Well, I certainly didn’t think we’d see a 6-3 score line at the half. That’s what six weeks of staring at the same statistics can do to you–make you think a particular outcome (Georgia scoring early and often, in this case) is mathematically certain.
In my defense, I did point out in the bowl preview that turnovers and penalties by the Bulldogs could give MSU an advantage. And they did give us an edge in the first half; we were just unable to capitalize on the Georgia mistakes to build a more sizable lead.
I give great credit to the MSU defense. Beyond forcing the two first-half turnovers, they held all three of Georgia’s big play threats in check in terms of their primary roles. Knowshown Moreno rushed for just 68 yards on 23 carries, while the Bulldog starting wide receivers were held to one catch a piece (for 12 and 10 yards).
Ultimately, Matthew Stafford turned out to be just plain too good. After struggling with accuracy in the first half, he threw three touchdowns in the second half. All of them were NFL-level throws, and all were to secondary receivers (the most spectacular of them being thrown to Moreno).
On the other side of the ball, the MSU offensive line looked overmatched for much of the game. At one point in the first half (after MSU got the ball on a fumble recovery), Georgia forced MSU into negative yardage outcomes on four of their next five plays.
Javon Ringer was held to 55 yards on 22 carries. (It was nice to see him get a TD in his final game as a Spartan, though.) And Georgia racked up six sacks. Brian Hoyer was under pressure all game, and, when he did have to throw, he wasn’t terribly accurate. The MSU receivers made some tough short catches, but could never get open for a big play downfield.
I was disappointed in the way Mark Dantonio handled the multiple opportunities to go for it on fourth down, given his track record of being aggressive in that department. After the fake punt on the first drive failed (why not just go for it with your offense in that situation?), he seemed to overcompensate by not going for it when the situations arose again during the game. MSU reached Georgia territory on all of its first five drives in the game, but came away with only six points. By failing to generate more points in the first half, the second half became an uphill climb.
Anyway, it was good to see MSU compete for four quarters against a more talented opponent, given the implosions against Ohio State and Penn State. I think this game gives the team some credibility going into next season and caps a successful season by any measure:
- Nine wins
- Road win over Michigan
- Third place finish in the conference
- New Year’s Day Bowl
All in what’s supposed to be the second year of a major rebuilding process.
Coffee Talk: Moving right along, what’s the over/under on wins for the Michigan State football team next season?
- A 9-3 regular season in which we won every close game would point to some regression toward the mean.
- Javon Ringer graduates, meaning the primary focus of the offense will have to shift.
- Otis Wiley graduates. He was the key defensive player in generating positive turnover margin this season (another fabulous forced fumble today).
- The schedule is favorable. No second BCS-level nonconference opponent (although neither Central nor Western are pushovers). No Ohio State.
- Brian Hoyer graduates, but the Keith Nichol era begins. And Kirk Cousins will be a very good back-up for the next three years (assuming Nichol ends up beating him out for the starting job).
- Three of five offensive linemen return (all on the left side), along with basically the entire receiving corps.
- Eight of 11 starters return on defense, including Greg Jones and Trevor Anderson. Plus Brett Swenson and Aaron Bates.
- A top-20 incoming recruiting class that includes nine 4-star players (two of them at running back).
Today’s result notwithstanding, it’s good to be a Spartan. And it should be for some time to come.