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First Look: Michigan State Spartans

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With the Cotton Bowl on a Thursday, we're taking our First Look at the Michigan State Spartans on a Sunday. Let's get to it.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
vs.
4/5/5 BAYLOR (11-1, 8-1) vs. 7/7/8 MICHIGAN STATE (10-2, 7-1)
Jan. 1, 2015 | 11:30 a.m. CT
Arlington, Texas | AT&T Stadium (80,000)

TV: ESPN
Watch | Skycam | Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes Bowl Central

OPPONENT: Michigan State Spartans
ODB GAME HUB: 2015 Cotton Bowl: Baylor Bears vs Michigan State Spartans
MEET THE PRESSBaylor vs. Michigan State (Article on baylorbears.com)
OFFICIAL WEBSITEmsuspartans.com
MEDIA GUIDE2015 MSU Cotton Bowl Media Guide (click here for Cotton Bowl depth chart)
LAST MEETING:  28-10 Michigan State | There was no ODB hub, because the game was played in 1968.
LAST GAME (for Michigan State): Michigan State 34, Penn State 10
SB NATION BLOG: The Only Colors, at right
SPREAD: Baylor -2.5 (Open: Baylor -1.5)
TV COVERAGE: ESPN, 11:30 a.m. CST January 1, 2015
WEATHER FORECAST: Jerry World, ergo irrelevant. Though, supposedly cold in the DFW area on New Years Day
BAYLOR UNIFORMS: Chrome/??/?? (Bryce Petty confirmed Chrome helmets)

SB Nation Michigan State Preview
BaylorBears.com Preview
Bears vs Spartans coverage

Practices Underway

Cotton Bowl Practices began today after the team arrived in the DFW Metroplex last night. The Bears got their first meaningful time on the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington since defeating Texas Tech there last month. The Bears got the same locker room they had for that game, so there will be an air of familiarity for the Bears in the preparations for this game. Apparently, the turf used for the Cotton Bowl is the same type of turf that the Bears have in McLane Stadium, which is sure to be a boon. I don't know if it's the same turf that's used for the Cowboys' home games; I'm not sure if they switch out just the area in the end zones and at the 50-yard line or if they replace the entire field. If you happen to know, enlighten us in the comments.

For a full report on today's practice, head over to Baylor Bears Official Site's report. It's worth the read. And now, it's time to start our look at the Michigan State Spartans.

Michigan State 2014 Schedule/Results

August
Jacksonville St. Gamecocks Friday, August 29 2014 win 45-7 coverage
September
@ Oregon Ducks Saturday, September 06 2014 loss 27-46 coverage
Eastern Michigan Eagles Saturday, September 20 2014 win 73-14 coverage
Wyoming Cowboys Saturday, September 27 2014 win 56-14 coverage
October
Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday, October 04 2014 win 27-22 coverage
@ Purdue Boilermakers Saturday, October 11 2014 win 45-31 coverage
@ Indiana Hoosiers Saturday, October 18 2014 win 56-17 coverage
Michigan Wolverines Saturday, October 25 2014 win 35-11 coverage
November
Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday, November 08 2014 loss 37-49 coverage
@ Maryland Terrapins Saturday, November 15 2014 win 37-15 coverage
Rutgers Scarlet Knights Saturday, November 22 2014 win 45-3 coverage
@ Penn State Nittany Lions Saturday, November 29 2014 win 34-10 coverage
January
@ Baylor Bears Thursday, January 01 2015 12:30 PM EST coverage

The Spartans finished the regular season 10-2, with their only losses coming to Oregon and Ohio State, two of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Both of those teams feature high-octane offenses not entirely unlike the Bears. Other than those two games, though, the Spartans were fantastic, only being held under 30 points against Nebraska, and only giving up more than 25 points once, to Purdue. Looking over their resume, it would appear that Nebraska is the Spartans' signature win on their resume that came at home during the first weekend of October, but it's also never a small deal when you defeat the Official Team of New York City 45-3, as Ted will tell you. Heads roll in the Big Apple when the Scarlet Knights fall. While compiling the stats we use from Sports-reference, I noticed that by whatever metric that site uses, Michigan State's Strength of Schedule is 64th, while the Bears' schedule is 66th.

Michigan State Individual Statistics

Quarterbacks

Passing
Rk Player Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
1 Connor Cook 188 323 58.2 2900 9.0 9.5 22 6 152.4
2 Damion Terry 12 19 63.2 88 4.6 4.6 0 0 102.1
3 Tyler O'Connor 12 16 75.0 151 9.4 9.1 2 1 183.0
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CFB: View Original Table
Generated 12/27/2014.

Connor Cook is the guy for the Spartans, and they live and die with him at the helm. The numbers, while slightly lower than Petty's are still impressive. He's only thrown six interceptions this season while tossing 22 touchdowns at a 58.2% rate of completion. Cook and Petty are both clients of QB "guru" George Whitfield, and by all accounts the two are good friends. Cook is not a threat with his legs; that will benefit the run defense, but the Bears haven't exactly struggled against the run. Cook's arm is where the trouble lies. It will be interesting to see what adjustments the Bears have made in the secondary to counter the Spartans' passing attack.

Running Backs

Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Rk Player Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
1 Jeremy Langford 249 1360 5.5 19 9 55 6.1 0 258 1415 5.5 19
2 Nick Hill 100 596 6.0 9 4 48 12.0 0 104 644 6.2 9
3 Delton Williams 54 316 5.9 5 2 27 13.5 0 56 343 6.1 5
4 R.J. Shelton 19 137 7.2 1 15 156 10.4 2 34 293 8.6 3
5 Keith Mumphrey 6 85 14.2 1 22 408 18.5 2 28 493 17.6 3
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CFB: View Original Table
Generated 12/27/2014.

Jeremy Langford is obviously the star of the backfield, amassing twice as many yards and nearly 2.5 times the carries as Nick Hill, the second back in the Spartans' backfield. Michigan State plays a physical style of football and relies upon the rushing attack to keep the ball out of the hands of its opponents; Langford is usually the man for the job. As Ian Boyd wrote in his excellent Cotton Bowl preview, the Spartans rushing attack utilizes the trap play to great effect, and produce many different looks to confuse defensive fronts. It will be one of the most interesting matchups of the game, and if Michigan State is able to establish their rushing attack early, this could be a long game for the Bears. If you haven't, I highly recommend checking out Boyd's preview linked above. It's worth your time.

Receivers

Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Rk Player Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
1 Tony Lippett 1 32 32.0 1 60 1124 18.7 11 61 1156 19.0 12
2 Keith Mumphrey 6 85 14.2 1 22 408 18.5 2 28 493 17.6 3
3 Macgarrett Kings Jr. 11 67 6.1 0 26 385 14.8 1 37 452 12.2 1
4 Josiah Price 23 347 15.1 5 23 347 15.1 5
5 Aaron Burbridge 8 39 4.9 0 25 301 12.0 1 33 340 10.3 1
6 A.J. Troup 7 113 16.1 2 7 113 16.1 2
7 Monty Madaris 5 56 11.2 0 5 56 11.2 0
8 Jamal Lyles 4 53 13.3 0 4 53 13.3 0
9 Andre Sims Jr. 3 26 8.7 0 3 26 8.7 0
10 Tres Barksdale 2 16 8.0 0 2 16 8.0 0
11 Andrew Gleichert 1 12 12.0 0 1 12 12.0 0
12 Trevon Pendleton 1 2 2.0 0 1 2 2.0 0
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CFB: View Original Table
Generated 12/28/2014.

Like with the rushing attack, the passing game has a primary target that Connor Cook favors more than any other: Tony Lippett. The 6'3" 185-pound receiver is arguably the best in the Big 10, and has nearly three times the catches and yards as the Spartans' second receiver. While Michigan State has four other receivers with over 20 catches on the season, Lippett is the preferred target of Cook and will have to be the thing that keeps Michigan State in the game if the flow and style of the game turns in Baylor's favor. You very well may see Lippett targeted early on to throw the Bears defense off and open up some of those running lanes for Langford. This approach would not surprise me at all, given the recent struggles of the Baylor secondary. Though their stable of weapons does not appear as deep as the Bears', make no mistake: This is an extremely talented, big offense that will challenge Phil Bennett's defense.

Michigan State 2014 Team Stats and Rankings

Statistic National
Rank
Conference
Rank
Value National Leader Value Conference
Leader
Value
3rd Down Conv. % 9 2 0.483 Georgia Tech 0.570 Ohio St. 0.515
3rd Down Defense 8 4 0.305 Wisconsin 0.281 Wisconsin 0.281
4th Down Conv. % 38 5 0.571 Georgia
Missouri
0.857
0.857
Minnesota 0.778
4th Down Defense 50 8 0.500 Arkansas
Purdue
0.222
0.222
Purdue 0.222
Blocked Kicks 66 10 1 6 teams tied 6 Northwestern
Nebraska
Rutgers
6
6
6
Blocked Kicks Allowed 1 1 0 30 teams tied 0 Wisconsin
Indiana
Michigan St.
0
0
0
Blocked Punts Nebraska 4 Nebraska 4
Blocked Punts Allowed 1 1 0 82 teams tied 0 7 teams tied 0
Completion Percentage 56 4 0.592 UCLA 0.696 Ohio St. 0.643
Defensive TDs 27 3 3 Washington 7 Ohio St. 5
Fewest Penalties 56 9 73 Navy 33 Michigan
Iowa
42
42
Fewest Penalties/Gm 67 13 6.08 Navy 2.54 Michigan
Iowa
3.50
3.50
Fewest Penalty Yards 75 13 679 Navy 322 Iowa 347
Fewest Penalty YPG 82 13 56.58 Navy 24.77 Iowa 28.92
First Downs Defense 2 1 174 Clemson 168 Michigan St. 174
First Downs Offense 31 2 292 Marshall
Baylor
366
366
Ohio St. 335
Fumbles Lost 20 1 6 Boston College
Missouri
UNLV
3
3
3
Michigan St. 6
Fumbles Recovered 4 1 16 FIU
Temple
19
19
Michigan St. 16
Kickoff Return Defense 105 11 22.82 UConn 15.49 Iowa 16.29
Kickoff Returns 13 1 24.06 UAB 28.15 Michigan St. 24.06
Net Punting 98 6 35.51 Idaho 43.45 Ohio St. 41.31
Interceptions Thrown 18 2 7 Oregon
Army
2
2
Iowa 6
Passes Intercepted 11 2 17 Louisiana Tech 26 Ohio St. 21
Passing Offense 38 1 261.6 Washington St. 477.7 Michigan St. 261.6
Passing Yards Allowed 24 6 196.0 San Jose St. 117.8 Wisconsin 164.3
Passing Yds/Cplt 8 3 14.81 Georgia Tech 17.75 Minnesota 15.02
Punt Return Defense 106 10 10.82 TCU -1.00 Penn St. 4.48
Punt Returns 100 12 5.52 Stanford 18.29 Nebraska 15.90
Red Zone Defense 86 9 0.852 Mississippi St. 0.600 Northwestern 0.771
Red Zone Offense 37 6 0.869 North Texas 0.943 Maryland 0.909
Rushing Defense 4 1 97.5 Alabama 88.7 Michigan St. 97.5
Rushing Offense 22 5 234.9 Navy 338.1 Wisconsin 314.0
Sacks Allowed 3 1 0.83 Oklahoma 0.67 Michigan St. 0.83
Scoring Defense 14 2 19.9 Ole Miss 13.8 Penn St. 18.6
Scoring Offense 7 2 43.1 Baylor 48.8 Ohio St. 45.2
Tackles for Loss Allowed 6 1 4.17 Duke 3.15 Michigan St. 4.17
Team Passing Efficiency 18 2 151.08 Oregon 185.34 Ohio St. 172.36
Team Passing Defense 3 2 102.93 LSU 98.70 Penn St. 101.14
Team Sacks 10 1 3.08 Utah 4.23 Michigan St. 3.08
Team Tackles for Loss 54 8 6.1 Clemson 10.2 Ohio St. 7.7
Time of Possession 1 1 35:14 Michigan St. 35:14 Michigan St. 35:14
Total Defense 6 3 293.5 Clemson 259.6 Penn St. 278.7
Total Offense 12 2 496.5 Baylor 581.3 Ohio St. 507.6
Turnover Margin 1 1 1.67 Michigan St. 1.67 Michigan St. 1.67
Turnovers Gained 3 1 33 Louisiana Tech 42 Michigan St. 33
Turnovers Lost 10 1 13 Oregon 8 Michigan St. 13
Winning Percentage 9 2 0.833 Florida St. 1.000 Ohio St. 0.923

It's Question Time!

  • FIRST: What questions about the Michigan State Spartans do you have for us? The Spartans SB Nation Blog is looking for a new manager, but we'll find someone who knows the answers to your questions.
  • SECOND: Agree/Disagree: Michigan State is the best possible opponent for Baylor to make a statement that they belonged in the College Football Playoff over Ohio State. Give your why.
  • THIRD: With Kendal Briles officially named the Offensive Coordinator and calling the plays, what do you hope see from him from the Cotton Bowl?
  • FOURTH: What was the best Baylor-themed gift you gave/received/observed during your Christmas holiday?
  • FIFTH: If Bryce Petty is to be believed, the Bears are wearing their Chrome helmets for the Cotton Bowl. Give us your prediction for the remainder of the uniform.
  • SIXTH: Just how turnt are you for the Cotton Bowl, after what seems like an eternity since the Bears defeated K-State on December 6th? Show me your favorite turnt gifs. Or your second favorite turnt gif. Or another gif. Show me gifs.