There were times when it looked pretty. There were times when it looked hopeless. But in the end, the No. 3 Oregon Ducks refused to lose, defeating No. 7 Michigan State 46-27 at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
Devon Allen provided the heroics of the day with two touchdowns, including the go-ahead touchdown catch that Oregon could not have done without. Marcus Mariota had a Heisman-type performance, going 17-of-28 for 318 yards and three touchdowns, the most passing yards he’s thrown for since torching Washington State last October for 327 yards.
Oregon’s defense had a strong start on the opening drive, forcing a 3-and-out. All the Spartans could manage was a two-yard run by Jeremy Langford on the game’s opening play.
Michigan State’s defense forced a 3-and-out of their own as Oregon’s young receivers struggled to hang on during their opening drive. It was becoming clear that this game would be a heavyweight match with both sides delivering hits back and forth until something would give way.
Early on, it was actually Michigan State’s passing game that got going first as Connor Cook completed consecutive passes of 17 and 22 yards. Oregon was holding Langford at bay, limiting the senior to short carries. The Spartans drove to Oregon’s 38 before Eric Dargan picked off Cook on 3rd and 10, killing the momentum Michigan State had built.
Oregon’s offense finally got rolling on the ensuing drive, starting with a 22-yard pass to Byron Marshall. Mariota followed up the big pass with an 11-yard run and got a few bonus yards after the Spartans were flagged for a very late hit. On 3rd and 1, the Ducks went to the ol’ corner fade route that we all love so much. You know, because it works to perfection every time we run it (If you couldn’t tell, or if you haven’t watched Oregon football, you know how sarcastic I’m being). On 4th and 1, Thomas Tyner punched it up the middle for the touchdown.
In the opening quarter, I like what I saw on defense from the Ducks. Especially from Joe Walker, a backup linebacker, who made some big stops at the line of scrimmage early on. Langford didn’t have much going for him in the first quarter and Walker was a part of that a couple times. Aside from a couple big passes, the Spartans looked flat on offense in the opening quarter.
On Oregon’s next drive, the Ducks had their first "boom" play of the day as Mariota found Carrington for a 63-yard pass. Nothing more would come of the drive, but Matt Wogan hit his first field goal of the year to extend Oregon’s lead to 11-0.
On Michigan State’s next drive, Cook continued to have his way with Oregon’s secondary, completing consecutive passes of 17 and 19 yards. Jeremy Langford, who had been contained much of the opening quarter, finally broke free on a 16-yard touchdown run to get the Spartans on the board.
How did Oregon respond? Oh, just a casual 70-yard touchdown pass to Devon Allen, the national champion in the 110 hurdles. Allen slipped behind Michigan State’s secondary, and it was off to the races.
Allen breaks out the spin move, and Keanon Lowe proceeds to freak out as he takes off for the end zone.
My favorite part of the play came from this tweet, sent literally seconds before the play.
I think it's safe to say the Devon Allen hype might have been a little premature. Good track kid, average footballer— Alex Shoemaker (@MrAlexShoemaker) September 6, 2014
Michigan State’s defense came up big on their next series, sacking Mariota on back-to-back plays, forcing the Ducks to punt. To be honest, I can’t even remember the last time Mariota was sacked on consecutive plays. This forced Oregon to punt from their own end zone. A holding penalty against the Ducks during the punt allowed the Spartans to start on Oregon’s 38.
The Spartans capitalized off the good field position as Connor Cook found Tony Lippett for a 7-yard touchdown pass, trimming Oregon’s lead to one point.
Michigan State would get the ball back again with 1:27 left. Cook led the Spartans 66 yards down the field over six plays, finding Josiah Price open in the end zone to give Michigan State a 24-18 lead. Cook had all the time in the world, finding Price without needing to panic at all.
The Spartans had an explosive end to the half, scoring 17 points in a span of just 6:40.
Oregon’s rushing game was absolutely shut down during the first half. Officially, the Ducks had 13 carries for 13 yards. That of course includes Mariota’s sacks. But even if you take Mariota’s "rushing stats" away, Oregon had eight carries for just 17 yards. This team has turned into a run-first team with all their depth in the background, but Oregon’s tailbacks couldn’t get anything going in the first 30 minutes.
Oregon also struggled on 3rd down, converting just one of their seven third down plays. Michigan State converted 4-of-9 third downs.
Connor Cook had a big first half, completing 17-of-25 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown. Marcus Mariota went 10-of-16 for 190 yards and one touchdown.
Early in the second half, Oregon suffered their first injury as Andre Yruretagoyena (and yes, I did copy and paste that name from Twitter) appeared to roll his leg and needed to be carted off the field. Yruretagoyena was already replacing Tyler Johnstone. Enter Tyrell Crosby, a true freshman.
Oregon seemed to have a mental lapse, being called for two straight false start penalties while trying to punt the ball away after their opening drive of the second half fell flat.
After being sacked, setting up a 3rd and 17, Connor Cook found R.J. Shelton for a 24-yard completion to keep the drive going. Fortunately, on the next 3rd down, Troy Hill came up with another big play to hold the Spartans to a field goal.
On a very important possession, the Ducks once again fell flat, failing to get into Michigan State territory. All the momentum had swung to the Spartans’ side.
Since Mariota's 70-yard touchdown pass at 10:12 in the 2nd qtr, the Oregon QB has thrown for 11 yards and run for -16. #MSUvsUO— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 7, 2014
That's um...not good.
Late in the third quarter with Oregon needing any kind of offensive spark, Mariota miraculously escaped a fifth sack and got off a shovel pass to Royce Freeman for a first down to keep the drive alive. Then, like a gift from the football gods who wanted to watch an epic matchup, Mariota floated a perfectly placed pass into the hands of Devon Allen for the touchdown to pull Oregon back within two points.
Oregon then forced a 3-and-out to get the ball back. Suddenly, it was a whole new football game. Let me introduce you to old Lady Mo (full birth name: Madam Momentum). She can be really indecisive at times, like taking a girlfriend out to dinner. Once she’s on your side, you best treat her well to keep her around.
Marcus Mariota must have taken her out to a nice seafood dinner and called her back, because on Oregon’s next drive, Mariota found a wide open Keanon Lowe for the go-ahead touchdown.
After what I can assume was the most ridiculous rendition of "Shout" in the history of Autzen Stadium, Royce Freeman broke free for a 38-yard touchdown run, sending Autzen into a frenzy. Remember what I said about momentum?
I also came across video footage that gave me goose bumps. Anyone who says Oregon hates tradition has never experienced "Shout" at Autzen Stadium.
Joe Walker would come up with another huge stop on 3rd down, forcing the Spartans to go for it on 4th and 2 on the Oregon 24-yard line. Jeremy Langford got the call, and he initially looked short. A measurement would required. The measurement confirmed Langford didn’t reach the line. The Ducks had struggled to make stops when needed earlier, but when the heat was turned up (pun intended), the Oregon defense came up big. Walker had a huge day, leading the Ducks in tackles, something nobody could’ve expected.
Oregon went conservative on their next series, going to the run. The Ducks were forced to punt. Charles Nelson then nearly beheaded a man, drawing a flag for interfering with the catch. Personally, I thought the hit looked clean, but it was close enough where I could see where the flag came from.
On Michigan State’s next drive, we witnessed the play of the game. On 1st and 10 at the Oregon 31-yard line, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu came up with his second interception of the game. I'm still marveling at how far he needed to extend to come up with the pick.
Oregon iced the game with an 11 play, 96-yard touchdown drive that chewed up nearly 8 minutes of the game clock. Game. Set. Match.
Now, Oregon doesn't need to worry about how to answer critics who say they can't win the big games. This was one of the biggest games in recent Oregon history, and the Ducks left their mark for the entire nation to see.