The game was closer than the 46-27 score, but Oregon proved that toughness and playing against a physical, smash-mouth team like Michigan State might no longer be a problem for them thanks to a great second half from Marcus Mariota and Royce Freeman, which was yet another low-point for the Big Ten as its teams keep getting hammered in non-conference play.
For a moment in the second quarter and early in the third, it seemed like it was happening against to Oregon – their usual slip against Stanford the last two years has probably denied them at least one shot at the national title. It looked like it was going to happen once again against the Spartans, last year’s Rose Bowl winners. After Devon Allen put Oregon ahead with a 70-yard touchdown reception 18-7, Michigan State went on to score 20 consecutive points, stopping the rushing around the edges and generally slowing down the Oregon offense.
One play defined this win more than anything else: Marcus Mariota avoiding a sack in the third quarter with his feet shuffling before a shovel pass to get a first down on a third-and-11 situation. Oregon were down by nine points at that point, but went on to score 28 consecutive points without Michigan State having an answer for the Ducks attack.
The second half turned out to be different. Blown coverage from the Spartans time after time and not being able to control the rushing around the tackles. Oregon finished with 130 yards of running outside the tackles in the second half compared to -3 in the first half. Those runs also led to a couple of touchdowns, both by Royce Freeman to seal the game in the fourth quarter, as Michigan State players looked like they falling off of their feet.
The difference was in the quarterbacks as well. Connor Cook looked good early on but finished with two interceptions to match his two touchdown passes. Mariota? He threw for three touchdowns, all of them on deep passes (70 yards, 24 and 37), reaching 69 passing touchdowns in his college career, an Oregon record. He was 5-of-7 on passes going 15 yards or more downfield against a defense that allowed the lowest completion percentage on passes of this distance of any Power Five defense.
Oregon have a defense to be proud of as well, especially in the second half. Not just the amazing interception by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, maybe the best secondary player in the nation, but also their ability to slow down a great running team like Michigan State, limited to just 37 yards on 15 carries in the second half. On nine of those rushes they were already tackled before the line of scrimmage, which was a sharp contrast to their ground game dominance in the first half.
This win doesn’t mean it’s a clear path for Oregon to the College Football playoffs, but now that Stanford have lost they have a clear edge in the Pac-12 North thanks to a big non-conference win against a team that plays exactly like Oregon hate to be played against. For Michigan State, it doesn’t mean anything about their chances in the Big Ten to win the conference, but a lot about the conference and its chances of making the playoffs.