Opponent Breakdown: Michigan State

Mark Dantonio

HornedFrogBlitz.com breaks down the Michigan State Spartans.

Team: Michigan State Spartans

Coach: Mark Dantonio

2012 Record: 6-6

Last game: won 26-10 @Minnesota

Kickoff: Saturday, September 29, 9:15p.m. (CDT), Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona

TV: ESPN

Radio: WBAP 820 AM, 96.7 FM, KTCU 88.7 FM


Offensive players to watch: RB Le'Veon Bell Jr. (6-2, 237); WR Bennie Fowler, Jr. (6-1, 218); QB Andrew Maxwell, Jr. (6-3, 212); TE Dion Sims, Jr. (6-5, 285)

Offensive Statistical Leaders
Passing: Maxwell; 228-of-431, 2,578 yards, 13 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Bell; 350 carries, 1,648 yards, 11 TD
Receiving: Fowler; 41 receptions, 524 yards, 4 TD
Scoring: Don Conroy; 89 points

Defensive players to watch:
CB Johnny Adams, Sr. (5-11, 177); CB Darueze Dennard, Jr. (5-11, 188); LB Max Bullough, Jr. (6-3, 252); S Isaiah Lewis, Jr. (5-10, 205); DE William Gholston, Jr. (6-7, 278)

Defensive Statistical Leaders
Tackles: Bullough; 102,
Sacks: Gholston; 3.5
TFL: Bullough; 12
INT: Adams/Dennard; 3


HISTORY: Michigan State is just 3-9 in their last 12 bowl games dating back to 1993. The Spartans beat Georgia in the 2011 Outback Bowl in triple overtime 33-30. TCU has won 7 of their last 9 bowl games dating back to 2002. TCU beat Louisiana Tech 31-24 in the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl.This is just the second meeting on the gridiron for the two programs.
OUTLOOK: Dominant defenses will make this a low scoring affair. The team that can run the ball more consistently will likely win this one. Le'Veon Bell will be the most physical running back that TCU has faced this year. If the Frogs can limit the number of pick plays given up to Bell and the Michigan State offense, the Spartans' offense is not good enough to string together long drives against the Frogs defense. If TCU wins the turnover battle and contains Bell, Andrew Maxwell will struggle to beat the TCU secondary that boasts an All-American and five starters who will return in 2013. Michigan State is a good test run for a TCU team that will start off 2013 at Jerry's World against the LSU Tigers. Gary Patterson spells bowl game fun W-I-N, and that TCU will do thanks to the strength of their opportunistic defense.
Offensive overview: 2012 stats(conference and national ranks)

TEAM OFFENSIVE RANKINGS
Listed are Michigan State's stats and where they rank nationally and in conference play.
Category
Stat
FBS Rank
B1G Rank
Total offense
370
89
9
Passing offense
218.3
78
4
Rushing offense
151.5
72
7
Passing Eff.
108.7
111
11
Scoring offense
20.5
107
10
Sacks allowed
1.58
43
5


Bell has rushed for nearly 1,700 yards
Surprisingly the Spartans average more through the air than they do on the ground; averaging 218 behind the arm of junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who has thrown for 2,578 yards this season. While the Spartans can move the ball through the air, make no mistake about it, they use the running of junior tailback Le'Veon Bell to wear down defenses.

The 6-foot-2, 237-pounder finished second in the Big Ten conference with 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns. That included a 217 yard outburst in the season opening win over Boise State. Bell averaged nearly 5 yards per carry this season.

Bell has benefited from a strong line that is anchored by massive tackles Dan France (6-6, 315) and Skyler Burkland (6-7, 315). Fifth-year senior guard Chris McDonald is the veteran of the group with 38 career starts. The right guard was also on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, given annually to the nation's top lineman.

Junior Bennie Fowler is a big-bodied receiver and has proven to be Maxwell's top target with 41 receptions on the year.

TCU is 2-4 when they allow over 100 yards rushing to their opponents, but they are 5-1 when allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards.

Statistics show that the biggest difference between the two teams has been TCU's ability to rush the passer.

Freshman Devonte Fields leads TCU with nine sacks, and four other Frogs have at least 2.5 sacks on the season as well. A good pass rush on Andrew Maxwell will allow an opportunistic TCU secondary to get the ball back to the TCU offense in good field position.

Twenty-one times this season, TCU has picked off opponents.

KEYS FOR THE TCU DEFENSE:
1. Create turnovers: Get the ball back to the TCU offense in good field position. Creating turnovers will be crucial in a game that features two offenses that are more likely to be opportunistic than dominant. When the TCU defense creates three or more takeawasys, TCU in 4-0 on the year.

2. Safeties must wrap up: If TCU can stop Le'Veon Bell from making big plays and make the Spartan offense string together first downs, the Frogs have a high chance at success against an offense that averaged barely 20 points per game this season.

3. Fields and Maponga must have a big game: Pressure can force Maxwell into mistakes. He threw nine interceptions compared to just 13 touchdowns this season. The Frogs are 5-2 in games this year when they have three or more sacks.


Defensive overview: 2012 stats(conference and national ranks)

TEAM DEFENSIVE RANKINGS
Listed are Michigan State's stats and where they rank nationally and in conference play.
Category
Stat
FBS Rank
B1G Rank
Total defense
273.2
4
1
Passing defense
193.3
39
6
Rushing defense
173.6
9
3
Scoring defense
16.3
10
1
Sacks
16
101
11
TFL
75
40
2
Turnovers
0.0
59
7


Bullough leads the Spartans defense with 102 tackles
Michigan State finished 6-6 on the season but a big reason they even won six was due in large part to a very stingy defense. Michigan State's defense led the Big 11 in scoring defense, yards allowed per game, rushing defense, and third down conversion percentage. The unit ranks in the top ten in both rush defense and pass defense. The secondary is led by two of the country's top cornerbacks in Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams who both have a chance to play on Sundays, and they complete a Spartan defense that lacks a true pass rusher.

If a good pass rush is the best way to help a secondary, then Dennard's and Adam's play has been even more impressive this season. William Gholston leads the team with 3.5 sacks and as a unit they rank #101 in the nation with only 16.TCU's Aviante Collins could face a big challenge in the 6-foot-7, 278-pound Gholston.

Against the two standout cornerbacks, Boyce will have to help Boykin. Boyce is one of just three players nationally to have 600 yards receiving and six touchdown catches in each of the last three seasons.

Linebacker Max Bullough and Gholston will provide a tough challenge for a young TCU offensive line. Both recorded 12 tackles for loss on the season, and both bring playmaking ability to the Spartan defense.

KEYS FOR THE TCU OFFENSE:
1. Avoid third and long: TCU must not put themselves in situations where Boykin has to throw in third and long. A good run on first and second down will put Boykin in situations that he can manage.

2. Help the defense: Both defenses are more than formidable, and the TCU offense will face one of its toughest challenges so far. Even when the offense does not score, they must help their defense by avoiding three and outs. Stringing together 2-3 first downs will allow the TCU defense to rest and will flip field position.

3. Offensive line wins the game: The team with the better offensive line will win on Saturday. Le'Veon Bell and TCU's running backs all bring great talent to the backfield, but the offensive line that can consistently open holes for their back will be celebrating a victory Saturday night. Aviante Collins will face a big challenge in William Gholston.


SPECIAL TEAMS:

One of the big strengths Michigan State has that has helped their defense is a tremendous punting game. Sophomore Mike Sadler averaged 43.25 yards per punt which is good enough for 21st in the nation and 1st in the Big Ten Conference. He's also pinned the opponents inside their own 20-yard line 28 times. Senior Dan Conroy handles kicking duties and is 77% for his career on field goal attempts. He's made 22-of-31 attempts in 2012 with three kicks coming from 50 yards. Nick Hill is the primary return man for the Spartans and averages 21.2 yards per kickoff return; good enough for 7th best in the conference.

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