After downing the Arizona State Sun Devils 38-14 for the second time this season, the Stanford Cardinal has earned its second consecutive Pac-12 championship and ticket to Pasadena.
This year, David Shaw has his work cut out for him, as the Michigan State Spartans are coming off of a huge win over the No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, and boast the nation’s top defense, allowing fewer than 250 yards per game.
Kevin Hogan will be the key to this game. With Tyler Gaffney and the ever-powerful Cardinal offensive line going up against arguably the nation’s top run defense, Hogan will be forced to make plays with his arm.
However, this will require going up against Jim Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who had 14 passes defended and 4 interceptions this season. Those numbers would have been higher had more quarterbacks been willing to throw the ball in his direction.
Dennard will likely spend most of his time going up against Ty Montgomery, the Cardinal’s top outside threat. Hogan will have to establish this connection early in order to give the passing game momentum and the running game some room to breath.
Stanford did catch a lucky break as two-year captain inside linebacker Max Bullough has been suspended for the Rose Bowl for violating team rules. His absence will likely play a big role in the game, and is one of the few weak spots on that strong defense that Tyler Gaffney and the ground game will have to exploit.
The Cardinal has a little less to worry about on the other side of the ball, though quarterback Connor Cook has really come into his own this season. While statistically the Spartan offense may seem mediocre, we all saw what it could do in the Big-10 Championship game when it put up 34 points on the Buckeyes.
Still, Stanford has a good advantage on defense, as Shayne Skov leads one of the best front sevens in college football. Skov, Trent Murphy, and A.J. Tarpley will have to lead an aggressive gameplan against Michigan State to make Cook and the Spartans uncomfortable early and often.
This game promises to be a great matchup. Two similar teams with great defenses will grind it out all day on the field, and points will likely be scarce.
Be sure to tune in to what promises to be a great “old-school” battle between these two powerful squads.