Alabama’s run defense has been something close to impenetrable for most of the season.

As the Crimson Tide prepares to take on Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl Classic (with a berth in the College Football Playoff national championship game on the line), one thing the Tide doesn’t want to do is let the Spartans’ passing game beat it.

That means there will be some pressure on the Alabama secondary, particularly the youngsters in the group playing on such a stage for the first time, as it goes against Michigan State’s senior quarterback Connor Cook.

Cook isn’t the country’s most electrifying quarterbacks, but during the last few seasons he’s been one of the most successful. He’s 34-4 as a starter and this season completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,911 yards with 24 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

That low interception number is the key one in his stat line heading into the national semifinals. Cook hasn’t thrown for as many yards as some quarterbacks, but he’s been efficient and he has avoided mistakes.

Cook is going against a group of Alabama defensive backs that have a history of making big plays, one way or the other.

Junior Eddie Jackson has been a key player on the Alabama defense and a boost to the offense, coming up with five interceptions this season. Jackson ran back two of them for touchdowns and others have set up the Tide with excellent field position.

But if Cook doesn’t throw interceptions it limits the impact of players such as Jackson and freshmen Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who have combined for five interceptions as well.

How Cook attacks the Tide secondary bears watching. Will Michigan State’s game plan look to go at Fitzpatrick? Humphrey came on quite strong in the last few weeks of the season, recording interceptions versus Mississippi State and in the SEC Championship Game against Florida. He also set a career high with six tackles against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

Most of Fitzpatrick’s highlight-reel plays happened earlier in the season.

Both of Fitzpatrick’s interceptions came against Texas A&M on Oct. 17 and he’s had just two tackles in Alabama’s last two games after suffering a minor injury against Mississippi State on Nov. 14. He’s had some time to recover in the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Michigan State tests a true freshman playing in his first postseason game when he may not be 100-percent healthy.

If those young defensive backs can keep Cook and the Spartans from burning them deep, the Tide should be in good shape against a Michigan State team that, all things being equal, would much rather grind it out on the ground.