Previewing MSU vs. TCU

Al Messerschmidt

What to watch for in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Game Date/Time: Dec. 29/10:15 p.m. ET
Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz. (Capacity: 71,706)
TV: ESPN (Broadcasters: Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe)
Online Streaming: WatchESPN.com
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
Forecast: 64 degrees/partly cloudy in the day, 44 degrees/partly cloudy by night. (A beautiful day for football!)
Opponent blog: Frogs O' War
Game week Q&A: Here
Line: TCU -3
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The 6-6 Spartans will play in their sixth straight bowl game — a program record. Although it was a disappointing regular season, facing TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is an opportunity to finish with momentum and earn back respect against a team that won the Rose Bowl two years ago.

MSU is 1-4 in bowl games under Mark Dantonio. You may remember the last one.

TCU's season (7-5, 4-5): W 56-0 vs. Grambling State, W 20-6 at Kansas, W 27-7 vs. Virginia, W 24-16 at SMU, L 37-23 vs. Iowa State, W 49-21 at Baylor, L 56-53 (3OT) vs. Texas Tech, L 36-14 at Oklahoma State, W 39-28 (2OT) at West Virginia, L 23-10 vs. Kansas State, W 20-13 at Texas, L 24-17 vs. Oklahoma

By the numbers:

157.5: Rushing yards per game for TCU, which was eighth in the Big 12

99.6: Rush yards allowed per game for MSU, which led the Big Ten.

239.5: Pass yards per game for TCU, which was seventh in the Big 12.

173.7: Pass yards allowed per game for MSU, which was third in the Big Ten.

151.6: Rush yards per game for MSU, which was seventh in the Big Ten.

103.9: Rush yards allowed per game for TCU, which led the Big 12.

218.8: Pass yards per game for MSU, which was fourth in the Big Ten.

228.1: Pass yards allowed per game for TCU, which was fourth in the Big 12.

9.0: Sacks for TCU DE Devonte Fields, who led the Big 12 with 17.5 tackles for loss.

27: Giveaways for TCU, which led the Big 12. But the Frogs also had a Big 12-high 32 takeaways.

25: Sacks allowed by TCU, which was the second-most in the Big 12 (despite being 7th in pass attempts)
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If you can't tell, these teams are near mirror-images of each other when it comes to the play on the field. Like, it's crazy. One of the worst offenses in its conference with one of the best defenses. Because of that, these teams will have the same three keys to victory.

Keys for both teams:

Run the ball: They may not be all too effective at it, but both teams would rather run the ball than throw it. Le'Veon Bell is third in the nation in rushing yards per game, and he reportedly has lost a bit of weight. That's likely for the combine, but he could have a little more speed. It will be interesting to see how that affects his play. On the other side, Matthew Tucker is finally 100 percent, and while his yardage is low, he leads the team with five rushing TDs.

Win first down: As mentioned above, these teams would rather run the ball than throw it. They also have very aggressive defenses that rack up the TFLs. Although MSU's sack and negative play numbers are down from a year ago, the pressure is still going to come. Putting the opponent in 2nd- and 3rd-and-longs will go a long way for two of the best defenses in the country. Unfortunately for MSU, the likely absence of Johnny Adams could affect if they use the corner blitz at all.

Turnovers: In a game that most expect to be ugly and low-scoring, a turnover or two in a bad spot could be the difference. Adams is coming off a two-interception game at Minnesota, and although he's been beat deep a few times this year, he's one of the top playmaking corners in the conference. With Mitchell White likely replacing him, MSU might be attacked at that spot. On the other side, TCU bloggers tell us the Frogs are having trouble catching punts.

Prediction: 16-13 MSU

I know it's cliche to say this will be low-scoring, but I really just can't see it going any other way. Remember last year? There were two offensive touchdowns through three quarters against Georgia (along with a INT return TD, a punt return TD and a safety). It certainly was exciting, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime, but most of that game was suffocating. I think that happens again Saturday — minus the talented offensive players in that one.

A TCU blogger told me the Frogs have been beat by a fake punt for a first down in three straight bowls, so expect a trick play or two from MSU (as usual in bowl games).

Because MSU is playing in this game, it will be close and probably come down to the final minutes. How about Dan Conroy finishing his career strong with a game-winning field goal?

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