Thursday, December 17, 2009
Michigan St.-Texas Tech Preview
Keeping Texas Tech's high-powered offense in check figured to be hard enough for Michigan State. Doing it without 11 suspended players makes that assignment an even greater challenge for the Spartans.
Michigan State could be hard-pressed to avoid a fourth straight postseason loss when it faces the Red Raiders and the nation's second-ranked pass offense in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2.
Matching up against a team for the first time in school history often presents problems, and those issues can be multiplied when the opponent is Texas Tech (8-4), regularly one of the nation's best offensive squads.
This season was no exception as the Red Raiders ranked second in the country in passing yards (4,568) and ninth in scoring (36.7) despite using three quarterbacks.
"Very exciting offense, they bring a lot to the table in that regard," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
Pass defense has been an issue all season for Michigan State (6-6), which ranks 103rd in that category and allowed 29 touchdown passes while getting five interceptions -- tied for the fewest in the nation.
Slowing down the Red Raiders with a full complement of players was already difficult, but the Spartans will be undermanned in this matchup after Dantonio suspended 11 players for their roles in a dormitory brawl Nov. 22.
Running back Glenn Winston and defensive back Roderick Jenrette were dismissed from the team while starters Chris L. Rucker -- the team's top cover corner -- and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell are among those suspended.
"My heart breaks for those guys," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "The fact that they're not there with us for this bowl game -- it will hurt. But at the same time, there are other guys who we work with who have not had as much of an opportunity to play who are now going to have that opportunity."
Excluding an easy win over Western Michigan, Michigan State's defense struggled toward the end of the season, allowing over 1,500 yards to its last three Big Ten opponents.
One constant for Michigan State has been the stellar play of junior linebacker Greg Jones, the Big Ten defensive player of the year who ranked third in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 141 tackles -- the eighth-best single-season total in school history. He also had nine of the team's 34 sacks.
The Big Ten's top passing offense has helped Michigan State rank 44th in the nation with 29.6 points per game, but that unit figures to be seriously weakened by the absences of Cunningham and Dell, who combined for 74 receptions, 1,090 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior Blair White -- the team's top receiver -- faded down the stretch with 16 catches in his final four games after he had a season-best 12 in a 24-14 victory over Northwestern on Oct. 17.
After sharing the Big 12 title last season and narrowly missing out on qualifying for the BCS, Texas Tech managed another successful campaign under coach Mike Leach in what figured to be a rebuilding year.
A victory in San Antonio would give the Red Raiders six bowls wins in the Leach era and three straight seasons of at least nine victories.
"I think the Alamo Bowl is one of the top bowl games in the country and the Red Raiders are happy to be part of this year's game," Leach said. "We've been to 10 straight bowl games and that is something that our program and our fans are extremely proud of."
Strong quarterback play has never been an issue for the Red Raiders under Leach, but injuries this season to Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield forced him to use three signal-callers.
Potts began the season in the No. 1 role and has won five of nine starts. He looked particularly strong late in the season, completing 66 of 102 passes for 657 yards with four touchdowns in the final two games -- wins over Oklahoma and Baylor. Potts led the Big 12 with 306.8 passing yards per game.
Potts has a multitude of targets at his disposal as the Red Raiders had nine players with at least 20 receptions. Freshman Alexander Torres led the team with 65 catches and 791 yards, and was second with six touchdowns.
Baron Batch is the top threat out of the backfield, leading Texas Tech with 784 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns -- 12 on the ground.
While the Red Raiders' offense garners most of the notoriety, the defense exceeded expectations. Led by senior end Brandon Sharpe, who recorded a school-record 15 sacks to rank second nationally, Texas Tech allowed a respectable 348.8 yards and 21.8 points per game.
Texas Tech is 0-2 in the Alamo Bowl, losing to Iowa in 1996 and 2001. Michigan State is making its second appearance in this bowl following a loss to Nebraska in 2003.
The Spartans have lost three straight postseason games since beating Fresno State in the 2001 Silicon Valley Football Classic.