After months of hype, the Oregon vs. Michigan State game is finally just days away. In their season opener against Eastern Washington, the Ducks looked shaky against Cooper Kupp, who hauled in 15 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns. Who will be the main playmakers for Michigan State this weekend?
Oregon's secondary will have their hands full with Connor Cook. Last year against the Ducks, Cook completed 29-of-47 passes for 343 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Cook has the big game experience and doesn't let anything faze him. He won't always be the most accurate quarterback (Cook completed less than 50 percent of his pass attempts against Western Michigan last week), but when he does make mistakes, Cook doesn't let them bother him. Cook said last year against the Ducks, there was a lot of pressure on him to make throws that he couldn't complete. The Spartans will be relying heavily on Cook to make those plays against a secondary that looked lost against Eastern Washington.
In their opening week win over Western Michigan, the Spartans did not have a running back rush for over 100 yards. LJ Scott led the way with 77 yards on 13 carries, while Madre London also carried the ball 13 times for 59 yards. London also had two rushing touchdowns on the day, including a 24-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.
The Spartans are needing to replace Jeremy Langford, who ran for 1,522 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Scott and London are both freshmen who weren't around for last year's showdown between the Spartans and Ducks in Eugene.
Gerald Holmes, a sophomore, is also in the mix for the Spartans in their backfield. Holmes had nine carries for 54 yards and one touchdown against Western Michigan last weekend.
I don't expect that Oregon's front seven will have any trouble shutting down the trio, forcing the game into the hands of Conor Cook and his receivers, instead.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Leading the way for the Spartans is senior Aaron Burbridge. Last week, Burbridge had four catches for 117 yards, including a 56-yard reception The Ducks didn't have much trouble containing Burbridge last year as he had just two catches for 30 yards against Oregon at Autzen Stadium. However, this year, Burbridge will be facing a much more inexperienced secondary and could give the Ducks some headaches.
Burbridge will have to fill a void left by the departure of Tony Lippett, who was Cook's go-to target in 2014. Against the Ducks, Lippett hauled in 11 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. If Burbridge can mimic that performance, Michigan State could be coming out on top.
The Spartans are also needing to replace Keith Mumphery, who caught 26 passes for 495 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. Mumphery and Lippett combined for over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, something the Spartans certainly wished they had this weekend against Oregon's young secondary.
R.J. Shelton will also be a guy to keep an eye on. Last year, Shelton ranked third on the team with 1,114 all-purpose yards and could make a splash, more so on special teams.
Josiah Price, Michigan State's starting tight end, is also back this season. Last year against the Ducks, Price had five catches for 51 yards and one touchdown. Price had a similar performance to open the year against Western Michigan with three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.
X-Factor: Connor Cook
Whether Michigan State wins or loses this game will rest on the shoulders of Connor Cook. The Spartans don't have enough of a rushing attack to compete with Oregon's talent up front, and instead will need to hope Cook and Burbridge can exploit Oregon's secondary much like Jordan West and Cooper Kupp did last weekend in Eugene. If Cook can improve on his accuracy and pick apart Oregon's secondary, Michigan State wins this game. But if not, I don't think the Spartans have enough firepower on offense to keep up with the Ducks.