Decompressing through bulletpoints:
- First off, that's a very, very good Alabama team. This was the team picked by the large majority of pundits to repeat as national champions before the season began. The Tide's plethora of NFL talent was featured throughout the game. Coming off a month of rest to get healthy, they were not going be denied. Very few teams in the country would not have succumbed to Nick Saban's squad today.
- Still, a team that wins 7 games in a power conference should be able to at least stay on the field against even a very good bowl opponent. MSU didn't do that, in some cases literally, as the thunderous hits leveled by the Alabama defenders knocked multiple Spartans out of the game. You can't really say MSU came in unprepared. The defense came out playing aggressively, making some very solid tackles on the first Alabama drive, and the offense moved the ball into Tide territory on both its first two drives. When MSU errors nevertheless turned all that into a 14-0 deficit, though, things snowballed fast, and the game was over before it really even started.
- The error on the opening Alabama drive was a pass interference call on Chris L. Rucker on a third-and-long play. It was a tough call, as both players were bumping each other going down the field, But Rucker, playing in the final game of his senior season, simply can't reach out and grab Julio Jones. Jones probably wouldn't have caught the ball anyway (which is what made the hold so unnecessary), but the officials had to make the call, since the ball landed inbounds and the hold theoretically could have been difference in Jones getting to it.
- Officiating decision I'm not at all sympathetic toward: calling intentional grounding on Kirk Cousins for his failure to get the ball to his tight end because he was, you know, getting leveled by two separate Alabama defenders. It obviously didn't make any difference in the outcome, but that was quite literally adding insult to injury at that point in the game.
- Not a lot of sense in microanalyzing the statistics from a game like this one. The only number you really need to know regarding the offense: MSU posted 103 negative yards in the game, 45 on sacks and 48 on rushing plays. After the first two drives, the offensive line gave Cousins and the backs/receivers zero chance to create any kind of momentum. John Stipek's shotgun snapping was consistently bad throughout the game, giving Cousins one more thing to worry throughout the game. Meanwhile, D.J. Young failed to, well, block anyone. You hate to pick on a guy who came in as a walk-on because he wanted to play for the university so badly, but you simply can't let your starting quarterback--and then his back-up after the starter couldn't take bounce back another time--get absolutely hammered off the blindside on drive after drive. Bigger picture, I suppose the takeaway is that a team with BCS aspirations shouldn't have to rely on a former walk-on to start at left tackle. You certainly want all of your players to overachieve (Cousins went out his way to praise both Stipek and Young for the way they overachieved during their careers), but in this case an overachieving team puts itself in a position in which its talent deficit up front became a glaring/fatal flaw. [/excessively-lengthy bullet]
- Short bullet: Kirk Cousins does so many things right--and he certainly wasn't put in a position to succeed today--but he can't try to force that ball in on the opening drive. Take the 5 yards that were there on the scramble, kick the field goal, and it's 7-3.
- Things were almost as bad in terms of line play on the other side of the ball. The defensive line couldn't make plays all day, recording a total of 1.5 tackles for loss and just one quarterback hurry. Once the Alabama runners hit the second level, the MSU defensive backs were simply over-matched. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson didn't do major damage in terms of total yardage (101 yards on 22 carries), but they did score 3 pretty effortless TDs, and various other Alabama rushers helped get the team to 275 total rushing yards before the game was over. Against the pass, MSU couldn't generate any pass rush, allowing Greg McElroy to pick the secondary apart, completing 13 of 17 passes of 220 yards. When MSU tried blitzing to compensate for the lack of pass rush, McElroy dumped the ball off to receivers in the flat for easy first-down pick-ups.
- Add it all up, and the MSU defense didn't force the Alabama offense off the field until the point that the Tide's back-up quarterback entered the game. Mercifully, Nick Saban went to the back-up with almost 25 minutes still left in the game. It's not a good day when one of the major positive takeaways is that Nick Saban sure is a nice guy. (Weak attempt at anti-Saban zinger: This game was such a blowout that Saban could have put the guys on medical hardship scholarships in for the second half.)
- It's still an 11-2 season, which is more than any of us had hoped for going into the season. But today's game was about as bitter, unsatisfying, and embarrassing a way to end the season as you could conceive of. This team was defeated in every sense of the word. Even Mark Dantonio's jaw seemed to have lost its resolve by midway through the second quarter. Any thoughts of making a statement as a factor on the national stage now seem ridiculous, and we're left to worry about how much recruiting momentum this performance may have cost the program.
- In short: There's still a heckuva lot to be proud of from the 2010 Michigan State football season. It's just that, at the moment, it's hard to look back and see it through the part of the season that technically occurred in 2011.
*Hey, if they're going to affix themselves directly to the bowl's name, then they get to be affixed to the postgame rantings of the losing team's blog, too.