MSU-Baylor: Matt Charboneau breaks down Cotton Bowl

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News


Matchup: No. 8 Michigan State Spartans (10-2) vs. No. 5 Baylor Bears (11-1)

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. Thursday, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV/radio: ESPN/WJR

Line: Baylor by 2.5

Series: Michigan State leads 1-0 (28-10 victory at Spartan Stadium in 1968)


MSU run game vs. Baylor run defense

Michigan State is one of the more balanced offenses in the nation, but the Spartans will always look to establish the run. They have the benefit of running behind an offensive line that has developed into one of coach Mark Dantonio's best, led by center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin, both first-team All-Big Ten performers. And it doesn't hurt handing the ball to senior Jeremy Langford, who 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns and has run for 100 yards or more in 16 straight games against Big Ten opponents. But Baylor is no slouch on the other side of the ball, leading the Big 12 in rushing defense by allowing 107.7 yards a game and not giving up a 100-yard rusher all season. Middle linebacker Bryce Hager leads the Bears with 8.4 tackles a game and has 72 stops over last seven games. Edge: Even

MSU passing game vs. Baylor pass defense

Connor Cook has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten and was named second-team All-Conference for the second straight season. He is making his second bowl start and will be playing in his third bowl game, leading a comeback win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and earning MVP honors in last year's win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. He spreads the ball around, but his favorite receiver is fifth-year senior Tony Lippett, who was named the Big Ten's best after catching 60 passes for 1,124 yards and 11 touchdowns. Baylor ranks seventh in the Big 12 in pass defense but has 36 sacks thanks mostly to the play of defensive end Shawn Oakman. He has 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks and has also recovered three fumbles for a defense that has 24 takeaways this season. Edge: Michigan State

Baylor running game vs. MSU run defense

The Bears are known for throwing the ball, but they spread defenses out, leaving plenty of room inside to run the ball. Sophomore running back Shock Linwood has taken advantage, ranking second in the Big 12 with 102.2 yards rushing per game while adding 1,226 total rushing yards and 16 TDs, the 11th-best number in the country. Linwood leads a Baylor offense that is averaging 235.2 yards a game on the ground, good enough for second in the Big 12. However, the Bears will be going up against the sixth-ranked rushing defense in the nation as Michigan State is allowing just 97.5 yards a game. Since 2012, Michigan State has held opponents to 50 yards rushing or les 14 times and since 2011, the Spartans have held teams to less than 100 yards rushing 33 times. Edge: Michigan State

Baylor passing game vs. MSU pass defense

Senior quarterback Bryce Petty is averaging more than 300 yards passing a game and has thrown for more than 300 yards in a game six times this season. He has also thrown for 400 yards twice, and in a win over TCU, he threw for 510 yards and six touchdowns. Petty also has plenty of weapons, led by sophomore Corey Coleman, who has 57 catches for 969 yards and 10 touchdowns. In fact, three different receivers have 50 or more catches this season and eight have double-digit grabs for the No. 2 pass offense in the Big Ten. Michigan State features a solid secondary with cornerback Trae Waynes, a Thorpe Award finalist, and safety Kurtis Drummond, the top defensive back in the Big Ten. The Spartans will also put pressure on the quarterback with 37 sacks this season and lead the nation in turnover margin with plus-1.67 a game. Edge: Baylor

Special teams

Michigan State sophomore kicker Michael Geiger struggled this season, missing five straight field goals at one point and entering the Cotton Bowl just 14-for-22 after missing just once as a freshman. He is 3-for-8 from 40 yards or more this season and hasn't attempted a kick longer than 50 yards. Senior punter Mike Sadler has also seen a bit of a drop-off this season after having knee surgery in the off-season. His average dropped to 41.3 yards this year as he dropped 14 punts inside the 20 and four inside the 10. Baylor redshirt freshman kicker Chris Callahan has made 15 of his last 16 field goals after starting the season 1-for-6. He kicked a career-long field goal of 46 yards in a victory over Kansas State. Senior punter Spencer Roth is an All-Big 12 performer who was an All-American as a junior. He averages 43.3 yards a kick with a long of 69 yards while downing 19 punts inside the 20-yard line. Edge: Baylor


In his seventh season leading Baylor, Art Briles helped the Bears win their second straight Big 12 championship this season and spent all but two weeks ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Baylor is playing in its fifth straight bowl game, the ninth bowl game Briles has been a part of as head coach after taking Houston to four bowl games from 2003-07. Mark Dantonio has taken Michigan State to eight straight bowl games since taking over in 2007 and has won the last three, including a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford last season. Dantonio has led Michigan State to double-digit wins in four of the last five seasons. Edge: Even