East Lansing – The numbers the Baylor offense puts up are scary enough all by themselves.
The Bears lead the nation in scoring at 48.8 points a game and in total offense with 581.3 yards a game. It's the second straight season they have done that and they are just one of two teams since 2011 to rank in the top five in total offense.
The other? Oregon.
And Michigan State knows plenty about the Ducks, having faced them the second week of the season, losing 46-27 after holding the lead midway through the second quarter. On that day in Eugene, Ore., a Michigan State defense featuring six new starters played well for the most part, but ran out of gas late and saw the Ducks score 28 straight points, most directly related to the play of quarterback Marcus Mariota and a handful of missed assignments.
But the Spartans insist this time around in the Cotton Bowl, against a similar offense that will pressure defenses by moving at a fast pace, they will be better prepared.
"Experience is the best teacher, obviously," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Kids come out of that game and you say, 'Guys, we played a good first half,' and we had eight three‑and‑outs in that game. So, I think our guys are better educated on what you need to do."
Michigan State had its moments against Oregon, as Narduzzi pointed out. It actually forced seven three-and-outs and held the Ducks to just 6-for-16 on third-down conversions. But it also gave up its share of big plays – Oregon scored on pass plays of 70, 37 and 24 yards and had a 38-yard touchdown run – and seemed to wear out late in the game.
That fatigue certainly had something to do with temperatures being above 90 degrees, but it was just as much about the fact Oregon doesn't waste any time getting the play off.
However, that will seem like a slow pace on Jan. 1 when the Spartans face the Bears.
"We've got them snapping the ball anywhere between 10 and 17 seconds on normal downs," Narduzzi said. "Oregon was not that fast. Oregon was in the 22s. … This is the fastest team that we've seen. Probably compared to an Indiana two years ago when we played and got surprised in that first half. Like, we didn't practice this fast. We were practicing at warp speed right now, even in individual doing drills. So our kids will be conditioned for it. That's what I think makes it."
It will certainly test a unit that will be trying to find ways to get as many players in the game as it can and utilize its depth.
"It is going to be very important," defensive tackle Lawrence Thomas said. "We practice that a lot and … we need to have guys fresh and ready to come in. Our substitutions are going to be very important for us and all guys are going to have to come ready to play."
Keeping that offense clicking is another dynamic quarterback. Though Baylor senior Bryce Petty might not be at the level of Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner, he's no slouch.
Petty is in the top 20 in the nation in passing (eighth with 300.5 ypg), passing efficiency (11th at 155.3) and passing touchdowns (17th with 26).
"He's a great player," Narduzzi said. "Quick release as a quarterback, he doesn't step into his throws, but he doesn't need to. He's throwing balls and puts it on the money. That Kansas State game, I don't think that kid threw an incomplete pass the entire game, which is incredible. He's a great quarterback. And one of the top ones in the country, really, when you look at what they do there and how they've done it."
The common theme in Michigan State's two losses this year is quarterback play. Mariota had a huge game in Oregon's victory and J.T. Barrett was nearly perfect in Ohio State's win at Spartan Stadium in early November.
So not only will Michigan State be attempting to get a win over a highly ranked opponent for the first time this season, it will have to figure out a way to stop an outstanding quarterback.
"It is exciting," defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. "They have a great offense and great team, so the biggest thing is stopping and containing their quarterback. It is great competition to get me prepared for next season. … It will be nice for the program and a strong effort for our defense to get prepared for that."
Baylor vs. Michigan State
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. Jan. 1, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Records: No. 5 Baylor 11-1, No. 8 Michigan State 10-2
Line: Baylor by 3
Series: Michigan State leads 1-0 (Michigan State 28-10, Sept. 28, 1968)
Outlook: Michigan State is making its school-record eighth straight bowl appearance.
Tickets: Available at msuspartans.com or by calling (800) GO-STATE or (517) 355-1610.