NCF Nation: 2011 Capital One Bowl 3 keys

Capital One Bowl keys

December, 31, 2010
Here are three keys for Alabama in its Capital One Bowl matchup with Michigan State:

1. Find some balance offensively: Alabama senior quarterback Greg McElroy had a big year throwing the football with 19 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. That was the good news. The bad news was that Alabama wasn’t nearly as effective running the ball as it was during its unbeaten national championship season. If the Crimson Tide can get Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson going in this game, then everything should fall into place offensively.

2. Avoid defensive breakdowns: The inexperience in the Alabama secondary reared its head more than a few times this season, usually at the worst times. Breakdowns in coverage cost the Crimson Tide in all three of their losses. They can’t afford to give up easy scores against the Spartans, who have already said they plan to test sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

3. Get the ball to Julio: Down the stretch, junior receiver Julio Jones was Alabama’s best player. For that matter, he was one of the best players in the SEC, period. He should draw some favorable matchups with the Michigan State cornerbacks, even when the Spartans shadow him with multiple defenders. The goal should be for Jones to get at least 10 touches in this game, which could include a few wrinkles.

Capital One Bowl keys for Spartans

December, 30, 2010
Here are three keys for Michigan State in its Capital One Bowl showdown against Alabama:

1. Run to set up the play-action: Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins has had time to get healthy and can do some damage in the play-action pass game. But to help Cousins, Michigan State must establish the run with Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. The Spartans' ground game struggled in the second half of Big Ten play, although it looked decent in the regular-season finale at Penn State.

2. Special teams: Arguably no team in the country has made more critical plays on special teams than the Spartans. From "Little Giants" to "Mousetrap" to Denicos Allen's blocked punt against Purdue, Michigan State has stepped up in the kicking game. Alabama is dangerous in the return game but Michigan State could have the edge on special teams.

3. Make plays in the secondary: The Spartans' defensive backs have been playmakers all season, as the four starters boast a combined 12 interceptions and 30 pass deflections. Alabama will try to attack downfield with Julio Jones and Marquis Maze, and it's important for the Spartans' cornerbacks to limit damage and get their hands on the ball. Like many games, the Capital One Bowl could come down to turnovers, so the MSU secondary will be a major factor one way or another.