Like most of you, I didn't see a whole ton of Mississippi State's games this year, something that will hopefully change if I can get a hold of some torrents. So right now, I don't have much to go on besides NCAA standings and various box scores. In the interest of talking about football when little else is going on, let's take a look at Michigan's bowl opponent strictly by the numbers. NCAA rankings:
- Rushing offense: 16th nationally; 215.75 yards per game, 4.61 yards per carry
- Passing offense: 91st nationally; 178.58 yards per game, 8.09 yards per attempt
- Scoring offense: 58th nationally; 27.08 points per game
- Rushing defense: 20th; 121.67 yards per game, 3.56 yards per attempt
- Passing defense: 89th; 236.42 yards per game, 7.00 yards per attempt
- Scoring defense: 27th; 20.33 points per game
What killed Michigan in each of those three games were turnovers. They had 10 combined in those losses and at least three in each game. Mississippi State's scoring defense seems somewhat incongruous with their yardage allowed (primarily 89th in passing defense), but a quick look at turnovers shows that they are 21st nationally in turnovers gained with 26. FWIW, Ohio State is 12th (29), Iowa is 47th (22), and MSU is 34th (24). If Michigan doesn't shoot themselves in the foot, chances are they'll be able to move the ball pretty well against a so-so defense.
What does it mean? On paper at least, this seems like a really good matchup for Michigan. Mississippi State's run defense is strong but on par or worse than three units Michigan has already seen and moved the ball effectively against. In terms of pass defense, statistically they are sandwiched between Purdue and Indiana, two teams that offered very little in the way of resistance (save the former's awful weather conditions).
On the other side of the ball, Mississippi State either can't or willfully hasn't shown the ability to exploit Michigan's greatest weakness: the passing game. They rarely throw the ball and rely primarily on a solid rushing attack. Michigan's traditional 4-3 did wonders against Ohio State's rush attack (the 89-yard, Vinopal-missed-tackle run excluded, Ohio State averaged 3.8 YPC), and a healthy Mike Martin could go a long way to shutting down Mississippi State's running game.
Turnovers look like they'll be the deciding factor in this one. If Michigan can hold onto the ball, they should be able to move up and down the field on Mississippi State. Then again, they did hold Auburn to only 17 points. But Auburn had two turnovers (an interception and a fumble) as well as a significant yardage disparity (348 vs. 246) that indicates they should've won by significantly more. I'll be watching this game to see what exactly Mississippi State did to hold down Cam Newton and the Auburn offense, but suffice it to say, I'd bet Auburn shot themselves in the foot a lot (a quick spot check shows a missed field in addition to the aforementioned turnovers).