December 28, 2007

Last chance to shine for seniors

Champs Sports Bowl

#14 Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan State (7-5) (ESPN, Dec. 28th 5:00PM EST)
Orlando, Florida

Boston College is shooting for its 8th consecutive bowl victory this Friday, the longest streak in the nation. The odds makers have BC as just a 3.5 point favorite. The last time Michigan State traveled to Orlando was for the 2000 Citrus Bowl, when 25,000 Spartan fans made the trek down to Florida. Michigan State began the season 4-0 but lost five of their next six. At 5-5 they won their final two games and finished the season 7-5. Reports out of Orlando estimate that the Spartans have sold around 10,000 tickets while the Eagles are somewhere between 5-6,000. Even though some will criticize the Eagles' fan base for continued poor traveling, if these numbers are viewed in context of the percentage of students and alumni, these figures are actually quite competitive. Either way, the game and atmosphere should be a nice reward for an exciting and eventful season for both programs.

Players to watch:

Boston College: DeJuan Tribble. Tribble will be tested right away with the task of containing Michigan State's leading receiver Devin Thomas. We should find out very quickly the health and strength of Tribble's knee. Matt Ryan. This will be Ryan's final collegiate game after a very successful career at the Heights. This will also be yet another opportunity to audition in front of NFL scouts; one has to imagine that Bill Parcells will be watching this one with a certain degree of interest. Also auditioning for pro scouts are Gosder Cherilus, Jamie Silva and Andre Callender. Cherlius has slid a bit this season in the eyes of scouts but Silva and Callender both have seen their stock rise. The Boston College special teams unit needs to perform better this time out. During the ACC Championship this group left far too many points on the board, which was certainly something that Coach Jagodzinski worked on during the last few weeks.

Michigan State: Junior Brian Hoyer has been efficient for the Spartans this season, completing 61.5% of his passes and throwing for 18 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He is second in the Big Ten with a 138.9 rating. Javon Ringer. Ringer has rushed for 1,346 yards on 224 carries, an average of about 6 yards per carry. Ringer's best game came against Indiana when he ran for 203 yards and two touchdowns. Ringer was a three star running back from Dayton, Ohio who had offers from USC, Tennessee and Florida. Ringer's counterpart is Jehuu Caulcrick who led the Big Ten with 21 rushing touchdowns. Devin Thomas. The junior wide receiver led the Big Ten with 1,226 yards. Also keep your eye on Michigan State tight end Kellen Davis who has really come on lately. He is second on the team with 28 receptions. The Senior should be a very decent NFL prospect.

What the Eagles need to win: Protect Matt Ryan. Michigan State's modus operandi is similar to what the Eagles have seen with Jon Tenuta at Georgia Tech: get after the passer. This team loves to bring six, usually an extra inside backer or safety, and faced with the prospects of giving Matt Ryan all day to shred their secondary, the Spartans will undoubtedly attack Logan's offense with a relentless blitz. The Spartans' pass rush was dealt a heavy blow last week when their best defensive player, Jonal Saint-Dic, was suspended for the Bowl game due to academic violations. Saint-Dic would have likely commanded a double team from the Eagles pass protection, so without him in the lineup, they should be able to focus their efforts on the extra rushers. If the Eagles can limit the Spartans' pass rush, Matt Ryan should be able to exploit a rather unspectacular secondary that has not witnessed a passing attack like the Eagles all season.

What cannot happen for the Eagles to win: A dominating MSU rushing attack. Of the three best players the Eagles will face in this contest, two of them are running backs in Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick. Ringer is the quicker of the two backs and lethal in the open field, while Caulcrick is a big back who excels at picking up yards after contact. The Spartans are not afraid to run the ball extensively and will do so regardless of their initial success or failure. All season long, the Eagles have forced opponents into being one-dimensional, consistently shutting down some of the best rushing attacks in the nation. If the Eagles can force Brian Hoyer to beat them, they should walk away with a victory. Conversely, if the Spartans are able to generate a rushing attack, they will be able to keep the Eagles' defense off balance and capitalize off their playmaking talent at WR and RB.

What the Spartans need to win: Maintain ball control offense with long, sustained drives. The Spartans need to rush the football if they are to score the upset, but they also need to keep the dynamic Eagles offense off the field. In order to do accomplish this, they must run the ball effectively, and when necessary, utilize their talented weapons at wideout and tight end. If the Spartans can get the Eagles preoccupied in stopping their rushing attack, including walking Jamie Silva into the box, Hoyer will be able to get the ball in the hands of standout WR Devin Thomas against single coverage. Thomas is the best WR the Eagles have faced all season, and if the FSU game is any indication, the prospects of a tall, athletic, speedy wideout roaming free in the secondary spells doom for the Eagles. Moreover, Caulrick and TE Kellen Davis are dangerous red zone weapons, which will create devastating play action possibilities if the Eagles are not successful in shutting down the Spartans rushing attack.

What cannot happen for the Spartans to win: A silenced rushing attack. If the Spartans cannot establish a running game against the Eagles, they will fall behind quickly and will be left facing the prospects of a shoot-out with the nation's top QB. That cannot happen for the Spartans to pull away with the upset.


While many Eagles' fans have fretted over the team's annual Bowl slight, I don't think the same can be said for the players. Sure they are undoubtedly upset by not winning the ACC Championship, but they're finally playing in a warm bowl against a talented BCS opponent; so any talk of BC sleep-walking through this contest will be proven wrong in the opening snaps. As we have seen all year, they are led by a talented and focused group of Seniors, who will not take any opponent lightly. This will be the curtain call for Jamie Silva, Gosder Cherilus, Matt Ryan, Kevin Challenger, Andre Callender, L.V. Whitworth, and Dejuan Tribble among many others. This group has brought BC into the national landscape as a perennial top 25 contender and will undoubtedly want their collegiate swan song to end in victory.
Michigan State has NFL talent at tailback, wide receiver, tight end, and along the defensive line. They are a very well coached squad and among the least in the nation in yards penalized. Moreover, they enter this game with a chip on their shoulder to prove that their 7-5 record is hardly indicative of a near .500 football squad. Thus, expect this team to impress, particularly with their physicality.

Every bowl game sports moments of rust due to a prolonged layoff and spurts of extraordinary play due to protracted preparation. Expect this game to be no different. The MSU offense versus the BC defense will undoubtedly remind the Spartan faithful of a good -ole Big Ten battle in the trenches. The behemoth Spartan offensive line against the impenetrable BC front seven will be a sight to watch in itself. Yet, the Spartans will likely be unable to enforce their will upon the Eagles refreshed defensive line, putting added pressure on their passing game. If Hoyer can take the easy completion, he should be able to move the chains against a defense that lacks a consistent pass rush. But, if he tries to force the ball into his playmakers' hands, the Eagles ball-hawking duo in Tribble and Silva will be waiting with open arms.

Offensively for the Eagles, they caught a big break when Saint-dic was declared ineligible. Without him, the Spartans will be forced to rely too heavily on the blitz to harass Matty Ice. As the adage goes, "live by the blitz, die by the blitz." Matt Ryan has seen everything thrown at him against the creative defensive play calling of Bud Foster, Mickey Andrews, and Jon Tenuta; so, don't expect to see him get rattled in this one. BC will utilize their tight ends and backs in the short passing game to frustrate the Spartan blitz and subsequently, they will almost assuredly takes some shots downfield as Ryan and co. did so effectively early in the season. Expect to see a close contested game in the first half with the Eagles pulling away in the third quarter and early fourth on the strength of their record-setting seniors and all too potent offense.

BC: 31
MSU: 20

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