A 'special' matchup for Spartans, Bulldogs

Both the Michigan State Spartans and Georgia Bulldogs had their eyes on the prize – a BCS Bowl berth – entering their conference championship games in early December. But both teams blew halftime leads in those games and now look to bounce back with a win in the Outback Bowl on January 2 (1 ET on ABC).

Michigan State is in a bowl game for a school-record fifth straight season, but the Spartans have lost five straight bowl games. Their last bowl win came in the 2001 Silicon Valley Classic against Fresno State. Georgia has won four of its last five bowl games, including a 24-12 win over Michigan State in the 2009 Capital One Bowl.

Defense Rules

This is a matchup of two of the best defensive teams in the nation, with both teams allowing fewer than 20 points per game and ranking in the top 10 nationally in total yards per game allowed.

Georgia vs Michigan State Defense
This Season

Both the Spartans and Bulldogs thrive on defense by limiting big gains and positive yardage. The two teams have each forced 106 negative plays, tied for sixth-most in FBS. Michigan State has allowed 21 plays of at least 25 yards and Georgia has given up 22 such plays, both ranking among the top 15 in FBS.

Only three times has a player rushed for at least 25 yards against the Spartans defense, tied for the second-fewest such plays in the nation. The Bulldogs have allowed four touchdown passes of 25-plus yards, but haven’t given up one since October 29 at Florida.

Special Teams W2W4

With both teams playing lock-down defense this season, the game could come down to who has the advantage on special teams.

Georgia kicker Blair Walsh is the FBS active scoring leader with 404 points. However, after converting more than 80 percent of his field goals during his first three seasons, he has converted just 61 percent of his kicks this year, ranking 110th out of 159 qualifying FBS kickers.

Most Kickoff Return Yards
SEC History

Bulldogs cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the SEC with 780 kickoff return yards this season, is 126 yards shy of becoming the SEC’s all-time leader in that category. He is also one of just four active players to have at least four career kickoff return touchdowns.

Michigan State has not defended kickoffs well this season, ranking 99th out of 120 teams with 23.7 yards per kickoff return allowed. However, the team has blocked four kicks/punts, the most in the Big Ten, including two in its 37-31 win over Wisconsin in October.

Georgia punter Drew Butler ranks ninth in FBS in punting at 44.3 yards per punt, but the Bulldogs have allowed a pair of punt return touchdowns this season, and yielded 16.1 yards per punt return, second-worst in FBS.

This plays into a strength of Michigan State’s. The Spartans average 11.2 yards per punt return, 25th-best in FBS this season, with a pair of punt returns for scores.

Stat of the Game

Michigan State has allowed 29 points in the second quarter, the second-fewest in FBS behind Alabama Crimson Tide (20). Georgia has scored 154 points in the second quarter, the most in the SEC and ranked 14th in the country.