Gator Bowl Preview: Michigan vs. Mississippi State

Big House BobSenior Analyst IIDecember 31, 2010

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Tyler Russell #17 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs sets to pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide November 13, 2010 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Location: EverBank Field Jacksonville FL
Time: New Year’s Day 1:30 EST
Line: Mississippi State -4.5
Weather: Sunny, 75 with a few clouds

Michigan is back in a bowl game after a two-year hiatus under Rich Rodriguez' rebuilding of Michigan's football program. The last time Michigan played in Florida was under similar circumstances, when Michigan was an underdog against an SEC opponent—the Florida Gators, led by Tim Tebow—the Wolverines stepped up and sent Coach Carr out a winner in his last game.

Michigan will meet a ranked Mississippi State team tomorrow in the Gator Bowl. Both teams run the spread offenses and prefer the ground game over the pass any day. The Bulldogs have had a positive season under coach Dan Mullen, who was rumored to be the leading candidate for the Florida job but didn’t even seem to get a sniff from the Florida AD.

The Bulldogs are led by their dynamic spread QB Chris Relf, who has been rumored to be more of a runner than a passer. But in his last game against Mississippi, he threw for 288 yards in a 31-23 win in the Egg Bowl.

During the year, MSU won the games they should have and lost the games where they were outmatched. With maybe one of their best performances came in a 17-14 loss to Cam Newton and Auburn. MSU beat Memphis, Georgia, Alcorn State, Houston, Florida, UAB, Kentucky and Mississippi. Losses were to Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. The Florida win was a 10-7 score in the Swamp.

Gator Bowl Tale of the Tape:

Michigan Offense vs. MSU D = Advantage Michigan

Michigan D vs. MSU Offense = Advantage MSU

Special Teams = MSU and it isn’t close. They have a good kicker named Derek DePasquale who basically beat UAB with his leg and four field goals.

Intangibles = Michigan

MSU has a highly rated defense and has faced some good opponents this year like Auburn’s Cam Newton. They won’t back down to the “Denard factor” and its defense will plan to be fast and get an number of defenders to the ball. Although in Week 2, when Auburn played MSU, Cam Newton was trying to be Denard Robinson.

Whoever runs the spread best will win this game. Michigan has a balanced attack between running and passing and an effective Denard throwing the ball will be key factor in the Wolverines success. MSU will keep a number of guys in the box and see if Denard can beat them with his arm. Denard’s accuracy and the ability for Michigan’s wide receivers to CATCH THE BALL will be important to keep drives alive.

Michigan will have the same strategy in trying to stop MSU’s offense. Michigan’s defense main problem this year has been stopping the run when they know the other team is going to run.

I expect the defense has worked for two weeks on tackling and staying in their gaps. Will the senior linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton have their best games of their careers? They will need to for a Michigan win. I expect these two seniors will play early and often.

Sing Hail to the Victors if…

• Denard goes off for 250 in the air and 150 on the ground

• The Michigan defense is improved with two weeks of practice

• Rich Rod runs a more complicated spread

• Michigan never lines up for a field goal

• A Michigan running back goes for over a 100 yards

• The Michigan secondary fills holes in the running game and covers WR deep in the pass game.

Say I need a lot less F’ing Cow Bell if…

• MSU figures a way to stop Denard

• The Michigan defense can’t stop the run and gives up a number of big plays

• Michigan continues to turn the ball over and not get TO’s on defense

• MSU has an effective passing game

• Michigan is trying to kick field goals

I have a theory that Michigan plays well when they have more than two weeks to prepare for an opponent. Michigan under RR has played well in all three season openers with blowout wins over UConn and Western Michigan and a two-point loss to a Utah team then went undefeated that year. Many experts expected UConn and Western to give Michigan problems and they didn’t.

Michigan is 23-5-1 over the SEC and 7-3 in bowl games. Michigan also plays well when their coach is on the line. I expect the Wolverines to play inspired on both sides of the ball in support of Rich Rodriguez. I hope and expect them to come out prepared like they were for the UConn game and not dazed and confused like they were for the Penn State game.

I also believe this offense plays better in warm weather then they do in cold weather. The temperature at game time will be in the 70s and the Florida boys will be excited to play in their home state in front of their friends and family. Vegas have the Bulldogs as a 4.5 favorite. I disagree. Michigan 42 Mississippi State 28.

(I wrote this before the Foricer news broke, so if Denard goes down reverse the score and all bets are off)

Go Blue!


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