TMAPA, FL - JANUARY 02: Defensive end William Gholston #2 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates a 33 - 30 triple overtime victory against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Outback Bowl January 2, 2012 at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The stats that mattered in Michigan State's comeback win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl, from Brandon Boykin's near-superfecta, to Michigan State's tackles for loss, to what the hell were you thinking, Coach Richt??
2.5: Per-carry average for Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Michigan State's running backs duo, half of which spent the season torching opposing defenses (Bell), was completely and totally negated by Georgia's front seven. Bell threw in five catches for 39 yards, which was something, but for good portions of the game Michigan State looked as overwhelmed by Georgia' defensive athleticism as some (like me) feared they would be. Along with the run game, Georgia's corners swamped star receiver B.J. Cunningham as well. Cunningham averaged 11.6 yards per target during the season, producing explosiveness with high catch rates. He only averaged 4.1 yards against the Dawgs, however, catching just seven of 16 passes thrown his way and gaining 66 yards.
So how exactly did they move the ball enough to win, then? Start with senior tight end Brian Linthicum (10 targets, seven catches, 115 yards), who averaged 2.5 targets per game and quadrupled that yesterday. He was nearly invisible in the first half, catching one pass for a loss of one, but he caught six of eight passes in the second half, including a 50-yard catch-and-run on a throwback screen that set up a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Michigan State just kept trying and trying until they found something that worked. A combination of resilience and resourcefulness helped the Spartans overcome a 16-0 halftime lead and eventually pull out the win.
3: Ways in which Brandon Boykin put points on the board. On Michigan State's first play from scrimmage, Boykin ate up Keshawn Martin in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Georgia lead. For much of the first half, it appeared that we were destined for some ridiculous 2-0, 3-2 or 5-3 game, but after an 80-yard Tavarres King touchdown negated that chance and gave Georgia a nine-point lead, Boykin returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown with under two minutes left in the first half. Then, with under eight minutes left in the game, after Michigan State had charged ahead, 20-19, Boykin lined up as a slot receiver and caught a 13-yard touchdown pass. He was a pick six away from the superfecta.
(King, by the way, had an amazing day, catching six of 10 passes for 205 yards. Not bad for someone I called a possession receiver in the preview)
9: Points scored in a combined six overtime possessions. Overtime was an endurance test more than a high-quality football contest. Interceptions, dropped interceptions and missed field goals made the difference in the game as the teams combined for one first down, one pick and five field goal attempts.
12: Field goals missed by Blair Walsh in the regular season. Mark Richt is one of my favorite head coaches, mostly because he has won games at a mostly high level, reflected pretty high character overall, and, in 2011, survived some generally ridiculous hot-seat rumors to win double-digit games and another SEC East title. I say all this to qualify the following question: Coach Richt, why in the hell were you playing to set up a long field goal in the first overtime??
Following Bacarri Rambo's interception of Kirk Cousins, all the Dawgs needed was a Walsh field goal to take home the Bloomin' Onion trophy. (The Outback trophy is a giant Bloomin' Onion, right? RIGHT?) But most of the time, you try to at least grind out a first down. Or if not a first down, then at least six or eight yards. Before yesterday, Walsh was just 7-for-17 on field goals of 40 yards or more in 2011. That Richt chose to go ahead and kick a 42-yard field goal after two rushes gained a combined zero yards was absolutely mind-blowing. The numbers projected Michigan State to win, primarily because of a special teams advantage. Richt's first-OT strategy almost seemed geared to confirm that.
17: Michigan State tackles for loss. I referenced Georgia's defensive athleticism above, but they had nothing on Michigan State, especially in the trenches. Former star recruit William Gholston was the best player on the field; he led Michigan State with seven tackles, all solo, five behind the line of scrimmage. He sacked Aaron Murray twice, broke up a pass, and recovered a fumble. It went beyond Gholston, however. Three other Spartans had at least two tackles for loss -- A.R. White (three), Marcus Rush (two), Jerel Worthy (two); they sacked Murray four times in 36 pass attempts, and they were as good as advertised.
35.9: Combined value, in equivalent points, of the game's six turnovers. Six turnovers, two missed field goals ... again, this game was not amazingly well-played. But it was damn sure the most exciting non-BCS game of the day.