Outback Bowl 2012: Key Matchups for Georgia and Michigan State

Martin Sondermann@@GamedayreporterAnalyst IIDecember 6, 2011

Outback Bowl 2012: Key Matchups for Georgia and Michigan State

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    The Outback Bowl

    Date: January 2, 2012

    Television: ABC at 1:00 P.M. ET

    The Michigan State Spartans of the Big Ten, will take on the Georgia Bulldogs of the SEC.

    The Spartans are 10-3 on the year, and are coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

    Georgia, on the other hand is coming off a devastating loss to LSU. 

    It was the tale of two halves.  Georgia gave LSU all they could handle in the first two quarters, actually leading at halftime 10-7. 

    However, we all know how the second half ended up.

    Which Georgia team will show up?  The first half of the LSU game Bulldogs, or the second-half Georgia team that fell apart? 

    Which Michigan State team will show up?  One that is hungry to rebound from a heart breaker? Or, one that is disappointed not to be playing in the Rose Bowl?

    Only time, and the game will answer these questions, but we can look at the matchup on paper to get an idea of what is ahead. 

Georgia's Offense

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    Georgia has a solid offense.  They average 32.2 points per game and have a very balanced approach. 

    Quarterback Aaron Murray threw for 2,861 yards on the season with 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  He has spent much of the year running to escape the sack or being sacked. 

    This has caused his completion percentage to rest at a sub par 58.8 percent.  It is because he has been sacked 28 times, but still holds a 146.4 quarterback rating. 

    The offensive line has struggled all year, giving Murray the protection he needs.  They have have also struggled in the run blocking game.  

    Georgia does have Isaiah Crowell (847 yards on 182 carries), but he has only broken the 100-yard mark four times this year.  He also missed two games, but should be ready to play against Michigan State. 

    Georgia also has had a couple other somewhat effective running backs who can give Crowell some rest, and that may come in handy versus the Spartans.

    Murray spreads the ball around pretty well and has a fairly good receiver core.  Malcolm Mitchell has 614 yards on the year, and Orson Charles, Tavarres King and Michael Bennett have all had some success catching the ball. 

Georgia's Defense and Special Teams

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    Georgia has held teams to just under 20 points a game on defense, and they have sacked the opposing quarterback 34 times.  

    They play tough and gutsy on the defensive side of the ball, but have been known to miss a few tackles.

    The Bulldogs have intercepted passes 17 times on the season, and they are plus-seven in the turnover margin.

    Georgia has a dangerous punt returner in Brandon Boykin, but he has been contained most of the year.  However, on kickoffs Boykin is averaging 23 yards per return.  Drew Butler is a great punter, averaging 44.31 yards per punt, and has been key in the field position game.

    Blair Walsh has made only 19 of 31 field goals, but hasn't missed a point after. 

    Overall, Georgia's special teams has been adequate on the season. 

Michigan State's Offense

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    The Spartans average nearly 31 points per game this year, but aren't lighting up the offensive statistics.  Michigan State has an average passing game, but is ranked 76th in the rushing department.

    Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown for just over 3,000 yards on the season, which includes 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. 

    Wide Receiver B.J. Cunningham has been stellar on the year, grabbing 72 passes for 1240 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Keshawn Martin added another 62 receptions with 742 yards and four touchdowns.

    Running Backs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker have split the duties carrying the rock, and both have had some success.  Bell has 900 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Baker has added 655 yards and five touchdowns.

    The Spartans will need to have one of their best games of the year running the ball to stay with Georgia, but we will look at that more later on.   

Michigan State's Defense and Special Teams

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    Michigan State plays great defense—unless they are playing Wisconsin.  They are allowing just 17.5 points per game, but remove the two Wisconsin games, and that total goes down significantly. 

    Wisconsin scored 31 and 42 points in the two games this year against that Spartan defense.  In both cases, a balanced approach from the Badgers did the damage.  

    Michigan State is also plus-seven in the turnover margin, and have 16 interceptions on the season. 

    They play aggressive smash-mouth defense, and have 89 tackles for loss which translated to nearly minus-400 yards for opposing offenses. 

    On special teams, Mike Sadler has had 53 punts this year with an average of just under 40 yards.  Dan Conroy has made 15 of 21 field goal attempts, and has been perfect on the year when it comes to extra points.  Keshawn Martin has returned 23 punts, with one of them for a touchdown.  He averages about 12 yards per return.  

    Special teams may play a big part in a game like this. 

Key Matchups

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    These teams are somewhat evenly matched on paper.  Georgia has the edge in the rushing department, but Michigan State is a bit better on defense. 

    The keys to this game will be balance, special teams, defense, coaching and desire. 

    Balance: Advantage Georgia

    Georgia gets the edge in the area of balance. 

    The Bulldogs have shown all year that they are able to run and pass in a way that keeps their opponents guessing.  This is what gave Michigan State fits against Wisconsin.  The Badgers have a similar type of dual approach, and it was effective in both games against the Spartans. 

    Special Teams: Draw

    This is pretty much a draw.  Both teams have good punt returners, field goal kickers and effective punters.  Both teams have a plus-seven turnover margin and both teams have shown decent discipline over the year on punt and kick coverage. 

    Defense: Michigan State

    Michigan State gets the nod on the defensive side of the ball.  However, Georgia is not far behind.  The Spartans have gotten to the opposing quarterback 41 times this year, which gave them 279 sack yards. 

    This will be crucial in controlling the balanced approach that the Bulldogs take. 

    If Michigan State can get to the quarterback—early and often—the Bulldogs will be forced out of their game plan.  If that happens it will be a long day for the Bulldogs.   

    Coaching: Georgia

    Michigan State has a fine coach, but Mark Richt is a good man and a great coach.  After starting the year 0-2, some Bulldog fans were calling for his head. 

    He didn't panic, he simply went to work.  You have to believe that he will be looking to close out the year with a win. 

    This will cause him to motivate his players just a bit more, and that doesn't bode well for the Spartans. 

    Desire: Yet to be determined

    These two teams are evenly matched, and it will probably come down to who wants it more.


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    Michigan State will put up a good fight, and you can expect it to be close throughout.

    But, one has to believe that the Spartans are truly disappointed not to be smelling roses this time of the year instead of smelling outback. 

    Expect the determined Bulldogs to prevent the front seven of the Spartans to do much damage.  Georgia should be able to keep its balanced approach going, and that means trouble for Sparty. 

    The bottom line is Georgia should be the team that comes in most motivated, and Mark Richt will have his team ready.

    Final Score Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 35, Michigan State Spartans 27