Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Capital One Bowl: Georgia vs. Michigan State


January 1, 2008 * 1:00 * ABC

Both teams were impressive in their own right this year, but both fell short against elite competition. The Spartans’ were impressive, starting off with six wins in their first seven games, but Ohio State dominated them in East Lansing 45-7. Still, the Spartans had a chance to win the Big Ten title heading into the contest against Penn State to close the season. Destiny was dashed as the Nittany Lions rolled 49-18. Georgia failed to live up to lofty expectations and pre-season hype. Despite their strong start (4-0), the Bulldogs looked completely outmatched in a lopsided 41-30 (31-0 at half-time) loss to Alabama and were squashed 49-10 by Florida. Which of these teams seeking redemption will take home a quality win to polish up their tarnished season?

When the Bulldogs have the ball

Georgia finished 21st in the FBS in total offense, relying on the one-two punch of Matthew Stafford's passing and Knowshon Moreno's rushing. The Bulldogs are averaging 280 yards/game passing, yet Stafford only managed to find the end zone 22 times through the air. This speaks perhaps to the quarterback’s efficiency as he was near the top of the nation in passer rating (15th, 153.2). Stafford’s efficiency can be attributed to his ability to locate his tall receivers slicing through the opposing secondary – Georgia’s receivers average 6’2”. Mohamed Massaquoi and A.J. Green are Stafford’s top targets, and have combined for 112 receptions, 1,861 yards and 16 touchdowns in a pro-style offense. Both are athletic, gifted play-makers once they break into the secondary. Georgia is likewise blessed with play-making ability on the ground with sophomore star Moreno. He has demonstrated prototypical traits of a big-time running back, combining explosiveness, toughness, speed and agility to carve up defenses for 1,338 yards and 16 touchdowns this year.

When the Spartans have the ball

The outcome of any given contest for the Spartans weighs on the shoulders of running back Javon Ringer. He accounted for over 92% of the team’s rushing offense, which also accounted for nearly 65% of Michigan State’s total yards from scrimmage. Despite being undersized in frame (5’9”, 202 lbs), Ringer proved his durability as the focal point of the offense – he rushed an FBS leading 370 times, mostly between the tackles, while tallying 1,590 yards and a conference-best 21 touchdowns. Senior signal caller Brian Hoyer’s was disappointing (51% completion, 2,235 yards, nine touchdowns, eight interceptions) compared to his junior campaign. But the Spartans will not be out to fool Georgia in this one – Ringer and the rushing attack will remain the focal point right to the final whistle.

Final analysis

Georgia’s road to the Capital One Bowl seems much more impressive with victories over five bowl teams, and coming out of the tougher SEC. Michigan State does hold quality wins (Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin), but statistically shows neither the offensive nor defensive firepower to keep up with the Bulldogs. With Ringer and Moreno potentially canceling each other out on the ground, victory may simply come down whose quarterback plays better. Stafford gets the vote in the beauty contest, but is also favored heavily going against a mediocre Spartan pass defense which has given up 210 yards/game through the air so far this season.

Georgia Bulldogs (9-3, 5-3)
Pass: Mathew Stafford – 3,209 yards, 22 TDs
Run: Knowshon Moreno – 1,338 yards, 16 TDs
Catch: A.J Green – 951 yards, 8 TDs,
Mohamed Massaquoi – 910 yards, 8 TDs

Michigan State Spartans (9-3, 6-2)

Pass: Brian Hoyer – 2,235 yards, 9 TDs
Run: Javon Ringer – 1,590 yards, 21 TDs
Catch: Blair White – 628 yards, 1 TD

CFI Prediction: Georgia 36, Michigan State 20

Photo Credit: College Press Box (Michigan St.), SEC Sports Media