NCF Nation: Capital One 0901
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's been an exceedingly long season for Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.
Bring up his name to just about anybody in the Bulldog Nation and cover your ears.
|Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE|
|Georgia's defense held star Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer to 47 yards on 20 carries.|
Who could blame Martinez then if he was a little bummed about seeing the final seconds tick off the clock Thursday in Georgia's 24-12 victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl?
This had to be a performance he wanted to savor.
His Georgia defense was masterful, capping a season in which the Bulldogs' D was anything but.
Time and time again, Georgia's defense saved the offense in the first half. Michigan State ran 26 plays in Georgia territory in the first half, but managed just two field goals. And twice in the first quarter, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on their side of the 50, but Georgia's defense kept the Spartans out of the end zone both times.
Michigan State star tailback Javon Ringer never got going against the Bulldogs and was held to 47 yards on 20 carries. The Spartans finished with just 236 yards of total offense and were 4 of 16 on third down.
Georgia sacked Michigan State quarterbacks six times, and that's after collecting an SEC-low 18 sacks in 12 regular-season games.
Frankly, Georgia's defense played so well that you almost had to rub your eyes and wonder if this was the same bunch of guys on the field that were shredded at times this season.
Not that Martinez or anybody at Georgia needs to be reminded, but the Bulldogs allowed 38 or more points in four of their last five games of the regular season. They were torched for 409 rushing yards by Georgia Tech in the finale at home.
It wasn't pretty with regard to the defense the last month in Athens, and that's putting it mildly.
But the time off allowed the Bulldogs to get a little healthier on that side of the ball, to gather themselves emotionally and ultimately produce one of their best defensive showings of the season.
It's the sixth time in eight years at Georgia that Mark Richt has won 10 or more games, at least a small consolation for a team that started the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
Now the waiting begins.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who looked like an NFL quarterback in the second half after a slow start, is pondering his football future. He would be one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the draft if he decides to come out. Tailback Knowshon Moreno will also decide whether or not to turn pro.
As important as getting a win was Thursday for the Bulldogs, these next few days might be even more important. The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 15.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State had the lead at halftime, but the Spartans didn't have the momentum they needed in the Capital One Bowl against No. 15 Georgia.
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|The Georgia defense never allowed Javon Ringer to get on track.|
A more talented but seemingly disinterested Georgia team gave No. 18 Michigan State numerous opportunities to take control of the game. The Spartans ran 26 plays in Bulldogs territory in the opening half but produced only six points. That's nowhere near good enough. Michigan State easily could have been ahead by double digits.
The missed opportunities wound up costing the Spartans in a 24-12 loss.
Credit Georgia's much-maligned defense for shutting down Spartans star Javon Ringer (47 yards) and putting quarterback Brian Hoyer under constant duress. The game was won at the line of scrimmage, and Georgia's speed in the defensive front proved to be the difference. Michigan State (9-4) needed a strong performance from its offensive line to spring Ringer, and it didn't get one.
In many ways, the Capital One Bowl mirrored another near miss by a Big Ten team. Like Michigan State, Northwestern dominated the first half against Missouri in the Alamo Bowl but found itself tied at the break because of a few miscues. The Wildcats went on to lose.
Put bluntly, this year's bowl matchups were terrible for the Big Ten, but both Michigan State and Northwestern had opportunities for upsets and neither team could convert.
Credit Michigan State coordinator Pat Narduzzi and a defense that came to play today. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford looked bewildered during the first half, and the Spartans frustrated Bulldogs star Knowshon Moreno.
With a bigger lead entering the third quarter, Michigan State's defense might have continued to surge. But Stafford got things together and made several brilliant throws to rally his team. By the time Michigan State got in the end zone, Georgia's talent-stocked offense was rolling along.
Despite the loss, Michigan State made major strides this season and head coach Mark Dantonio got everything out of his players. The program is on the upswing.
The Spartans must make upgrades throughout their offense -- quarterback, wide receiver, line -- and find a way to replace Ringer's production. They really could have used a game-changer like Devin Thomas today. The defense loses only three starters and should be much stronger in 2009 behind Greg Jones and Trevor Anderson.
The Big Ten falls to 1-4 in bowl games and remains on pace for the worst postseason in its history. Iowa looked dominant and both Michigan State and Northwestern had bright spots in defeat, but the Big Ten desperately needs a BCS win from Penn State or Ohio State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Lost amid the Big Ten bowl bashing is the league's four-game win streak against the SEC in the Capital One Bowl, considered by many to be the most prestigious non-BCS postseason contest. It's up to No. 18 Michigan State to continue the trend today against No. 15 Georgia (ABC, 1 p.m. ET).
Here's a look at the matchup.
WHO TO WATCH: Arguably no player in the country meant more to his team this season than Michigan State senior running back Javon Ringer, the nation's third-leading rusher. Without Ringer's steady production, particularly in the first half of the season, Michigan State wouldn't be playing on New Year's Day. Georgia has struggled to stop the run all season but will load up against Ringer, daring Spartans quarterback Brian Hoyer to win the game.
WHAT TO WATCH: Michigan State's defense has contained comparable opponents but collapsed against elite offenses this season. It's time for the Spartans to step up. Georgia boasts future NFL players at all the skill positions and could overwhelm Michigan State. But Pat Narduzzi's unit is as healthy as it has been all season, and if the front four put pressure on Matthew Stafford, an upset is possible.
WHY TO WATCH: No bowl game features a better matchup of running backs, as Ringer squares off against Georgia's Knowshon Moreno. The Doak Walker Award finalists have combined for 2,928 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns this season. Ringer's strength and incredible durability (nation-high 370 carries) has sparked Michigan State, while Moreno is the most exciting back in the country.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
WHO TO WATCH: The best young player in the SEC? The debate over Georgia receiver A.J. Green and Alabama receiver Julio Jones will last all offseason. Green enters this game with an SEC-leading 951 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches. He just got better and better as the season progressed. And even though he's a freshman, he's shown some real toughness by fighting through a season-long groin injury. He's just a special talent who makes extraordinary plays look so easy. Those are the ones who are a treat to watch play.
WHAT TO WATCH: You can almost hear Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez in his pre-game meeting with his guys, something along the lines of: "Wrap up this Javon Ringer fellow. Don't get yourself out of position. Let's gang tackle. Don't let him get started early. Go after him and send a message." Tackling has not been the Bulldogs' forte this season, and breaking tackles has very much been Ringer's specialty. He carried the ball 370 times this season, more than anybody else in the country.
WHY TO WATCH: It's not a pleasant thought for Georgia fans, but this is very likely the last time we'll see quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno on the field in a college football game. Both are weighing their NFL draft options, and there are strong indications that both will come out. It's not every day that a run-pass combo like Stafford and Moreno comes along. And when you consider the injuries the Bulldogs suffered in the offensive line this season, it makes you appreciate even more how good both Stafford and Moreno have been. Between them, they've accounted for 40 touchdowns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi didn't help his conference in the never-ending Big Ten-SEC debate when he provided his scouting report of Georgia's offense to head coach Mark Dantonio.
"Their skill guys, their receivers, their running back, their quarterback, it's like the Big Ten All-Star team that we get to play against," Narduzzi told Dantonio.
Georgia wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi matched or surpassed any pass-catching combo Narduzzi saw in Big Ten play this year. Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford trumped first-team All-Big Ten quarterback Daryll Clark of Penn State.
And while Narduzzi, like everyone associated with the Spartans football program, thinks the world of Javon Ringer, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno isn't too shabby. If Georgia has a weakness on offense, it's the offensive line, and that's largely because of youth.
"It's obviously going to be a challenge for our defense," Narduzzi said. "Everybody's got to step up. Certainly, if you're looking at something that might be their weakness, you look at their O-line. I don't know what they see as our weakness, but obviously pressure on the quarterback and pressure at the line of scrimmage by our linebackers and defensive line is going to be a key in the game."
Narduzzi's unit lacks the headliners of Georgia, but it has helped Michigan State to nine wins and a Capital One Bowl appearance Thursday against the preseason No. 1 team (ABC, 1 p.m. ET).
This fall, the Spartans held eight teams to 24 points or fewer, including two bowl champions (Notre Dame and Florida Atlantic). What happened in the other four games, though is a cause for concern.
Michigan State struggled against elite offensive competition, allowing a combined 94 points in losses to Ohio State and Penn State.