Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
TEAMS: Michigan State (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten Conference) vs. TCU (7-5, 4-5 Big 12 Conference)
TIME: December 29th, 10:15 p.m. EST
LAS VEGAS LINES: TCU -2.5; Over/Under 40.5
After a wild game last night between Texas Tech and Minnesota, a game pulled out on last-second field goal by Texas Tech, the Big Ten is looking to notch their first win of the 2012 bowl season. Tonight the Big Ten will be sending out the Michigan State Spartans to square off against the Big 12′s TCU Horned Frogs in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Last year this bowl was known as the Insight.com bowl. For Michigan State, this bowl game is probably not where they thought they would be at the start of the season. Sure, they had to replace All-Big Ten quarterback Kirk Cousins, but they were returning running back Le’Veon Bell. The defense was also mostly intact, a defense that was near the top of the Big Ten last year. So, for Michigan State, losing 6 games and posting a sub-.500 conference record were not something they thought was likely in 2012. However, that is where the Spartans are at.
The Spartans started off in fine fashion as they defeated #24 Boise State to open the season, but losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State in weeks 3 and 5 left the Spartans faithful wondering just how good their team was going to be. After a win over Indiana, the Spartans would go on to lose their next two games to Iowa and Michigan respectively. Michigan State was able to stem the tide with a hard-fought, comeback OT win over the Big Ten Champion Wisconsin Badgers, but the bravado was short-lived as Sparty lost back-to-back games to Nebraska and Northwestern. Michigan State came into their final game of the season against Minnesota needing a win just to be bowl eligible! The Spartans delivered and inspired effort to knock off the Golden Gophers and get their 6th win of the year.
Now the Spartans enter the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl with just as many question marks as they did to start the season. The defense still remains highly regarded as they once again posted the top-rated defense in the Big Ten allowing only 273.3 yards per game and giving up 16.3 points per game, good for 9th nationally in that category. The problem for Michigan State all year has been their offense. Yes, they have one of the best players in the Big Ten, and perhaps the country, in RB Le’Veon Bell, but first-year starter Andrew Maxwell has had trouble replacing Kirk Cousins at the helm of the Spartans offense. The junior quarterback needs to find his niche if he is going to help guide the Spartans to a bowl victory over one of the stingiest defenses in the country in TCU.
Michigan State will be facing a TCU club that has had their share of problems both on and off the field this year. Head coach Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs spent their first year in the Big 12 and started off with a bang. They won their first four games and 5 of 6. After TCU started 4-0, they hit a bit of a rough stretch when their on-field leader, quarterback Casey Pachall, left the team after having substance abuse problems. Freshman Trevone Boykin took over the team and they expectedly began to falter, losing 3 of their next 4 games. Then, Boykin began to hit his stride as he led the Horned Frogs to wins over ranked West Virginia and Texas squads.
For TCU to win the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, they are going to need to solve the Michigan State defense, specifically how to handle the Spartans secondary. Michigan State was third in the Big Ten with 13 INTs. Boykin, being a a freshman, does have a penchant for throwing a pick. On the year he threw 9 INTs in essentially 8 games. Look for Michigan State to bring pressure, even though they were one of the worst Big Ten teams in terms of getting sacks, to force Boykin into making bad decisions. If Boykin can make the right reads and make good decisions, the TCU offense may be able to put up enough points to defeat the Spartans.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Michigan State offensively has been defined by the play of All-Big Ten running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell, a junior, carried the ball a career-high 350 times for 1648 yards. He was able to punch it into the end zone 11 times. No doubt that most teams would develop game plans to slow down Bell and force Maxwell to beat them through the air. For the most past, those plans failed! Bell has had three consecutive games where he has rushed for over 100 yards including the season finale, a win over Minnesota, where Bell rushed for 266 yards and 1 score on 35 carries. There’s little doubt that TCU is going to try and slow down Bell. If they are successful, chances are they will win the game. However, most teams have taken that approach and most teams have failed. On the season Bell has rushed for less than 100 yards five times, when he doesn’t reach the century mark, the Spartans are 2-3. Keep that stat in mind. If TCU can limit Bell to less than 100 yards rushing, they have a good shot of winning the game.
While Bell is the focal point of the Michigan State offense, much of the outcome of the bowl game will rest on the shoulders of junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell threw for over 2500 yards but completed just over 52% of his passes. His decision-making skills have also been called into question as he has thrown 13 TDs but he has countered that by throwing 9 INTs. In fact, he is riding quite a dubious streak as he has thrown two picks in each of his last two games. TCU is giving up 228 passing yards per game and 21 TDs, but they also have intercepted 21 passes which leads the Big 12 (4th best in the country). Maxwell will need to be sure of his target and make good decisions if Michigan State is to pull out the victory.
On defense, Michigan State is paced by junior linebacker Max Bullough who led the team with 101 tackles, good for 7th in the Big Ten. On the defensive line, TCU will have to contend with William Gholston who led the Spartans in sacks with 3.5. However, the most dominant aspect of the Michigan State defense has been the play of the Spartans secondary led by junior Darqueze Dennard and senior Johnny Adams. Both players intercepted 3 passes each placing them 6th in the Big Ten in that category. No doubt that those two will have their eyes on TCU’s top wideout Josh Boyce and secondary receivers Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown.
In order for Boyce, Brown, and Carter to get the ball, TCU’s freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin will have to do a good job of maneuvering around the Spartans defense. Just like Maxwell for Michigan State, Boykin threw 9 INTs to counteract his 15 TDs. There is little doubt that Michigan State will try to force him into making even more mistakes as they try to disguise blitz packages and dropping linebackers into coverage. Boykin, unlike Maxwell, has the ablity to escape pressure by using his legs. On the season, Boykin has rushed for 380 yards and 3 scores. Watch to see how well Michigan State does of trying to keep Boykin in the pocket. Making him strictly a passer has to bode well for the Spartans.
As was mentioned earlier, TCU has a plethora of wide receivers that have put up decent numbers. The wideouts are led by Josh Boyce who caught 61 passes for 800 yards and 7 scores. Other top targets for Boykin have been Brandon Carter and Skye Dawson. Both players caught 34 passes for over 1000 yards combined and 7 scores. Finally, watch for Boykin trying to complete passes to LaDarius Brown who made 25 receptions, but 5 of them were for scores.
Defensively for TCU, keep your eye on freshman defensive linemen Devonte Fields. Fields was second in the Big 12 with 9 sacks. His linemates, Stansly Maponga and Chucky Hunter combined for 6.5 sacks. The ability of TCU to pressure Andrew Maxwell and to get him out of rhythm is something that Horned Frogs faithful should be watching.
Michigan State – 23
TCU – 21