Thursday, 31 December 2015
Alabama routs Michigan State to reach College Football Playoff final
ARLINGTON, Texas — Breaking down No. 2 Alabama's 38-0 victory over No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
THE BIG PICTURE: Well, here they are again. After a two-year drought that produced questions about whether Alabama had slipped a notch from its dynasty days, Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide back in the national title game trying to win his fourth championship at Alabama and fifth overall. It was accomplished in pretty dominant fashion on Thursday, as Alabama held Michigan State to 239 yards of offense, got the lead in the second quarter and administered a death grip that has become all too familiar for SEC opponents. If you can't put scoreboard pressure on Alabama and force them to do things they're not comfortable doing, their natural advantages will eventually turn into an avalanche of points.
Ever since the Crimson Tide lost to Ole Miss back on Sept. 19, they've only had one close call — a 19-14 victory over Tennessee on Oct. 24 — and look to be focused and fresh heading to Arizona for a date with No. 1-ranked and undefeated Clemson. Alabama will be favored by Las Vegas oddsmakers. On the other hand, this was a disappointing end to Michigan State's incredible season and the Connor Cook era, which included a pair of Big Ten titles. . This was simply a bad matchup for the Spartans, who try to play the same style as Alabama only with less size and talent. That doesn't work out very well for SEC teams who try it, and it didn't here. Michigan State's best hope was to keep it close into the fourth quarter and maybe catch a break, but Alabama wouldn't allow it.
WHAT WE'LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Michigan State's plan was clear. The Spartans wanted to take away the run and make Alabama quarterback Jake Coker beat them. And that's exactly what he did. Coker, who came into the game ranked 42nd nationally in passing efficiency, played his best game of the season and picked apart Michigan State despite operating under heavy pressure. It seemed like every time Coker got hit he was able to release the ball just in time to find an open receiver, finishing 25-of-30 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Though a few of those completions were incredible catches by the receivers and some were simple screens, Coker still delivered a handful of good downfield throws and played a solid, mistake-free game. To step up and play this well on a big stage was both a credit to Coker and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has made a habit of developing quarterbacks out of guys who previously struggled.
THE DECIDING PLAY: Michigan State had an opportunity to go into halftime down 10-7 and perhaps get some momentum, putting together its best drive of the game in a two-minute offense. With 25 seconds left in the half, the Spartans had a first down at the Alabama 12-yard line after an 18-yard throw to Aaron Burbridge. At minimum, Michigan State should have gotten a field goal. But on the next play, Cook tried a fade to Burbridge in the end zone but didn't get any air under it, allowing cornerback Cyrus Jones to make a break on the ball for an interception. Given that the first half was generally pretty even aside from one big passing play, it was a pretty crushing development for Michigan State. Alabama came out in the third quarter and immediately marched down the field to make it 17-0, and that was pretty much the end for Michigan State.
KEY STAT: Alabama led the nation by a pretty wide margin this season, allowing a mere 74 rushing yards per game (Boston College was second at 82.8). So it's no surprise Michigan State also struggled to run the ball against a front seven that has frequently been called one of the best in recent memory. But the level of demolition Alabama wreaked on the Spartans' offensive line was even more massive than expected. Michigan State ran for a mere 29 yards on 26 carries. Even removing sacks, the Spartans finished with just 53 rushing yards.