The Matchup: No. 8 Michigan State Spartans at No. 4 Oregon Ducks
Time and Place: 2:30 p.m., Autzen Stadium
Yes, college football arrived last week, but South Dakota was merely an appetizer. The outcome was predetermined; the game a formality from which nothing of importance could be gleaned about the 2014 Oregon Ducks.
It gets big in a hurry.
Michigan State comes to Eugene this week. The same Michigan State who is the defending Rose Bowl champions and ranked No. 8 in the country. The Michigan State that out-Stanforded Stanford in Pasadena last year. The one whose style of play and defensive talent is said to match the blueprint needed to beat Oregon.
The dichotomy presented to the Ducks is simple. Win, and you pick up what many will percieve to be one of the biggest non-conference wins in the nation. Lose, and all the old questions haunt. Oregon is soft on defense. They can't stop a strong running game. Their offense doesn't work against good defenses.
Offensively, Michigan State was inconsistent a year ago, but really came on in their final games against Ohio State and Stanford. They return quarterback Connor Cook, who can look like a top QB when he is on, but who has also proven inconsistent. Also returning is workhorse RB Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1422 yards a season ago. The Spartans will attempt to ground and pound, and shorten the game to limit possessions and allow their defense to shine. They were very successful doing this a season ago, although they lose their two starting guards on the line.
Defensively, MSU was the best team in the country a year ago, but return only five starters, losing both defensive tackles and elite CB Darqueze Dennard. Last season, they gave up only 2.8 yards per carry with their suffocating defensive front, and allowed only 12 passing touchdowns while picking off 17 passes. Overall on offense, opponents only gained 4.4 yards per play against them. They haven't been tested with new personnel yet this season, although against Jacksonville State in week 1, they allowed only 0.9 yards per carry in a 45-7 win.
Panic-O-Meter: 4.5 Jujus
A loss to MSU isn't a season ender. It has no impact on the conference race, and such a loss could be overcome for a playoff berth if the Ducks were to run the table. But many believe that Michigan State is a bellwether for Stanford, and that if Oregon loses one, they are sure to lose the other. Not to mention, having a tiebreaker against another potential playoff team would be a big advantage.