildcat formation to convert a key third down on the team's first scoring drive. He accounted for 174 of the Spartans' 227 total yards, which is nothing new. Bell finished the season with a nation-leading 382 carries.
Stat of the game: Michigan State had as many punts (11) as pass completions and yet won the game. Bell had one more passing yard than starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell.
Unsung hero: Speaking of punts, the Spartans' Mike Sadler was a busy man, and he did a great job. Sadler averaged 43.7 yards on his 11 punts and pinned three inside the TCU 20. He boomed a 52-yarder while backed into his own end zone in the second half. And his driving 55-yard punt inside the Horned Frogs' 5 sent returner Skye Dawson backpedaling. Dawson fumbled the punt, Michigan State recovered on the 4-yard line and Bell ran in for a go-ahead score.
What Michigan State learned: After losing five games by 13 points this season, the Spartans looked like they were headed for another heartbreak when Oberkrom hit that 53-yarder. Instead, unlike so many previous games this season, Michigan State found a way to make big plays in all three phases in the final two minutes. The bowl win doesn't erase the disappointment of a 6-6 regular season, and the offense still looked cringe-worthy most of the night. But Mark Dantonio's team has something to build on with a positive closing note. The spring storyline is already set, as there's a quarterback controversy brewing. Freshman Connor Cook, who hadn't thrown a pass since Week 2, gave the team more of a spark than Maxwell. With two minutes left and his team needing a score to win, Dantonio turned to Cook, not the junior he'd started in all 12 games this season.
What TCU learned: This was a rare off-year for Gary Patterson, whose team lost five of its final seven games. The good news is that the Horned Frogs are still extremely young and bring back just about everyone next year. Though facing Michigan State's offense probably seemed like a vacation compared to Big 12 play, TCU still showed that it has an elite-level defense. Improving on offense will be the key for next season. Quarterback Boykin made some big plays early but overthrew several receivers and was limping around late. He completed only 13 of 29 passes and threw an interception. He'll need to make great strides to compete with Casey Pachall next year, assuming a successful return for Pachall.
1. Be patient, young ones. TCU's offense hasn't been real effective after losing Casey Pachall, with a couple exceptions. However, they love to run the ball with B.J. Catalon and Matthew Tucker. Trevone Boykin provides another weapon with his legs at quarterback. The Frogs have had a lot of effectiveness working that scheme and then beating teams over the top. They may have to do that with Michigan State, who should be one of the better rush defenses (rank eighth nationally) TCU sees this year. Finding the right time for that big play and hitting it could be the difference in what should be a low-scoring game.
2. Wrap up, wrap up, wrap up. If you didn't already know, the first five minutes of tonight's game will make it very, very obvious: They simply do not make backs like Le'Veon Bell in the Big 12. The 250-pounder runs hard and leads the nation in yards after contact. He can also hurdle you with little hesitation. You cannot arm tackle this man, no matter how hard you try or how much you believe you can. TCU's got to be disciplined tacklers and swarm to him when he's got the ball, otherwise he's going for 200 and TCU's not winning this game.
3. Keep making big plays defensively. TCU kept itself in the game with a pair of defensive plays in the loss to OU, and the offense is likely going to have a tough night against the Spartans. Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has multiple interceptions in his last two games after throwing two picks in his previous nine games. TCU, meanwhile, are fourth nationally with 21 interceptions this season. MSU won't chuck it around like Big 12 teams, but the Frogs' Jason Verrett, Sam Carter and Elisha Olabode have combined for 14 picks and could do some more thieving. I can't emphasize it enough: This game very likely will turn on a big play. TCU's defense may be just as likely to make it as the offense.
1. Balancing act: It has been the Le'Veon Bell show all season for Michigan State's offense, to the tune of a nation-leading 350 carries. The junior running back will be ready to be a workhorse again in what could be his final game in a Spartans uniform. But Michigan State needs to find other dimensions against a talented TCU defense to avoid the results we saw throughout the regular season. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell and his receivers have had more than a month to prepare and find the chemistry they had only in stretches this fall. It also would be nice to see offensive coordinator Dan Roushar open up the playbook a bit as the Spartans try to attack a TCU defense more vulnerable to the pass (52nd nationally) than the run (10th nationally). The Spartans really need more of a balanced offense to win this game.
2. Contain Boykin: This isn't a great TCU offense -- 60th in points per game and 63rd in yards per game -- but the Spartans have to pay close attention to quarterback Trevone Boykin. The freshman had some predictable ups and downs after taking over for Casey Pachall in early October, but he had some very big performances (Baylor, Texas Tech) and limited mistakes after his first three starts. Michigan State can't let Boykin get comfortable and needs a strong performance from its defensive front seven. Junior end William Gholston had a breakout game in last year's bowl win over Georgia (five tackles for loss, two sacks). After a somewhat disappointing season, can Gholston replicate his last postseason performance?
3. Special attention: The kicking game likely looms large in a game featuring two strong defenses and two inconsistent offenses. Michigan State likely has to win on special teams to emerge from the desert with a victory. Place-kicker Dan Conroy converted a Big Ten-leading 22 field goals this season, but he also had more misses (nine) and more attempts (31) than any other kicker in the league. Several of those misses really stung in close losses, so the Spartans likely need a flawless performance from Conroy against TCU. Michigan State also must limit Skye Dawson, who ranks 27th nationally in punt returns (10 yards per return) and 61st in kick returns (22.5 ypr) but has some trouble fielding kicks cleanly.
WHO TO WATCH: Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell. The 6-foot-2, 244-pound junior has carried the Spartans offense at times this season. He ranks third in the country in average yards per game and has three 200-yard rushing games this season. As you'd expect for a guy his size, he's a work horse -- he's run the ball 350 times already, averaging more than 29 carries per game to lead the nation in that stat. He's also surprisingly nimble, with a signature move called the Le'Veon Leap, where he hurdles over unsuspecting defenders. Michigan State's offense needs to establish Bell in order to move the ball, but TCU ranked 10th nationally against the run while averaging only 104 yards per game on the ground. Yet the Horned Frogs haven't seen a back quite like Bell, because there aren't many like him. This could be his final college game, as he is expected to enter the 2013 NFL draft. Will he go out with a bang?
WHAT TO WATCH: The defenses. Both programs are defense-first teams with some great minds in charge. Gary Patterson is known for his fast, athletic defenses, while the Mark Dantonio-Pat Narduzzi combination has produced some elite defensive units in East Lansing. Michigan State ranked No. 4 in total defense this season, while TCU was No. 18. Stars abound on each side. Linebackers Max Bullough, defensive end William Gholston and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams lead the way for the Spartans. Adams, however, is likely out for the game because of a turf toe injury, which would be a huge loss for Michigan State. Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields, linebacker Kenny Cain and all-America cornerback Jason Verrett are among the standouts for the Horned Frogs. TCU's defensive numbers would probably be even better if it didn't play in the wide-open Big 12, while Michigan State probably benefited some from playing in the more button-down Big Ten. Which defense is better? A more important question might be, can either offense get anything going?
WHY TO WATCH: Neither team lived up to expectations this year, as Michigan State was picked by many to win the Big Ten and TCU had its troubles during its first go-round in the Big 12. Both were also curiously bad at home. But both the Spartans and the Horned Frogs have experienced recent success and could be very good in 2013. Michigan State will return the core of its offense and has replacements ready for its departing defensive stars. Nearly 70 percent of the players who saw action for TCU this year were freshmen or sophomores. A bowl game win could provide momentum to the victor. And you are guaranteed to see some future pros on the field, especially on defense.
PREDICTION: Michigan State has come up short in key games all year long, but the Spartans have plenty of talent. The extra 15 bowl practices must have helped quarterback Andrew Maxwell and the team's young receivers develop better timing and chemistry. TCU has an excellent defense but will have to adapt to a more physical style of play than it saw in the Big 12. Maxwell has a nice game to build optimism for 2013, and Michigan State makes a key stop late to win a close one ... Michigan State 20, TCU 16
Week 14 record: 3-1 (.750)
Overall: 55-20 (.733)
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL
West Virginia 41, Syracuse 38: Geno Smith finally gets the best of the Orange after going 0-2 in his career and the Big 12 finally gets a win in snowy New York City. Stedman Bailey catches a pair of touchdowns and Tavon Austin rushes for 100 yards and tops 100 yards receiving to help outpace a 350-yard passing day from Ryan Nassib. This wasn't where WVU wanted to finish its season -- in chilly NYC or against a Big East team -- but it gets a satisfying end to an unsatisfying first season in the Big 12.
VALERO ALAMO BOWL
No. 13 Oregon State 27, No. 23 Texas 23: Oregon State continues to wildly fluctuate between overrated and underrated. Texas might lean toward the latter; the Longhorns fall victim to the "Who wants to be here most?" factor. The Beavers have gone two years without a bowl game. Texas' BCS dreams crashed and burned with a Thanksgiving night loss to TCU. David Ash plays OK, but not well enough, and the Longhorns didn't have a running back go over 100 yards. Cody Vaz shrugs off the pressure to get the Beavers a big win in San Antonio.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
TCU 21, Michigan State 17: The Frogs' defense was the Big 12's best this season and even though its strength is in the secondary, the front seven plays well. Chucky Hunter, Kenny Cain and Joel Hasley slow down Le'Veon Bell enough, who reaches 100 yards but it'll take 30 or more carries to get there. TCU's offense makes enough plays and the defense proves its opportunistic nature with a couple of forced turnovers to set up a game-deciding score.
We're only tackling the Big 12 games in December today. We'll hit the January games a little later.
- In wins, Geno Smith has completed 69 percent of his throws longer than 15 yards. In losses, he's completed 22 percent of those same throws.
- Syracuse's defense has given up 39 percent of throws longer than 15 yards.
- Smith is 0-2 against Syracuse and threw at least two interceptions and completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in both games.
- When the Orange blitzed, he completed just 45 percent of his passes with three interceptions. Smith completed 65.4 percent of his passes while blitzed over the rest of his career.
- Smith has completed 106-of-141 passes to Stedman Bailey and 110-of-140 passes to Tavon Austin. Austin has 909 of his 1,259 yards after the catch. Bailey has 553 of his 1,501 yards after the catch.
- Eleven of Bailey's 23 touchdown catches came on throws longer than 15 yards.
- West Virginia's defense gave up 63 passes longer than 20 yards. No team has allowed that many since Nevada gave up 70 back in 2008.
- In losses this season, David Ash has thrown four interceptions and no touchdowns on throws longer than 10 yards.
- He's completed just 33 percent of those attempts longer than 10 yards in losses, compared to 56 percent in wins. He has eight touchdowns and two picks in wins on those throws.
- Running back Joe Bergeron averages 4.7 yards a carry between the tackles. The rest of Texas' team averages just 2.6 yards.
- Texas has run inside the tackles on 69 percent of its running plays this year, but has 32 more rushing yards this season outside the tackles.
- Texas' defense gave up 38 plays longer than 20 yards and missed 81 tackles in 13 games last season.
- This season, Texas' defense gave up 61 plays longer than 20 yards and missed 105 tackles in 12 games.
- Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell's 833 yards after contact lead the FBS.
- TCU QB Trevone Boykin averages 7.3 yards a scramble, and 9.4 yards on third downs. He's averaging 4.1 yards a carry on designed runs.
- Michigan State opponents have gained yardage on just 56.7 percent of their plays this season, the lowest percentage in the FBS.
- Baylor quarterback Nick Florence has an FBS-best 19 touchdown passes longer than 20 yards, and he's thrown at least two in seven of 12 games this year. Last year, Robert Griffin III had 22 touchdown passes of at least 20 yards.
- Florence has completed 26-of-45 passes longer than 20 yards downfield to Terrance Williams. His 26 catches of that length lead the FBS.
- Florence is just 18-of-54 on passes longer than 20 yards down field to the rest of the team.
- Williams' 14 catches longer than 40 yards also lead FBS.
- Baylor has scored 19 of its 69 touchdowns in one minute or less.
- Baylor has 53 plays longer than 30 yards, the most in FBS.
- Baylor has scored on 49 percent of its possessions (3rd in FBS) and have just 15 three-and-outs, the fewest in the FBS. The Bears have never had more than two three-and-outs in a game this season.
- This year is the seventh in eight years that at least eight Big 12 teams will play in bowl games.
- Every team that beat a Big 12 team in 2012 is eligible for a bowl game.
- Every Big 12 team has reached a bowl game since 2008.
- Big 12 offenses have averaged at least 30 points a game in four of the past five seasons.
- Baylor and UCLA have never met.
- Baylor has seven wins in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1949-51.
- Iowa State won three road games this season for the first time since 2001.
- Kansas State has played in 16 bowl games. Bill Snyder was the head coach for 14 of them.
- TCU is one of just three programs to win six bowl games in the past seven years.
- Texas is 8-2 in its last 10 bowl games.
- This is West Virginia's fifth game ever at the home of the New York Yankees.
- Texas Tech won the only meeting ever against Minnesota, erasing a 31-point, second-half lead for a win in the 2006 Insight Bowl.
- Texas is 2-0 all-time against Oregon State. Iowa State is 2-0 all-time against Tulsa.
- Michigan State is 1-0 all-time against TCU.
As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6)
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET
About TCU: The Frogs have been through more in the past year than any team in the Big 12, dealing with the losses of impact players like quarterback Casey Pachall (left team to seek drug/alcohol treatment) and Waymon James (knee injury). Still, they've held it together and grabbed the best win of their season on the road on Thanksgiving night with a physical win over Big 12 power Texas. A 4-0 start had TCU ascending into the top 15, but the loss of Pachall left the offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin, who's turned in an admirable effort, but ultimately, the Frogs have gone as far as the defense will take them this season.
About Michigan State: Michigan State lost four of its final six games, but one of those wins came against Big Ten champion Wisconsin on the road. That was the end of what looked like a promising season for the Spartans, picked by many to win the league. Its first three losses in Big 12 play came by a combined five points, and its next two came by just a combined seven points. The Spartans are very likely better than their record, but there's no hiding from the disappointment of a 6-6 regular season in a weak Big Ten after coach Mark Dantonio had guided MSU to consecutive 11-win seasons entering 2012.
Horned Frogs to watch: We already told you TCU's defense makes this team run, so keep your eyes on the unit's two biggest talents. It starts with DE Devonte Fields up front and CB Jason Verrett in the secondary. Michigan State's a running team, so Fields may get more action, but he'll be ready. He's more of a pass rusher, but the true freshman earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors from the media. Verrett was the Big 12's best shutdown corner, but offensively, Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter are almost as good as any receivers in the league. Boykin's been effective with his arm and legs, but if MSU doesn't cover Boyce and Carter well, you'll see a big day through the air. Boykin's hit both on big plays down the field against Oklahoma and West Virginia this season. The Frogs will certainly try to stretch the field in this one.
Spartans to watch: Michigan State's offense begins and ends with running back Le'Veon Bell. TCU will get to know the 244-pound workhorse -- he even inspired some early season Heisman buzz -- very well by the game's end. He's carried the ball at least 29 times in seven games this season, and logged 350 carries on the season. That's the most in the nation, and no back in the Big 12 carried the ball more than 257 times. The Spartans also have five receivers with at least 340 yards receiving, but defensively, TCU's offensive line will have to focus lots of energy on star defensive lineman William Gholston. He's got 12 tackles for loss this season and has broken up nine passes.
Did you know? This isn't a new bowl game, it's just a new sponsor. The Big 12 has had a long-standing relationship with the Insight (previously Insight.com) Bowl, sending a team every year since 2006 and every year but four since the Big 12's inception. This year, the bowl just welcomes a new sponsor. The most eye-opening stat for TCU this season? It's played 16 true freshmen this season ... and 11 seniors.
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Did you know ...
- Kansas State is first nationally in drive starting position, at its own 40.
- The nation's top five teams in that stat have just three combined losses.
- Kansas State is tied for second nationally with 3.6 penalties a game.
- Kansas State is tied for fourth nationally converting 54 percent of its third downs.
- Kansas State has yet to give up a point off one of its turnovers, the best mark in the FBS.
- K-State kick returner Tyler Lockett ranks eighth nationally with 29.7 yards per return. Five of his 12 returns have been longer than 30 yards.
- On throws 20 yards or longer last year, Collin Klein completed 44 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and two interceptions.
- This year, he's completing 60 percent of those same throws with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
- On those throws last year against Oklahoma State, Klein was 2-of-6 for 56 yards and an interception.
- Oklahoma State's Wes Lunt has completed just 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) of his passes longer than 20 yards this season. J.W. Walsh completed 47.4 percent of those passes this season.
- Lunt was 1-of-4 for 38 yards last week against TCU on throws longer than 20 yards.
- Kansas State's offense has just 86 drives this season, the second-fewest in FBS.
- Kansas State's offense is fifth nationally in scoring, however. It has scored touchdowns on 42 of those drives.
- It ranks first nationally in drives per touchdowns (2.2), plays per touchdowns (12), and touchdown percentage (48.8).
- Over the past two seasons, Collin Klein leads the FBS with 45 rushes for first downs on third down, including 12 on third downs with longer than five yards to go.
- Collin Klein averages 9.1 yards a carry on zone read plays this year, compared to 5.2 last season.
- Lunt's completion percentage against the blitz (50) is 16 percentage points lower than when defenses drop at least seven defenders into coverage.
- Klein, meanwhile, has completed 16 of 20 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz in his past two games.
- Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle has 479 yards after contact this year, the third-most among backs from AQ conferences.
- Randle, though, averages three yards a carry after contact, a higher rate than the two backs ahead of him, Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell.
- Seth Doege has 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions on throws longer than 15 yards. That's the best ratio in the FBS.
- He's completing 51 percent of his throws longer than 15 yards, the fifth-best mark nationally.
- Texas' defense gave up 15 throws longer than 25 yards all last season.
- The Longhorns have already given up 18 of the same completions this year.
- Johnathan Gray didn't have a single carry longer than 20 yards in his first four games. He has three in his last four games.
- His yards after contact per rush is up to 2.3 yards a carry vs. 1.6 in the first four games.
- David Ash completed 55.6 percent of his passes longer than 15 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions through the season's first five games.
- He's completed 23.5 percent of those passes in the past three games with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
- In those three games, Ash is 3-of-6 when targeting Mike Davis on throws longer than 15 yards. He's 1-of-11 when targeting the rest of the team on those throws.
- Seth Doege is completing 79.1 percent of his passes in the red zone, the second-highest percentage in the FBS. Last year against Texas, he was 5-of-7 with two touchdowns in the red zone.
- Landry Jones completed 49 percent of his throws longer than 15 yards last year. This season, he's down to 39 percent.
- Oklahoma averaged just 2.4 yards per carry against Notre Dame, the worst mark of the season. They also averaged just 1.2 yards per carry before contact, the worst mark of the season.
- Texas' offense has 21 touchdown drives longer than 75 yards this season, the most in the FBS.
- In his first four games, Geno Smith completed 72.4 percent of his throws longer than 15 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
- In his past three games, Smith has completed 3 of 27 (11 percent) of those throws with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
- West Virginia averaged 220 yards after the catch in its first five games, all wins.
- It's averaging just 119 yards after the catch in its last two games, both losses.
- Both of Smith's interceptions this season have come on throws targeting receivers other than Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
- TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin completed all 13 of his pass attempts on third down against Baylor. He's just 9-of-25 since in losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
- Baylor has 14 touchdown drives in under a minute this season. Against Iowa State last week, the Bears had just one.
- Nick Florence has three of the top six games in Baylor history in single-game passing yards.
- Steele Jantz tied the school record for completions (36) and touchdown passes (5) last week against Baylor.
- Iowa State ran 102 plays last week, tying a school record and racking up 557 yards of offense, the most since 2008 against Kansas State.
- James Sims' streak of four consecutive 100-yard games is the most in KU history since Tony Sands all the way back in 1991.
- KU tackle Tanner Hawkinson has 44 consecutive starts, the most for a Jayhawk since 2000.
- KU threw seven passes last week, the fewest in a game since 1992.
- KU has already surpassed last year's interception total (8) with nine picks this season.
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