A 24-point second quarter – and a 20-0 run – had the No. 7 Spartans leading the No. 3 Ducks in their home Autzen Stadium in the third quarter Saturday. The Spartans appeared primed to claim a big early season nonconference win, but in a matter of little more than five minutes, the game flipped at the hands of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
”Things started to snowball and we couldn’t stop them from snowballing,” coach Mark Dantonio said.
Specifically, Michigan State could not stop Marcus Mariota – an early Heisman favorite. The senior standout promptly threw two touchdown passes late in the third quarter to give Oregon the lead 27-25 and it never looked back, winning 46-27.
Mariota finished with three touchdown passes and 318 yards on 17 of 28 passing, giving Michigan State fits with his elusiveness throughout the second half.
“He makes a lot of great plays off broken plays and I feel like he did that (Saturday),” defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. “We didn’t do a good job of containing him, a lot of missed tackles on him.”
One play stood above the rest Saturday, as Mariota faced a third-and-10 from the Oregon 41 and the Michigan State blitz came right up the middle. Mariota rolled to his left, escaping pressure with room to run but he flipped the ball ahead to running back Thomas Tyner for a 17-yard gain and a first down.
”We had him dead to rights,” Dantonio said. “We had him. I even said, ‘He’s sacked.’ Give credit to him, that’s why he’s the player he is.”
A few plays later, Mariota hit wide receiver Devon Allen for a 24-yard touchdown. On the next drive, he found wide receiver Keanon Lowe for a 37-yard touchdown. A 38-yard run by Royce Freeman to open the fourth and things had gone from good to bad to worse for the Spartans.
It was a drastic change in the blink of an eye after Michigan State dominated the second quarter with 24 points, led by a pair of touchdown passes by Connor Cook. The Spartans defense had held the Ducks to just 13 yards rushing on 14 attempts in the first half. Take out a pair of big plays – a 70-yard and a 64-yard pass – and Michigan State had allowed just 99 yards on 28 plays to the explosive Ducks offense.
”Everyone was pumped up and we were all ready to come out and shut them down in the second half and we let that slip away,” defensive end Marcus Rush said. “We had them at halftime. The momentum definitely shifted to our way.
”We came out flat.”
Things started well for Michigan State as the second half opened with a third straight three-and-out for Oregon and kicker Michael Geiger hit a 42-yard field goal to increase the lead to 27-18.
Another three-and-out for Oregon gave Michigan State the ball back at its 20 with the Spartans looking to score for a sixth straight possession but Cook’s third-down attempt to get the ball to fullback Trevon Pendleton fell incomplete.
”No one was open downfield and that’s on me, I’ve gotta make a play,” Cook said. “If I shoulda pitched it, dumped it down, if Trevon catches that, he’s still running right now.”
Instead, Oregon and Mariota took over and Michigan State failed to score again.
“There was an ebb and flow in this game,” Dantonio said. “They started out pretty fast, we needed to get some things done. We were able to counter that in the second quarter and had a big quarter and went into halftime with a six-point lead. Came out in the third quarter and we gotta score touchdowns and not kick a field goal.
”We stalled out and that happened a couple other times in the fourth when we possibly could have cut it back to a one-score game.”
Both offenses sputtered through much of the first quarter, until a Cook interception led to Oregon’s first touchdown – a 1-yard run by Tyner. The Ducks added a field goal early in the second, but the Spartans got going soon after.
The Ducks came back quickly as Mariota hit Allen for a 70-yard score and an 18-7 lead with 10:12 to go before halftime. The rest of the first half belonged to the Spartans and Cook.
A 59-yard kickoff return by R.J. Shelton led to a 34-yard Geiger field goal made it an 18-10 game. Back-to-back sacks from Lawrence Thomas and Rush gave the Spartans the ball back and they took advantage as Cook hit Tony Lippett for a 7-yard touchdown.
A second straight three-and-out for Oregon set up Michigan State with a chance to score before the half. Cook again keyed the drive with a big 34-yard pass to Lippett to set up a 7-yard pass to Price to give the Spartans a 24-18 lead with 18 seconds left in the half.
It was all Oregon from there, as Mariota took over and the Spartans struggle to get their offense started in the second half, managing just 162 yards in the second half after posting 304 in the first half.
Michigan State put together two drives in the fourth quarter into Oregon territory, but one ended with Langford being stuffed on fourth down at the Oregon 23 and the other with a diving interception by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on a deflected Cook pass intended for Troup.
“You really just have to respond when the other team has the momentum and take that from them, especially in the home environment,” Price said. “We have to drive down and score seven points right when they take the lead and take the lead back from them and steal the momentum.
”We weren’t able to do that (Saturday night).”
Lippett finished with his second straight game with more than 100 receiving yards, racking up 133 a week after posting 167. Cook finished with a career-high 343 yards on 29 of 47 passing – career highs in completions and attempts.
The loss ended the Spartans’ 11-game win streak, which dated back to last September 21.
“The bottom line is we regroup,” Dantonio said. “Learn from it, grow from it and bounce back.
”There is no question we will bounce back.”