Henning: Alabama over MSU is open-and-shut case

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Dallas — No matter how lawyerly of a case you might build for Michigan State as it prepped to play Alabama in this year’s Cotton Bowl showdown, the other side had a better closing argument.

’Bama had better front-line talent and more depth than the Spartans, even before Thursday night’s national semifinal showdown at AT&T Stadium proved, painfully for East Lansing’s crowd, how great that disparity truly was.

’Bama had a landmark coach, Nick Saban, who carried into Thursday night’s duel some flavorful personal history at MSU as well as four past national championship trophies. He is now one game from hoisting his fifth, and fourth with the Crimson Tide.

The Spartans couldn’t match Alabama in anything Thursday, except perhaps, marching band grandeur, as Saban’s team smashed MSU and its national title visions with a 38-0 demolition, witnessed by 82,812 who will tell you this was an open-and-shut case for the Crimson Tide.

Everything was upside-down for Spartans coach Mark Dantonio and a Michigan State team that finishes 2015 with a 12-2 record and with some horrific gashes imposed by Saban’s team.

MSU quarterback Connor Cook was supposed to have been a certified edge against ’Bama and its comparatively modest pilot, Jake Coker.

But it was Coker who threw the football as if another old ’Bama gunslinger, Joe Namath, had returned after a 51-year hiatus. Coker finished the night with colossal numbers: 286 yards, thanks to 25-of-30 on his passing forays. He essentially gutted the Spartans’ supposedly merciless defense.

Cook? He was 17 of 34 for 186 yards. If any play proved that this was going to be a night closer to a debacle than anything delightful for the Spartans, it was his pass into the end zone’s left corner, just before halftime. It was supposed to have settled into Aaron Burbridge’s hands for a touchdown that might have chopped Alabama’s then-innocent 10-0 lead to perhaps 10-7.

But on an evening Cook slogged through his worst game in a Spartans uniform, Cook’s pass was instead pilfered by Cyrus Jones. No points. No chance at a comeback, not the way Saban’s gang was playing and punishing Dantonio & Co. on a New Year’s Eve that was no party for Michigan State.

The second half was an excuse for all those people who decided to stay home and watch football Thursday to instead make an 11 p.m. dinner reservation.

There was a 57-yard punt return for a ’Bama touchdown. There was a 50-yard TD pass that initiated, and capped, a one-play scoring drive.

Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy honoree, did his part, scoring a pair of touchdowns and prancing for 75 yards on 22 carries. He wasn’t quite the show some anticipated, in part due to MSU’s heavyweights up front, but more because Alabama’s overall power and prime-time performers made him, well, just another superb football player dressed New Year’s Eve in crimson and white.

Dantonio’s team had lost to Saban’s guys five years ago, 49-7, in the Capital One Bowl.

This time, MSU’s coach said — with absolute evidence — the Spartans were different. They were more grown-up. Far more talented. Far better-equipped to play Saban’s guys.

True, perhaps. What wasn’t factored, perhaps, was that Alabama, as well, has done a bit of muscle-enhancement since that time.

It resulted, Thursday night, in a verdict any jury would have agreed upon, unanimously.

The Crimson Tide is looking like another national title is heading its way. The Spartans instead will head home for reflection and reconstruction, building a better case for true championship hopes than were evident Thursday night in Dallas.