Cotton Bowl 2015: Game Grades, Analysis for Alabama vs. Michigan State

Jim SullivanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2016

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31:  Quarterback Jake Coker #14 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after teammate running back Derrick Henry #2 scores in the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Apparently, Alabama learned a few offseason lessons after faltering at this same stage against Ohio State last year, as instead the second-ranked Crimson Tide obliterated the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans 38-0 to bring home the Cotton Bowl and earn a ticket to the National Championship Game later this January.

The Spartans struggled throughout, as evidenced by the goose egg they laid, but the true storyline was how dominant Alabama was in every aspect of the semifinal matchup.

Up next for the Tide, top-ranked Clemson awaits them in Glendale, Arizona, as the SEC representative aims to spoil the Tigers' dream of an undefeated season. Meanwhile, Michigan State will hop on a plane back to East Lansing to begin its offseason process, one that will certainly start with the evaluation of its own dismemberment at the hands of Alabama. 

Alabama Crimson Tide Game Grades
First HalfSecond Half
Rush OffenseC+B+
Pass OffenseB+A+
Rush DefenseA+A
Pass DefenseA-B+
Special TeamsB+A
Cotton Bowl vs. Michigan State

Rush Offense: Despite a slow first half for the Alabama ground game duo of Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, a second-half explosion of 100 yards with one score helped put away Michigan State for good. The Heisman Trophy-winner struggled at first, but a particularly brilliant stiff-arm play made Henry look just as top-tier as ever. 

Pass Offense: After putting together 177 yards in the first half with just four incompletions and multiple big plays, quarterback Jake Coker followed up with an even more memorable second. The signal-caller found freshman wideout Calvin Ridley for two scores while compiling 109 yards through the air, essentially drawing the life out of the Spartans throw by throw. 

Rush Defense: The first half finished with Michigan State sitting at -9 yards on the ground, and a second half that featured 38 yards more doesn't exactly inspire confidence in what was previously a feared rushing attack. The Crimson Tide defensive front consistently kept the Spartans off balance, and a tendency to throw the ball led to even fewer handoffs as the lead widened late in the game. 

Pass Defense: Connor Cook's mediocre performance throughout had its moments of danger to Alabama, but two critical interceptions cut short drives where the Spartans were threatening. All in all, the Crimson Tide held Michigan State to just 210 yards through the air, deflecting multiple passes and keeping Cook moving with a constant pass rush. 

Special Teams: While the first half featured some brilliant punting and a perfect 47-yard field goal from Adam Griffith, the second gave a glimpse into the Crimson Tide's talent on special teams. On a run-of-the-mill punt return, Cyrus Jones proceeded to dance his way into the end zone, inflating the already growing lead while removing any hope of a comeback from the Spartans sideline. 

Coaching: A conservative first half that featured few deep passes and very little risque play-calling turned into a bomb fest in the second, as offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin guided Coker to one of the the young signal-caller's best games of his career. The constant offensive pressure on the MSU defense earned Alabama respect early and fear later on, as a great game plan developed into a solid victory. 


Michigan State Spartans Game Grades
First HalfSecond Half
Rush OffenseF-D
Pass OffenseCC+
Rush DefenseB+B-
Pass DefenseB-D+
Special TeamsB-C
Cotton Bowl vs. Alabama

Rush Offense: Not much to say here, save for the fact that dominated is an understatement. The Spartans were all but capable on the ground game, as a dismal first half transformed into a similarly frustrating second. 

Pass Offense: In what was obviously an off day for Cook, the Michigan State air raid was unable to find any space to operate within the tight Alabama coverage scheme. The senior play-caller had his opportunity to cut the lead to 10 at the half, but the crucial interception cut short any chance of reaching the end zone, and the rest of the game played out in similar fashion. 

Rush Defense: After shutting down Henry in the first half, containing the Heisman Trophy-winner to just 35 yards with a score, Michigan State stumbled out of the gate as a combination of Henry and Drake slowly eroded the solid rush defense. The second half finished with the two backs combining for 100 yards and another touchdown, the last of which truly impressed from an Alabama standpoint. 

Pass Defense: After giving up multiple big plays in the first half with 177 yards through the air, the Spartans pass defense suffered two scores to Ridley as Coker picked apart the lone notable weakness of this Michigan State squad. 

Special Teams: The first half featured mostly punts and kickoff returns, but allowing Tide returner Jones to walk his way into the end zone on a second-half punt took any wind out of the Spartans comeback. 

Coaching: The first half had the feel of adjustment to a big stage, but the second showed what was really going on: Michigan State just wasn't prepared for the Alabama onslaught. Cook seemed tentative, the play-calling was uninspiring and the overall atmosphere of the sideline had no pulse.