Michigan State is the kind of team to respect. They embody everything that we at Alabama love to see on offense. None of that annoying high-school crap that involves certain coaches jumping up and down like an ADHD jackrabbit. It's not quite an Alabama or LSU offense that is completely focused on the run, but more like a 2013 Alabama, where the offense is centered around a senior quarterback.
That quarterback is Connor Cook. The polarizing passer has all of the measurables and the arm of a true NFL quarterback. He has thrown for nearly 3000 yards this season, and has put together a really nice touchdown to interception ratio of 24:5. Cook has been as efficient as he has enigmatic his entire career. He has had a roller coaster career at Michigan State going through phases of being the starter, and then being benched again, but has become the true centerpiece of this offense in 2015. He has the arm and accuracy to make any throw in the game, and is a true competitor and lives for the game. However, Cook has a tendency to be really lazy with his footwork at times, which leads to many poorly timed balls, and a subpar 57% completion percentage. Another note is that Cook's performance has really dipped against teams ranked in the AP top 25. His percentage drops to around 52%, throwing only 3 touchdowns to 2 picks against quality competition.
To complement Cook, the Spartans feature a three-man platoon at running running back, led by freshman LJ Scott. The 230-pound bruiser leads the team in yards and touchdowns, with with 691 and 11, respectively. After him, sophomore Gerald Holmes has 534 yards and 8 touchdowns of his own. Freshman Madre London rounds out the group with 489 yards and 3 touchdowns. All three backs average between 4 and 5 yards per carry, and each one has eclipsed the 100 yard mark once this year. None of the three are used very often at all in the passing game, and have not been shown to be receiving threats out of the backfield.
The Michigan State receiving corps is led by the phenomenal senior, Aaron Burbridge. Not only does he have a cool name, but he has almost three times as many yards as the Spartans next receiver on only twice as many catches. He's caught 80 passes for 1219 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is a go-to, well-rounded receiver in every facet, and is Connor Cook's top target on every single down. Burbridge has made some spectacular and ridiculous grabs all season, and will likely be the best receiver that Alabama has faced this year.
After him, Macgarrett Kings is next with 38 catches for 492 yards and 5 touchdowns. The senior is a solid playmaker, but has struggled with concentration drops all season. Junior R.J. Shelton actually has 3 more catches than Kings out of the slot, but has added 8 less yards and 1 less touchdown. Shelton is sometimes used as a ball carrier too, emphasizing his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Tight end Josiah Price is used mostly as a blocker, only catching 19 passes for 228 yards all season. He is, however, the team's top redzone threat. Almost a third of his catches (six) have gone for touchdowns, and all have been from within the opponents' redzone.
This offense will go as Connor Cook goes. And Connor Cook will go as Aaron Burbridge goes. Cyrus Jones and Marlon Humphrey will have their hands full trying to slow down that connection, and will be depending on pressure from A'Shawn Robinson et. al. up front to disrupt Cook's footwork and timing. It'll be a tough task, but one that the Crimson Tide defense is built to face.