As the immortal Denny Green once remarked, they are who we thought they were. That oft-repeated statement applies nicely to the Capitol One Bowl. Georgia played like the ultra talented but injury and mistake prone team that lost three big games, while Michigan State's vanilla offense continued its struggles against above average defenses. And the Big 10 continued it's well documented ineptitude...
The Other Side of the 50
This unbelievable statistic jumped out at me instantly as I was going over the post game recap:
Michigan State's first six drives all ended on the UGA side of the field. Result of these six drives? 2 field goals, 1 missed field goal, 1 turnover on downs, 2 punts.
The Spartans couldn't run between the tackle's to sustain drives, hence the premature stoppages in UGA territory. Was it the Georgia defense, an injury riddled frontline that got convincingly run over by Florida, Georgia Tech, and Alabama? Or was it season long revelation that the MSU power run game just doesn't translate into success against decent linebackers and teams with winning records? It's not like Dantonio altered the run game that much over the season - the basic set up was a pro form formation with 2 WR's, FB, and tight ends. Ringer was so successful early running behind a line that consistently caved in defenses and allowed him to squirt out of the middle for big runs. This success dissipated when teams put 8 in the box and showed no respect for Brian Hoyer. Georgia proved that film study is effective, following the aforementioned formula to holding Ringer to 47 yards.
We Got Linebackers
Greg Jones and the Spartan LB's looked excellent against Knowshon Moreno, the Cover Boy of ESPN the Mag's preseason coverage, holding the dynamic runner to 62 yards rushing. This linebacking corps, made semi-famous by stuffing Shonn Greene to preserve the Iowa game, didn't miss tackles and didn't allow Matthew Stafford to get in any kind of rhythm during the first half. All-Conference LB Greg Jones will be back for his junior year along with LB Adam Decker; these two will continue to give Michigan State a veteran presence in the middle of the generally solid Spartan defense.
Of course when Stafford got locked in, the Bulldogs took the reins to this game and rode his obscenely good 2nd half performance to victory. At one point, the soon to be Detroit Lions QB (just kidding, someone pull him away from the ledge) was something like 11-13, 120 yards and 1 touch in the 2nd half. Those are the numbers that allow talking heads like Gary Danielson to talk so reverently about the junior QB.
Not Inconsequential, But Close
Michigan State sealed its successful season long before this game was ever played. The Green and White were 9-3 with a sound beating of UM, while their coach avoided the pitfalls of his predecessors. People in East Lansing won't get riled up about any SEC-Big 10 inferiority complexes or whether the Spartans were only good because UM was down. All they should concentrate on is that MSU football is relevant again and returns many impact players for next year.
That said, Coach Dantonio does need to address his inability to score against quality opponents. 16 points against Iowa, 7 against OSU, 18 against Penn State, 12 v Georgia...The Spartans had solid receivers, a top notch running back, and a veteran quarterback - How do you explain the lack of offensive umph against decent opponents? Furthermore, how do you explain Dantonio's inability to mix up the playbook or try zone reads when the man blocking was so obviously ineffective at the end of the year?