Off-field troubles lead into Alamo Bowl

By: Jimmy Sirody | Friday, January 1, 2010

Taylor Potts will lead the Red Raiders into the Alamo Bowl vs. Michigan St.

With Michigan State absent eight suspended players and saddled with one of the nation’s worst pass defenses, Texas Tech likely needed only to show up for Saturday night’s Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

But once the Red Raiders fired Mike Leach on Wednesday, ostensibly because he mistreated an injured player, all bets are off. The controversy will be a serious distraction and give the Spartans an edge as they come into the game a serious underdog.

Reports indicate that receivers coach Lincoln Riley is expected to call the plays for the Red Raiders. He is well versed in Tech’s scheme after spending several seasons under Leach’s tutelage.

However, there are concerns about the ability of acting head coach Ruffin McNeil to juggle those duties along with his responsibilities as defensive coordinator.

On the other side, Michigan State’s suspensions will handcuff its passing game and passing defense.

Michigan State has been led by the Big Ten’s top passing offense, but key targets B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell are suspended, so quarterback Kirk Cousins needs others to step up and assist top target Blair White.

After a midseason surge that culminated with a mostly terrific effort against Iowa, the Spartans allowed more than 1,500 yards to their last three conference opponents. The lack of front four pass rush is a major problem.

Michigan State has stopped the run against most teams, but the pass rush issue and a struggling secondary are problems. And the suspension of Chris Rucker takes away the team’s top cover corner.

Coordinator Pat Narduzzi will have to come up with some magic tricks to avoid embarrassment in the bowl game.

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The Spartans’ pass protection has been sound for the most part but it’s going to have a difficult time keeping Texas Tech at bay. Pittsburgh is the only FBS team averaging more sacks than the Red Raiders (3.3 per game).

This is virtually a home game for Texas Tech, who quietly had a strong eight-win season highlighted by blowout wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Taylor Potts will get the start at quarterback and should have plenty of favorable matchups to exploit. Michigan State has allowed 29 touchdown passes and picked off just five.  Texas Tech finished the regular season with the nation’s second-most productive passing attack at 380.7 yards per game and 35 touchdown passes.

The Red Raiders 3-4 defense still surrenders almost 350 yards per game, middle-of-the-pack in the Big 12. Yet they have, with the extreme exception of Texas A&M, been able to keep opponents off the scoreboard, tying Oklahoma State for fourth in the conference at 21.8 points allowed. In the 11 games not counting its 52-30 loss to the Texas Aggies, Tech yielded a mere 19 points per game.

The best way to avoid being shelled by the Air Raid attack is to keep it off the field. However, the running game is not the Spartans' strong suit. Larry Caper, a power runner with speed, led MSU with 443 yards and six touchdowns this season.

The Spartans have flunked seven of their last eight postseason tests (2-6 ATS) versus BCS conference foes and they are 2-7 SU and 3-6 ATS in their last nine bowl games overall.

Texas Tech has failed to cash in its last three extra-curricular contests. The underdog is 9-2 in the Red Raiders last 11 bowl clashes. They are 1-2 SU and 0-3 ATS in their last three bowl games versus Big Ten competition.

Tech is an ordinary 2-4 SU and 3-3 ATS versus other bowl participants. However, Michigan State is 1-4 SU and 0-5 ATS taking on the five teams they played that have postseason appearances.

Most offshore books currently list the Red Raiders as 7 ½-point favorites, with the ‘total’ dropping from 61 points at the opening bell to 59 ½ presently.  ESPN's broadcast from the Alamodome at 6:00 p.m. (PT).

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