Play solid assignment-based defense
This is a matchup of two teams that are relatively simple, but do exactly what they do extremely well. Whichever team executes their system better is going to win this one. For Michigan State to slow down and try and stop Oregon’s attack, it will take everyone on the defense being sound play to play and knowing their assignment. Points are scored by Oregon when teams break down or miss a gap.
Take care of the ball
Time of possession has been talked about plenty as big in this game, but Michigan State is almost a lock to win the time of possession. What matters more is making the most of that time. The Spartans need to sustain drives that end in points and turnovers will be detrimental to that. Keeping the ball in Connor Cook’s hands and out of Marcus Mariota’s works in Michigan State favor, so giving Oregon as few opportunities as possible is important.
Tackling of defensive ends and secondary
With the zone read, the play of Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush will be key in forcing Mariota to make decisions and that works well for the Spartans in this case. When it comes to the cornerbacks, Trae Waynes and Darian Hicks will have to shed blocks to get to players running wide, but making the tackle will be key. The secondary will be the final line of defense to stop big plays, so they need to be there for that.
Build a first-half lead
Michigan State came out hot and scored early and often last week and needs to be out on the board early in this one. It will be a hot day and Oregon wears teams down into the second half, where it ultimately pulls away. It would serve Michigan State well to be ahead going into the second half. The bigger the lead, the better the odds in this one.
Last week, the Spartans were not great in run blocking. The guards had an average showing and will need to be better in this one – also assuming Travis Jackson is playing. Playing a physical brand of football is a good bet Saturday and that will require winning in the trenches on both sides of the ball. When it comes to the offense, getting Jeremy Langford carries and yards is a good thing for Michigan State – so blocking up front will be big.
Linebacker Taiwan Jones
Jones’ ability to get the defense lined up quickly and consistently will be big for Michigan State against the no-huddle attack of Oregon. He also has to be on the field, well conditioned and ready for a few plays in a row.
Offensive lineman Travis Jackson
As mentioned above, the ability of MSU to run block will go a long way in this game. Jackson is imperative in that as the fifth-year senior needs to play and have a big day.
Cornerback Darian Hicks
Hicks was the player to pick on last week for Jacksonville State and figures to be an early and often target for Oregon in the air. He needs to step up to the challenge in this one to force the Ducks to be one-dimensional – which they don’t mind, but Michigan State’s defense would not mind either.
Defensive end Shilique Calhoun
Calhoun and Marcus Rush, as said above, need to be good in run support, but with the Ducks losing their left tackle for the season, it gives the ends an opportunity to be good in pass rush as well. If Calhoun can get loose and make Mariota’s life difficult, the Spartans will have to like that.
Quarterback Connor Cook
Did you think this list could go anywhere but with Cook? As he goes Saturday, the Spartans will go – cliché, but true. Cook has been really good on the big stage against Ohio State and Stanford, but this is a true road game against a tough opponent. He will need to have a big game again on the big stage and if he does, Michigan State should have enough points on the board to win.