At the start of the New Year’s Eve matchup between Michigan State and Alabama, there was a lot of hope and an expectation that the game would be a close, low-scoring affair. By the end of the game, Alabama had pitched a shutout and thoroughly dominated the Big Ten’s best. While it might be surprising considering that both teams were the best in their respective conferences, there are many reasons why it was completely expected.
Alabama recruits players who fit a certain height, weight, and player type mold that translates well to the NFL. When this strategy is combined with selecting from the best 4- and 5-star players in the country and placing them into a well-thought out scheme, it isn’t surprising that Alabama does very well. Against Michigan State, Alabama matched up better than usual. Michigan State does all the things that Alabama does, but does it with players who are not at the same level. Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge is good, but he isn’t Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, a freshman who showed on throughout the year that he has speed, acceleration, and great hands. Likewise, Michigan State’s LJ Scott isn’t at the same level as Derrick Henry even though the two have a relatively similar physical makeup. Michigan State’s offensive line has been good throughout the year, but couldn’t handle Alabama’s relatively straight forward 3- and 4-man pass rushes.
While it is unexpected that Michigan State got shut out, it shouldn’t be a shock. Alabama practices against a Michigan State-like offense every day. In addition, Michigan State doesn’t run the spread, up-tempo, read option attack that Nick Saban has complained about and struggled against, not necessarily in that order. Giving Nick Saban several weeks to prepare against any offensive scheme is dangerous; give Nick Saban several weeks to prepare against an offensive scheme that is similar to his own and it creates an almost no-win situation for his opponent.
Toward the end of the game, as the announcers ran out of things to discuss, the topic of “will this loss set Michigan State back?” arose. While it is easy to say that an embarrassing loss on one of the biggest college football stages could set a program back, the more pressing concern for Michigan State is how to replace Connor Cook, their starting quarterback for what seems like forever. Considering the string of Michigan State quarterbacks in the NFL either as starters or backups, it is a pretty safe assumption that Michigan State will find someone who can effectively run their offense and maintain the program’s status as one of the Big Ten’s and nation’s elite. As for the semifinal game against Alabama, a loss against one of the best defensive units in college football and against an offense featuring the Heisman trophy winner should not cause panic or set a program back. It happens to almost everyone Alabama faces.
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