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3-2-1 Preview: 3 Key Stats, 2 Things We Want To See and 1 Best Bet for Michigan State’s Peach Bowl showdown vs. Pittsburgh

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Last call to fade our disastrous “Best Bet” section

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Michigan State at Ohio State Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

*Knock on every piece of wood available*

IT’S GAME WEEK, EVERYONE!

Before getting into the final edition of the “3-2-1 Preview” I just want to thank you for another year of reading these little pre-game blogs! Now find yourself your drink of choice for the game, crack one open and enjoy the rundown before our Michigan State Spartans duke it out with the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

3 Key Stats

2.7 yards per carry

It’s going to be a tall task for whoever gets the lion’s share of carries against a Pittsburgh defense that is holding opponents to a ACC-best 2.7 yards per carry.

The Panthers stifled Sean Tucker and Syracuse’s run game to 0.8 yards per carry. The unit jammed North Carolina — the ACC’s best running offense — to just 2.3 yards per carry. Virginia Tech’s solid running game was held to just 3.2 yards per carry.

Whether Jordon Simmons takes back his spot in the pecking order or Elijah Collins jumped to the top, or Harold Joiner III gets some run, someone is going to have to have a decent game. I imagine it’ll be a “by committee” ordeal, but if someone can give MSU just 70 percent of what Kenneth Walker III (who has opted out of the Peach Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft) could bring, that would be superb. Easier said than done, though.

17

That’s the amount of receiving touchdown the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner, wide receiver Jordan Addison, had for Pitt, which was tied for best in the nation. Oh yeah, and he also had the nation’s third-most receiving yards with 1,479.

Clearly, this guy can do it all. You don’t rack up those numbers by being a one-trick pony. He can beat you deep. He can burn you on crossing routes. He’s got sticky tack hands. He runs routes like he’s got GPS programmed inside his legs. At just 6-feet tall, he’s not the most physically-imposing, but he can get it done — kind of reminds me of Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson...which is scary to me. Then again, any decent receiver scares me this year.

(insert Pittsburgh third and fourth down stats here)

I couldn’t settle on just one, because Pitt has four categories we need to run through right now...

  • 46.1 percent third-down conversion rate on offense (second-best in the ACC)
  • 65.2 percent fourth-down conversion rate (second-best in the ACC)
  • 31.9 percent opponent third-down conversion rate (second-best in the ACC)
  • 19 percent opponent fourth-down conversion rate (best in the ACC and the whole country)

Had to save the best for last there. That third down opponent percentage is also top-10 in the nation as well.

Michigan State’s offense converts at a 39 percent clip on third down, which is slightly below average in the nation. On the contrary, MSU is actually in the top-15 in the nation at fourth-down conversions at a nice 69 percent.

Still, it’s crazy how much of a knack Pitt has at getting teams off of the field. That 19 percent opponent fourth-down conversion clip is damn impressive when you also factor in that the Panthers have seen 21 attempts on fourth down — that’s not some fluky number skewed by teams rarely going for it.

2 THINGS WE WANT TO SEE

Michigan State Winning “The Red Zone Battles”

Now, of course it’s always nice to convert in the red zone. However, emphasis is made on this because it’s not as easy against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Actually, it’s funny (or not, I’ll let you decide): Pitt’s defense has some tendencies like Michigan State in the sense that it nets out as a “bend-don’t-break” style. Pitt gives up a healthy amount of yards through the air (257.4 — third worst in the ACC), but yet does a solid job at battening down the hatches once teams reach the red zone (77.3 percent scoring rate — 31st-best in the country).

On the flip side, it goes without saying that MSU’s defense needs to hold Pittsburgh to field goals. Pitt scored on 88.1 percent of its red zone trips, but without quarterback Kenny Pickett, it’s tough to put too much stock into that stat. STAY TUNED TO FIND OUT HOW IT GOES WITH THEIR BACKUP (Nick Patti)!

A little “something” for next season

This bowl game is just as much about what’s on the horizon for next season as much as it is a coronation of what this season has been.

Can the running game give us assurance that there won’t be a meteoric drop-off after The Kenneth Walker Era is done? Can some young gun wide receivers like Keon Coleman or Montorie Foster get some chances to show they’re ready to fill in for Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor should either leave for the NFL? Will true freshman linebacker Ma’a Gaoteote make a statement that he’s in the running to crack the linebacker rotation next season?

There are a handful of storylines for next season I’m missing, but you get the point. What better time to start thinking about next season than in the one we are still enjoying?

1 BEST BET

MSU -2.5, over/under 56

This line has been all over the place, from Michigan State opening as 4.5-point underdogs to now as 2.5-point favorites. Go ahead and mark me down for one of those people following that trend, because I will take that “Kenneth Walker-for-Kenny Pickett missing the game” trade every single time.

After two great years in the “1 Best Bet” section of this blog series, this year has been a disaster. If MSU loses this game, just blame me for jinxing them with this pick...

Pick: MSU -2.5

Record: 3-8-1