Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl 2012: Matchups That Will Decide TCU vs. Michigan State

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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl 2012: Matchups That Will Decide TCU vs. Michigan State
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TCU's run defense will test running back Le'Veon Bell.

When TCU and Michigan State square off in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), it's going to be a defensive slugfest.

Both of these teams boast absolutely suffocating defenses, each of which are ranked in the top 10 of Football Outsiders' defensive efficiency statistic. Michigan State has the most efficient defense in the nation by that metric, while TCU still ranks ninth.

Points will be at a premium in this one, and the offensive skill guys are going to have their work cut out for them. If you're a fan of quarterbacks running scared and turnovers galore, there's a lot to like about this matchup.

 

Andrew Maxwell v. TCU's Pass Defense

Odds are that TCU's defense is going to overwhelm Spartan quarterback Andrew Maxwell.

In his first season starting for Michigan State, the junior has completed just 52.9 percent of his passes, picking up just 6.0 yards per attempt and throwing nine interceptions against 13 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, TCU defensive end Devonte Fields led all freshmen with 17.5 tackles for loss, including nine sacks. Cornerback Jason Verrett leads the team with six interceptions and will be draped all over  Bennie Fowler, Maxwell's primary passing option. Safety Elisha Olabode picked off four passes of his own, including two he returned for touchdowns.

Unless Maxwell can identify a hole in this stout unit, he's going to have a very long day.

 

Le'Veon Bell v. TCU's Front Seven

Of course, Maxwell could get by just fine by handing the ball off to Le'Veon Bell.

Bell is third in the nation with 137.33 rushing yards per game, covering up for Michigan State's difficulties throwing the ball.

He's a formidable running back, though some of his success comes simply from his workload. His 4.7 yards per carry are good, not great, and TCU has the guys up front to slow him down even more.

We've already discussed Fields' ability to get into the backfield, but he's joined in the run stuffing effort by guys like linebackers Kenny Cain and Joel Hasley.

Cain is TCU's lone senior on defense and their leader with 74 tackles on the year. Hasley is second on the team with 71, including eight for loss.

TCU's defensive line is punishing and their linebackers play downhill. That's how they came to be the tenth-ranked run defense in the land, and they'll give Bell all he can handle.

 

Gary Patterson v. Mark Dantonio

Even with his trademark defense, Gary Patterson is outgunned in this one.

Redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin is not going to be able to hold up against Michigan State's pass defense, ranked ninth in the country.

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Patterson, however, does not have a Le'Veon Bell to take the pressure off his quarterback. B.J. Catalon led the team with 562 yards on 4.8 yards per carry, but the true freshman isn't ready to carry the offense himself.

Mark Dantonio's Michigan State team has more offensive talent and Patterson knows it. That doesn't mean Patterson is going to lay down and let the Spartans steamroll his guys.

If TCU football can do one thing, it's win old-school, defensive struggles. It's Patterson's specialty, and it's why the Horned Frogs are slight favorites.

Patterson will look to control the clock and play a field position game. It's an ugly, results-oriented style of football, but he knows it's the one that is most likely to earn his team a bowl victory.

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