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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Behind Enemy Lines: Michigan State

For Georgia's past few games, we've been talking with the beat writers of the opposing team to get teh inside scoop. This time around, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode was kind enough to share his expertise with us about the Michigan State Spartans. You can find Joe's exceptional coverage of Michigan State HERE.

David Hale: Obviously Javon Ringer is one of the nation s top backs, but in some of Michigan State s biggest games, his numbers haven t been quite as good. What type of success do you expect him to have against Georgia s front seven, which has struggled of late?

Joe Rexrode: It s hard to say. He is a very talented player, but as you said, he was limited to varying degrees by the best defenses MSU faced this season. Cal, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State all kept him under 100 yards. MSU s offensive line was rebuilt this season and simply hasn t done the job against the big boys. Also, Ringer wore down with the heavy work load as the season progressed. But he is fresh again and I think Georgia, especially with the injuries, is a cut below Ohio State and Penn State up front. So it will be very interesting to watch that matchup.

DH: Ringer is the big name on offense for MSU, but what other offensive weapons should Georgia fans be aware of? Are the Spartans capable of winning even if Ringer doesn t have a huge game?

JR: Yes, MSU can get it done through the air, although the numbers don t necessarily back that up. Brian Hoyer won the Wisconsin game with a bunch of huge plays late. His numbers have suffered thanks in part to a lot of drops from his receivers. But the Spartans have some fast guys. Mark Dell has been banged up but is a very talented receiver. Blair White has emerged as the team s most reliable downfield threat. B.J. Cunningham is good, and freshman Keshawn Martin, who missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, is back and could make a difference Thursday. He s very fast and gifted, a high school quarterback who is still learning the position. Tight end Charlie Gantt also is a reliable target. MSU can win if Ringer doesn t have a huge game, but he has to have a decent game for the Spartans to have a chance.

DH: Georgia has a top quarterback and two big threats at wide receiver. How good is Michigan State s secondary, and what are the chances the Spartans can slow down Stafford and company?

JR: The secondary has been the strength of MSU s defense this season, although a slew of big plays yielded against Penn State hurt their numbers. But that was, more than anything, a result of zero pass rush generated by the Spartans. That s the big question. Can MSU pressure Stafford? This team has an excellent cover corner in sophomore Chris L. Rucker, along with some other talented players such as Kendell Davis-Clark and Ross Weaver. Senior safety Otis Wiley is seen by analysts as a first-day NFL draft pick. He was dominant in the first four games of the season, but he has been nagged by injuries ever since. If he s finally back to full health as he says he is, this secondary will be that much better. But MSU hasn t seen a better combination of quarterback and two wideouts than what Georgia has. Penn State would be the closest.

DH: Both MSU and Georgia are 9-3, both finished third in their conference, both lost two bad games to close rivals but have beaten everyone they were supposed to beat. Still, Michigan State seems to be approaching this as a successful season and Georgia sees it as a major disappointment. How could that difference in attitude manifest itself on the field Thursday?

JR: The Spartans hope it means they ll be more excited to play the game. That may have been the case a year ago, when a Boston College team that was at one point ranked No. 2 fell to the Champs Sports Bowl. MSU barely lost, 24-21, killing itself with five turnovers. But the way I see it, Georgia has something to prove, and this is still a New Year s Day game on a national stage. So I doubt that will be much of a factor.

DH: What would you say are the two or three biggest keys to a Michigan State victory in the Capital One Bowl?

JR: The first is ball control on offense, via Ringer and short passing. Ringer has to be able to get 20-25 carries and 80-100 yards to help keep Georgia s offense off the field.

The second is limiting big plays, which MSU did well all year before the Penn State game. And that won t be easy against this offense.

The third is finishing at least plus-two in the turnover department, while getting a big play or two out of the kicking game. The Spartans will need some breaks to have a chance to beat Georgia.

1 comment:

The Cuatro said...

Your 4th question is a little off... I wish Georgia had beaten everyone we were supposed to. We'd be 11-1 and playing in the sugar bowl.