Sunday, January 1, 2012
Outback Bowl: 3 keys for Michigan State
By Brian Bennett
Let's take a look at three keys for Michigan State in its Outback Bowl game against Georgia:
1. Establish a running game: The Spartans averaged 38.6 points in their final five games. Why was the offense clicking so well? "I think it was because we were running the ball well," receiver B.J. Cunningham said. "That opens up the pass for us. When we get our running game going, I feel like we can't be stopped." He's right. With Le'Veon Bell coming on strong at tailback and an improved offensive line, Michigan State had a balanced attack that kept defenses on their heels. They'll need to do the same against Georgia, which won't be easy since the Bulldogs ranked ninth in rushing defense this season. But if the Spartans can make Georgia respect the run, Kirk Cousins will have a lot more time and options in the passing game. They certainly can't do any worse than last year's bowl game, when they finished with minus-48 rushing yards in a 49-7 loss to Alabama.
2. Jerel Worthy vs. Ben Jones: The best one-on-one matchup in this game will happen right in the middle of the trenches. Michigan State defensive tackle Worthy and Georgia center Jones are both All-Americans, and it will be fun to see who wins those individual battles. Whether Worthy can get penetration or just occupy Jones and his helpers, the Spartans need to put pressure on Dawgs quarterback Aaron Murray. Michigan State loves to blitz and bring heat from all angles, including cornerback Johnny Adams flying in off the edge. That will be big in this game, as Murray has the ability to carve up a defense if he can feel comfortable in the pocket.
3. Win special teams: With two of the nation's top five defenses squaring off, this could be a low-scoring contest. That makes special teams even more important, and Michigan State's big wins often include at least one crucial play in the kicking game. Maybe it's the Spartans blocking a kick or a punt, as they did in the first meeting with Wisconsin this season, or maybe it's Keshawn Martin bringing back a punt return. Punter Mike Sadler will be key in the field-position battle. And of course, you always have to be on the lookout for fakes and trick plays from Mark Dantonio's team. The Spartans may need a big play in that area to get over the hump and finally win a bowl game.