The biggest game of week 2 and maybe one of the best we’ll see this season as #7 Michigan State travel to play #3 Oregon in what isn’t just another Big Ten – Pac-12 battle but also quite the contrast of styles between offensive and defensive mindedness, not to mention the implications on the College Football playoffs at the end of the year.
The Spartans won the Rose Bowl last season for the first time since 1987 after beating Stanford. The Cardinal have been pretty much the only thing standing in the way of Oregon for them to contend for the national championship, showing the blueprint to beat the Ducks, which happens to be something Michigan State have the tools for.
The formula says that in order to beat Oregon, which has happened just three times since the beginning of the 2012 season, one must have a running back who is going to run for at least 157 yards on at least 33 carries. So does that mean Ron Langford is going to run for that much? Probably not, but it does mean having a bruising running game and being able to keeping Marcus Mariota from rushing around the edges.
The clash in styles should be interesting. The Spartans haven’t been in a top 10 game in the regular season since 1967. They had the number one defense in the nation last season, but Oregon usually prove a different kind of test to most teams, relying heavily on the zone read, which is something the Spartans have rarely seen last season. Only Arizona ran more zone reads on rushing plays than Oregon in 2013
Marcus Mariota had a big game against South Dakota State to start the season, beginning his redshirt Junior year, once again looking like one of the leading Heisman candidates. He threw three touchdown passes and had plenty of help from the running game as Royce Freeman ran for a couple of touchdowns himself. Connor Cook did well for Michigan State against another FCS opponent, Jacksonville State, but Oregon are obviously a different matter of speed and quality on defense as well.
For Michigan State to put their stamp on the game, it’s going to have to be about scoring early. Trying to chase Oregon by overthrowing them doesn’t sound like such a great idea. This isn’t going to end well for anyone trying to simply outgun what might be the best offensive team in the nation for yet another year. Solid defense that doesn’t allow big plays and pummeling through a consistent running game is the key, and it’ll be who settles in their groove first that probably determines which way this game goes.