Last season Michigan State made the trip to Eugene, Oregon to take on a high powered Ducks offense led by Marcus Mariota. The No. 7 Ducks return the favor Saturday night with the No. 5 Spartans looking for a different outcome than the 46-27 loss they returned to East Lansing with.
Mariota may be in the NFL but it looks like the Ducks have found another leader to take his place in graduate transfer Vernon Adams Jr. who rushed for 94 yards and passed for 246 yards on 19 completions in the Ducks season opening 61-42 victory over Eastern Washington.
Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio and a few of his players feel the Spartans are now better prepared to battle high powered spread offenses having played the Ducks and Baylor over the past season.
“We live and learn,” said Dantonio. “I guess that is the best way to put it. We live and learn. We're always going to critique what we do and try to make it better. We had the opportunity to play Oregon last year. We did some things coming into that. We played into that situation by playing some teams like Indiana. I think the other teams that we played in our conference in Northwestern and things of that nature do the same type of things, so we had that advantage coming to the Oregon game. The Oregon game we had the advantage and that opportunity and experience to go to the Baylor game.”
With Adams now at the Ducks controls, Dantonio is not ready to place the first year Duck on the same level as other top quarterbacks the Spartans have faced over the years like Russell Wilson or Mariota.
“I do see the similarities between Vernon and Russell Wilson to some extent,” he said. “But we haven't played him yet and we've got one game on him other than watching him when he was at Eastern Washington and things of that nature. So you see some of that. But we'll have to see when we play him. Russell Wilson was outstanding and has had an outstanding career.”
Much like the Ducks enjoyed Mariota as their go-to player a year ago, Dantonio feels Connor Cook can be the deciding factor when the two teams battle on Saturday night.
“He (Connor) is an x-factor,” he said. “I think if he goes, we go. That is the nature of the quarterback position. He has the ability to throw it. There is no question about that. He has the ability to run it. He's got to get out there and do that sometimes. So, big games like this, I think you take advantage of both ends of that spectrum. But it's his decision making. It's his arm strength. It's his calls at the line of scrimmage. It's his leadership value in the huddle, those type of things. All those things come to—become higher, higher thoughts, become very paramount, I think in everything that you're trying to do this week. So every quarterback is the x-factor guy, I think, for their football team."