All the talking by players, coaches and media have made the rounds. The Michigan State Spartans enter the 80th Cotton Bowl Classic as an underdog and they don’t have a problem with it. In fact, they are embracing it like they always do.
But what are the keys to a Spartans victory?
Here are five things Michigan State must be able to do if they want to win their second Cotton Bowl of the year and earn the right to play either Clemson or Oklahoma for the national championship.
KEY ONE: Stay with what got you here.
Everyone knows Michigan State got here by playing better than average defense and controlling the clock and ball. The Spartans on offense must not try and get too fancy. They must mix up their play calling to keep Alabama off balance. On defense get the front four in the game and let linebackers fly and make plays.
KEY TWO: Pound on Bama running back Derrick Henry.
Henry is known for dishing out punishment from his running back spot. His physical size has given him the advantage and he’s taken full advantage of it on his way to winning Heisman Trophy. In the Cotton Bowl, MSU must play hard-nosed Big Ten physical football and take the hammer to Henry.
KEY THREE: Pressure Bama quarterback Jake Coker all night long.
Coker is a game manager much like AJ McCarron was during his time behind center for the Crimson Tide. But when pressured, Coker has shown he can be rattled and forced to make mistakes. It is our opinion that while most fans will be watching the play of defensive end Shilique Calhoun, defensive tackle Malik McDowell is the key to this pressure with his play against center Ryan Kelly.
KEY FOUR: Protect Connor Cook at all cost.
The biggest key to a MSU victory is the play of fifth-year senior Connor Cook. How healthy is Cook? He was seen in B-roll film to still be wearing the brace on his shoulder. Is this just a precaution? Cook looked no more than 70% healthy in the Big Ten Championship game. Has the past 25 days given Cook the time to be 100%? While Tyler O’Connor was able to guide the Spartans to a win over Ohio State, we don’t see an O’Connor led Spartan offense capable of doing this against Bama. So the Spartans offensive line must be at it’s best of the season to keep Cook from taking unnecessary hits to any part of his body.
KEY FIVE: Get at least three running backs in the rotation.
There is no clear cut top running back for the Spartans. With four backs capable of making plays, it is important for at least three of them to get some carries early in the game. We spoke with former Spartan Javon Ringer on our flight to Dallas, he said he really feels Madre London has the tools to be a special player. London should be totally healthy for the first time since the start of the season and should see more carries in hopes of using his speed, balance and power to be a difference maker. Gerald Holmes needs to get his carries as does L.J. Scott the hero from the Big Ten title game.
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