From The Other Side: Michigan State

Each week, BearsIllustrated.com will dig deeper into the opponent by interviewing a media member from the opposing team. This week Michael Wilson from Sparton Digest helps us learn more about the Michigan State Spartans.

With the Cotton Bowl tomorrow, BearsIllustrated caught up with Michael Wilson of Spartan Digest to answer some questions on Michigan State and how they match-up with the Baylor Bears.

1. Michigan State is know for their defense, but it seems the offense has stepped up this year. What has happened or changed that has allowed the offense to improve so much?

I think it began sometime in the early months of last season -- probably early October. With Connor Cook cemented as quarterback, everything started to fall into place. This season, that success just took off to another level. Senior Tony Lippett emerged early as a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver and has been steady all season. Senior running back Jeremy Langford also is steady and seems to always run for at least 100 yards per game. But it is the chemistry as much as anything, as the only loss at a skill position was one wide receiver from last year. So this group has played a lot of football together now.

2. With the improved offense, how has Connor Cook evolved this year in to one of the top QBs in the country?

Cook continued what he started last year when he was named the starter, but I think he has taken his game to levels that were not ever expected when he first won the battle last September. He is just one of those guys that seems to make plays when you need him to and has made more and more NFL-caliber throws this season. He has a solid arm, with good accuracy -- but will make a couple throws a game that are head scratchers.

3. How do the losses to Oregon and Ohio State help in the preparation for Baylor, defensively?

I think they help some, but the players have insisted this offense is better than the aforementioned teams, especially in tempo. Still, I think playing an Oregon, in particular, can only do good things for being prepared for another explosive team in Baylor. Unfortunately, the lessons learned came in losses for Michigan State. But I think the lessons in terms of needing to be sharp at the line against a quick tempo and knowing a missed tackle means a home run probably have set in.

4. Additionally, with Pat Narduzzi taking the Pitt job last week, has that had any affect on the teams mindset heading in to Thursday's matchup?

I don't think it has been too much of an impact and the reason would be that it has been expected for such a long time now that Narduzzi would be leaving. It has been more of a "when" than an "if." But to an extent, I'm sure there have been moments where his absence has been noticeable and could have changed the dynamic of a practice. Now that he is back and will be with the team for the game, I think that is diminished.

5. How do you see the defense attacking Baylor's offense? And how do you see the offense attacking Baylor's defense?

Defensively, Michigan State really is set in its ways. The game plan is run out of the base defense for the majority of it. You will see cornerbacks on islands against receivers, safeties in the box and plenty of zone blitzes -- especially from linebackers. I think what will be most interesting defensively for Michigan State in this one is how it handles rotation and subs because -- despite what they insist -- late against Oregon, it looked like a worn down team. ensue. Their goal in this one, though, will be to slow down Baylor and have a say on the pace and tempo.On offense, it is a similar thing where Michigan State is pretty consistent in what it does. It's a downhill running team that will look to have great balance in the offense. I do think this is a game where clock management is going to be very important for the Spartans. The less than Baylor has the ball the better. So run the ball, complete passes, take calculated shots downfield.

6. The Cotton Bowl is shaping up to be an excellent battle between two great teams. How do you see Michigan State handling what essentially amounts to be a home game for Baylor, and how do you see the game playing out?

I have picked Baylor in this one from the beginning. Whether it will be an added chip on being left out of the playoff, it basically being a home game or just being another really tough matchup for the Michigan State defense, I just think the Bears have more. I expect the Spartans to struggle to stop Baylor just like they did against Oregon and Ohio State. The one thing that really could swing it for MSU is forcing turnovers -- something they did not do well defensively in either of those losses.


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