OR “If the football team goes 9-3, the basketball blogger will take the time to do a full-fledged game preview for the bowl game.”
1:00 pm, Thursday, January 1. The Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Florida. ABC.
Georgia’s and MSU’s win-loss resumes are nearly identical: 9-3 records with two decisive losses to top ten conference opponents (Alabama and Florida, in Georgia’s case) and a fairly close loss to a quality nonconference opponent (Georgia Tech for them, Cal for us). Both teams clearly finished as the #3 team in their conference, so what you think about this game hinges to a certain degree on what you think about the SEC and the Big Ten. Most neutral observers think the SEC is superior but we actually have very little hard data on which to make that judgment going into the bowl season.
Of course, another consideration is what the experts thought about these teams before the season began:
- Georgia was the consensus #1 team in the country.
- Michigan State was 10th under “Others Receiving Votes” in the AP poll.
So the Bulldogs may have a bit more talent on their roster.
Sure enough, an initial look at the Georgia football team’s statistical profile indicates they’ve got some impressive weapons on offense:
- They ranked second in the SEC in both scoring offense (32.1 points/game) and total yardage (433.9 yards/game). Florida was #1 in both categories.
- Junior quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 61.1% of his passes, gaining 9.1 yards/attempt. He threw 22 TDs vs. 9 interceptions. He’s evidently good enough to be in the running to wear Honolulu blue on Sunday next season (advice for Mr. Stafford: make outrageous contract demands before the draft publicly, but make arrangements with whomever has the #2 pick privately).
- Sophomore running back Knowshon Moreno gained 1,338 yards on the ground, averaging 5.9 yards/attempt and scoring 16 touchdowns. Moreno shared runner-up honors with Javon Ringer for the Doak Walker Award.
- Wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and A.J. Green both finished the regular season with 900+ yards and 8 TDs a piece. Massaquoi racked up 100-yard games in three of Georgia’s final four games.
- Altogether, the Bulldogs have nine players with a pass reception of 30 yards or more this season.
The Michigan State secondary, which was a major concern heading into this season, ended up performing above expectations. MSU held 6 of their 12 opponents below 200 yards passing. But they didn’t face very many teams with proficient passing attacks, either. When they did, the results weren’t pretty: 264 passing yards allowed to Cal, 283 to Northwestern, and a whopping 419 to Penn State.
That’d be my major concern on the defensive side of the ball: Can MSU’s secondary avoid giving up big plays to the Bulldog receivers? This will be a particularly tough challenge given that Georgia only allowed 15 sacks during the regular season.
Defensively, Georgia is less scary. They ranked 7th in the SEC in total yardage allowed and just 10th in the conference in scoring defense. For the season, they were fairly stout against the run, allowing only 3.8 yards per carry (not adjusted for sacks). But they did allow 4 of their final 5 opponents to gain more than 180 yards on the ground. Georgia Tech put up a whopping 409 yards on the ground. (It should be noted that Georgia Tech employs a wishbone offense. They put up 200+ rushing yards in 9 of their 12 games.)
In an ideal world, Javon Ringer gets 40 rushing attempts one more time, limiting the number of times Georgia’s receivers have to try to get open downfield vs. MSU’s corners. But, against a quality opponent, that’s not likely to happen. Against the five Big Ten teams on MSU’s schedule that are playing in bowl games, Ringer carried the ball more than 25 times against only one (Northwestern) and didn’t average more than 4.2 yards/carry in any of the five games. Opposing defenses know that MSU’s preference is to run the ball three out of every four times on first down and adjust their gameplans accordingly. Georgia will be no exception.
If Michigan State is to win this game, Brian Hoyer will almost certainly have to put a very good performance, redeeming himself for the 4-interception bowl collapse against Boston College last season. The opportunities should be there. Georgia only sacked opposing quarterbacks 18 times and only picked them off 10 times during the regular season. A fully healthy Mark Dell should help, but it’s hard to be confident that MSU’s passing attack is explosive enough to keep up with Georgia in a full-fledged shootout.
Georgia’s defensive leader is sophomore linebacker Rennie Curran, who led the team with 109 tackles, including 9 tackles for losses and 3 sacks. Curran was a first-team all-conference selection by the SEC coaches.
In terms of wild cards, a few things could break for MSU:
- Georgia turned the ball over two times or more in 6 of their final 8 games. Turnover margin has been a decisive factor for MSU in their key wins. Otis Wiley will be playing his final game as a Spartan; it’d be a real help if he could add to the 9 interceptions and/or 4 forced fumbles he’s accumulated during his career.
- Georgia ranked 3rd nationally in penalty yardage at 73.8 yards per game.
- The kicking game would seem to favor MSU. Brett Swenson made 20 of 25 FG attempts (80.0%), while Georgia kicker Blair Walsh was just 14 for 22 (63.6%).
For Georgia, the punt return game could be an asset. The Bulldogs averaged a healthy 16.7 yards per punt return in the regular season.
I’ll wait until closer to January 1 to make any kind of a prediction, but the statistics would indicate that winning this game will take a peak performance by our Spartans. As various observers have noted, MSU’s statistical profile (7th in the conference in yards/game both offensively and defensively) doesn’t match its win-loss record. Penn State is the only offense we’ve faced that can be placed in Georgia’s class. And we all know how that turned out.
To put a more positive spin on it, this game represents a clear opportunity for MSU to prove they can play with a nationally-recognized powerhouse for four quarters and build momentum going into next season.
Dispatches from Enemy Territory:
- Martinez: ‘It Starts With Me’ (Bulldogs Blog)
On Georgia’s propensity to give up big plays.
- A Quick Look at Michigan State (Georiga Sports Blog)
Not impressed by our schedule.
- Georgia Bulldog Football: The State of Things From One Fan’s Perspective (Dawg Sports)
9-3 doesn’t cut it in Bulldog country: “It’s hard to turn a football team around when it starts down the wrong path. And this team has. They play soft. They play stupid. And the coaches have tolerated it.”