Oregon and Michigan State meet on Saturday night in one of college football’s most anticipated non-conference matchups of 2015. The Ducks and Spartans played last season in Eugene, with Oregon rallying from a 24-18 halftime deficit to win 46-27. The scene shifts to East Lansing this year, and both teams will look a little different at kickoff on Saturday night.
Oregon lost quarterback Marcus Mariota to the NFL, and the Ducks have a few new faces stepping into the lineup on the defensive side. Michigan State’s offense returned mostly intact, starting with quarterback Connor Cook and a stout offensive line. The defense suffered the biggest losses, as coordinator Pat Narduzzi left to be the head coach at Pittsburgh, and the secondary lost standout cornerback Trae Waynes and safety Kurtis Drummond.
While there’s plenty of time for playoff positioning, this game is critical in bolstering the resume for both teams. A loss certainly doesn’t end either Oregon or Michigan State’s playoff hopes, but a win could be a huge addition to the resume or serve as a potential tiebreaker for rankings in early December.
This will be the sixth all-time matchup between Michigan State and Oregon. The Ducks have a 3-2 edge in the series.
Oregon at Michigan State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Vernon Adams vs. Michigan State’s Defense
Vernon Adams inherited big shoes to fill when he transferred to Oregon from Eastern Washington to replace Marcus Mariota. And the pressure on the senior only increased after a late arrival to Eugene after finishing his last class in August. While there’s a significant difference between FCS defenses and Michigan State’s unit, Adams showcased his talent in last week’s win over the Eagles. The senior completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards and two scores and added 94 yards on the ground. However, the real test begins on Saturday night. Adams is taking on a Michigan State defense that surrendered 365 passing yards in the opener against Western Michigan, but this unit has ranked among the best in the nation in recent years. The Spartans have one of the best defensive lines in college football, headlined by end Shilique Calhoun and rising star tackle Malik McDowell. Oregon hopes to counter the strength in the trenches with Adams’ mobility and utilizing the playmakers in space. If Adams and a loaded Ducks’ receiving corps finds its rhythm early, that’s a bad sign for a Michigan State secondary after it allowed five passing plays of 20 yards or more against Western Michigan last Friday. Will Adams pass his first test? Or will the Spartans control the line of scrimmage and prevent the senior from making big plays downfield? Keep an eye on how much Adams uses his mobility early.
2. Connor Cook vs. Oregon’s Secondary
Oregon will land its share of big plays in the passing game, but the Ducks won’t win in East Lansing if the defense doesn’t play better than it did last week against Eastern Washington. Although the Eagles have a dynamic offense, Oregon’s pass defense was gashed for 438 yards and five scores and allowed four plays of 30 yards or more. Will the Ducks tighten their coverage this week? Michigan State senior quarterback Connor Cook is one of the nation’s best, but he misfired a few times in last Friday’s win over Western Michigan. Cook completed 15 of 31 passes for 256 yards and two scores. Contributing to Cook’s misfires in the opener is a receiving corps that had to replace two of its top targets from last season. The Spartans aren’t short on playmakers, as Aaron Burbridge, DeAnthony Arnett and Macgarrett Kings Jr. and tight end Josiah Price are talented options for Cook. Considering Oregon’s struggles against the pass last week, will the Ducks try to generate more pressure on Cook? That’s another challenging task against one of the best offensive lines in college football. Oregon may have to bend and give up its share of yards, while limiting Michigan State’s points in the redzone.
3. The Other Playmakers
Both teams are loaded with playmakers outside of the quarterback position. Who steps up on Saturday night? While Adams and Cook will carry the offenses, keep an eye on the x-factors in this game. Oregon running back Royce Freeman posted 180 yards and three scores against Eastern Washington last Saturday. However, running room could be limited against Michigan State’s rugged front seven. If Freeman has success early, that’s a good sign for Oregon’s offense. And the Ducks are loaded with options at receiver, including Bralon Addison (three catches in his return from ACL surgery), Dwayne Stanford and Byron Marshall. The Spartans had to replace running back Jeremy Langford this offseason, but the rushing attack hasn’t missed a beat. LJ Scott led the team with 77 yards in the opener, while Madre London and Gerald Holmes each recorded at least 50 yards. All of the attention will be on Cook and Adams, but the other playmakers will factor prominently into the outcome of this top 10 matchup.
Both offenses – especially the quarterbacks – will land their share of big plays in this game. Oregon’s secondary is a major concern after last week’s performance against Eastern Washington, and Michigan State features a balanced attack to keep the Ducks from focusing too much on the pass. A road start in East Lansing is a huge opportunity for Adams to showcase his talent on the national stage. The senior is a dynamic playmaker and should have his share of big plays against a revamped Michigan State secondary. However, this will be the best defense he has played in his collegiate career. The Spartans’ advantage in the trenches shows in the second half, as the Michigan State’s offense establishes the run and keeps Oregon’s offense on the sidelines. And the depth on the defensive line slows Adams just enough for the Spartans to get revenge for last year’s loss.