CFN Buffalo Wings Analysis - MSU 17, TCU 16
Posted Dec 30, 2012

CFN's thoughts and analysis on Michigan State's rally to beat TCU.

- Buffalo Wild Wings Michigan State 17, TCU 16

Led by a reserve quarterback, Michigan State marched 45 yards in eight plays, culminating in a 47-yard Dan Conroy field goal with 61 seconds remaining for the win. The MSU offense did next to nothing in the first half, but the defense was able to keep the game close allowing a Matthew Tucker four-yard touchdown run in the first and two Jaden Oberkron field goals in the second. The Spartan coaching staff decided to give backup quarterback Connor Cook more time, and the move paid off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Burbridge finally putting points on the board late in the third. A TCU turnover led to a Le'Veon Bell four-yard touchdown run and a 14-13 lead, but the Horned Frogs would rally getting a 53-yard Oberkron field goal with just under three minutes to play. It was just enough time for Cook and MSU to pull out the win.

Michigan State: The Spartan quarterbacks completed 11-of-27 passes for 104 yards. Andrew Maxwell completed 6-of-15 passes for 28 yards, while Connor Cook complete 4-of-11 passes for 47 yards and a score. … RB Le'Veon Bell ran 32 times for 145 yards and a touchdown, caught two passes for 13 yards, and completed a pass for 29 yards. … P Mike Sadler averaged 43.7 yards per kick on his 11 punts, putting three inside the 20. … DE William Gholston made nine tackles with a sack.

TCU: CB Jason Verrett made 12 tackles with two broken up passes and a tackle for loss. … DE Devonte Fields made four tackles with a sack. … QB Trevone Boykin completed 13-of-29 passes for 201 yards and a pick. He also led the team in rushing with 37 yards on 13 carries. … WR Josh Boyce caught five passes for 91 yards.

By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek

1) Wait, wasn't the Russell Athletic Bowl played on Friday and not Saturday? The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl was in many ways a replay of Rutgers-Virginia Tech.
Michigan State played the Virginia Tech role in the first half, looking like an offense that was going to get shut out. Then, however, a huge mistake changed the calculus. On Friday, Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova threw an interception that enabled Virginia Tech to score a tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. In this contest, a muffed punt by TCU return man Skye Dawson – who lost his balance just before touching the ball and didn't pull his hands away in time – enabled Michigan State to start on the Horned Frogs' 4-yard line. That gift opened the way for the Spartans to take a 14-13 lead in the final period. Michigan State looked utterly helpless and hopeless for the first 40 minutes of this game, as was the case with Virginia Tech against Rutgers. Yet, a tiny pinch of offense and a gigantic blunder by the opposition were able to change the calculus.

The severity of reversals in this bowl season – ask Duke, Minnesota, Rutgers, Oregon State, Air Force, and now TCU – has been dizzying. On this night, Michigan State – shut out in the first half of a bowl for the third straight time – was able to stage a comeback even more improbable than its jawdropping effort against Georgia in the 2012 (January) Outback Bowl. This sport can be insane sometimes.

2) As was the case with the Oregon State-Texas endgame, don't allow a wacky fourth quarter to change the big picture realities for these two teams: Michigan State, precisely because of the inability of Andrew Maxwell to do much of anything after a month of game preparation, has a full-fledged quarterback controversy on its hands in 2013. The Spartans cannot feel good about their offense next season. Connor Cook did make some meaningful contributions in this game, but he did not get many in-game reps this past season; Maxwell did. If Cook is the answer, he's not likely to round into form until the middle of October. Le'Veon Bell is almost certain to go to the NFL, so Michigan State is likely to be noticeably thin on offense. Don't let this victory lead you to overvalue the Spartans in 2013.

3) Flowing from the point above, don't allow this stomach-punch loss to make you think less of TCU. This was a one-off year for the Horned Frogs because of all the suspensions, injuries, and off-field problems Gary Patterson's program endured. It's a big if, but IF Casey Pachall gets his life in order and is holistically (mentally, spiritually, physically) ready to be a quarterback and leader for the Frogs, 2013 should be a big year. TCU will return most of its high-impact players. Its defense competed well this season, and it made a bowl game in a year when so many things went wrong. This collapse was ugly, but TCU never did play with its desired starting 22 in 2012. It will be back.

4) With TCU leading by a 13-7 score early in the fourth quarter, Michigan State's Connor Cook threw a pass out of bounds from the end zone. Remember that hash marks do not appear in the end zone, which can make it difficult to determine if a quarterback is in the pocket or not. The play originated near the right-side hashmark on the field. Replays showed that Cook did not drift more than three yards from the hashmarks, keeping him inside the tackle box. A safety should have been ruled on the play, but it wasn't. In a one-point game, yeah, that kind of call matters.

By Phil Harrison
Follow me @PhilHarrisonCFN

-The hits just keep coming in these earlier bowls. Another nail-biter, another game that deserves popcorn and 3-D glasses. If you weren't a fan of college football before this bowl season, there have been plenty of opportunities for you to come over to the dark-side. It's the original form of reality television with high drama. You simply can't make this stuff up.

- If you are a football purest that hates the laser-light show offenses that have become the norm in college football, you had to love this old-time defensive battle. The offenses on both sidelines broke more than a healthy sweat tonight.

- Finally, mercifully, the Spartans were finally able to polish off a close ballgame. To date, they had lost five games by a combined thirteen points by not being able to make enough plays on offense to go with a great defense. Oh, what could have been...

- This bowl season is the Big Ten's last chance to make an impression. The non-conference season was uglier than a muddy turd, and the third place team in the Leaders Division blew the doors off the champion of the Legends Division because OSU and Penn State were ineligible. So far so good with Minnesota's surprise showing against Texas Tech--and now this win by the Spartans. There's still plenty of games in which the beleaguered league is playing the role of underdog, so opportunity will continue to knock.

- Just how good is LeVeon Bell? He's not the quickest or most allusive back you'll find, but he just continues to pile up yards. Without him grinding out 145 yards on 32 carries, Michigan State is burnt toast in this one. Passed over by many big-time programs, Sparty has found itself one whale of a back that has yet another year to torment the Big Ten.

- The first season in the Big Twelve is now in the books for TCU and it's apparent that there's some slight catching up to do. The defense is just fine, but the Horned Frogs have not been able to match the high-flying offenses that come knocking on the door every week in the neighborhood. It'll be interesting to see if Gary Patterson tries to fold into the culture of the league, or impose TCU's culture on the Big Twelve.

By Terry Johnson
Follow me @TPJCollFootball

Kudos to Michigan State for giving the Big Ten a much needed bowl victory.

Give Mark Dantonio credit for not holding anything back. Le'Veon Bell's pass out of the Wildcat formation completely changed the complexion of this contest, convincing the Spartans that they could win the game.

While it ultimately worked out for the Spartans, it's curious that MSU turned to backup Connor Cook for the decisive drive. After all, Cook had completed just two of his seven passes at that point, and had attempted only six passes all season prior to tonight.

After Cook's heroics today, it will be interesting to see the QB situation play itself out next season, especially if Bell opts to enter the NFL Draft.

Yes, it's highly likely that Bell has played his last collegiate game. After shredding the Big 12's best defense for 145 yards, he doesn't have anything more to prove at this level.

Why did the TCU offense take its foot off the gas pedal after taking a 13-point lead? Sure, the Horned Frogs were playing outstanding defense in the first half, but as a member of the Big 12, Gary Patterson should have learned that no lead is ever safe.

Look for TCU to rebound with a big season next year. Patterson has lost six games in a season twice in his career, and each time he posted double digit wins the following year. With Travone Boykin, BJ Catalon, and Devonte Fields returning, including there's no reason to believe that the Horned Frogs won't follow suit.

By Bart Doan
Follow me @Bart_cfn

Apparently, in the last three minutes of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, someone reminded the kickers that the loser had to drink an ice tub full of Blazin' wings sauce.

For whatever reason, for the second straight year, Michigan State woke up awfully sharp again in the second half of a bowl game. Mothball those speeches, Coach Dantonio. Limp, listless, and scoreless in the first half, Sparty woke up at the time when you need to do so.

Folks will point to the muffed punt in the fourth quarter that gave Le'Veon Bell an easy score with under seven minutes left as the real difference, and it was huge, but the game was really won when mediocre teams don't make plays, and good ones do. That was a drive with TCU sniffing blood off of a pretty much gifted 53-yard field goal, considering the moribund play calling that forced it to that issue.

Mark Dantonio did what good coaches do, and made a call to impact the win or the loss. He tossed Connor Cook in the game over incumbent starter Andrew Maxwell and while Cook didn't exactly pull his best Tom Brady, his 26 yards passing deep in MSU territory helped get the Spartans out of a jam. After that, it was hand off to Bell, and genuflect that the field goal would go through the uprights.

The game itself was a portrait of bad offense or good defense, depending on how glass-half-empty or full you prefer. With TCU nursing an opportunity with over a minute to go, with a hot field goal kicker, their defensive line was destroyed. Same as they were the previous possession when they needed to make it something, anything easier than a 53-yard field goal to take a lead. Same for Michigan State, en route to gaining nothing or losing yards on both plays trying to get Conroy into better position.
Again, and if you feel like this is a broken record, please, snap it over your knee was a competitive bowl game in a season mostly rife with them, and worth a watch. Remember, in two months we'll be begging for a few several-loss teams to play one another in a bowl game sponsored by chicken wings.