It all starts with quarterback Connor Cook for Michigan State. The junior took over last year after winning the quarterback competition and went on to win the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl MVP awards, having his biggest games on the biggest stages of the season. He is a guy who can move around well and extend plays and create a little bit with his feet.
His biggest weapons are varied, as the Spartans play six wide receivers at minimum in their rotation. The No. 1 guy is senior Tony Lippett, who had a huge game last week with two long touchdowns.
In the backfield, senior Jeremy Langford burst onto the scene last year and had 18 touchdowns with a bunch of 100-yard rushing games. He was a little dinged up last week, so it will be interesting to see how much he can do this week.
Watch out for the tight ends in this one. I think Michigan State is looking to utilize Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles a lot this season and did not do it last week. I would not be surprised if they bust out some plays for them this week.
2. Special teams seem like the area where big games are won (or lost), what weapons does MSU have?
Special teams is an area where MSU did win games last year, as punter Mike Sadler is one of the best at pinning teams deep in their territory. Last year, he put opponents inside their 20-yard line 60 times and none of those drives resulted in points.
On the kicking side, Michael Geiger is a sophomore who missed just one kick last year – but did miss one of his two attempts last week. He is a consistent kicker, though, that the Spartans are not afraid to trot out there whenever.
Mark Dantonio has earned a reputation for trick plays on special teams and this is the type of game where he could really roll the dice at some point.
3. The last time MSU came to Autzen Stadium was when Nick Saban was the coach and the Ducks shocked the football world with a huge upset. Now the roles are reversed with Oregon being higher rated, but what if any are the similarities between this year’s MSU’s squad and that team that came west in 1998 and lost to the Ducks 48-14?
Well, Mark Dantonio was on that staff in 1998 as it was during his tenure as the defensive backs coach under Nick Saban. In that, it brings a sense of toughness like that squad, but it certainly is a different level of Michigan State football than was being played then. Other than that, there are not too many similarities to be seen as that is quite a long time ago.
4. Now, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. After Oregon shellacked MSU in Eugene, the Spartans returned the favor and put a blemish on an Oregon team that was one of the best ever with a 27-20 Oregon road loss. Do Spartan fans have found memories of that game and are many Spartan fans planning on heading out this weekend to take in this big match up?
I think that game does bring some fond memories for MSU fans, as Amp Campbell returned from the injury he suffered a year before to score the go-ahead touchdown and essentially win the game for Michigan State.
As for this game, the excitement has been high for some time and it seems like quite a few Michigan State fans will be making the trip out – and have planned to do so for a while.
5. Okay, enough living on memory lane! This is our final question, and it has to be what everybody is talking about, the Michigan State defense vs. the Oregon offense. We know you follow the Spartans closely, so what is your assessment?
That is the headliner, indeed. The talk this week – and rightfully so – has been how both teams play a pretty simple system and stick to what they do so well. That looks like it will determine who wins and who loses. If Michigan State can avoid missed assignments with some new defensive starters and play sound, gap-assignment football, they could be very successful in this one.
Oregon’s offense is faster than Michigan State’s defense – defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said so himself on Wednesday – so that favors Oregon.
I do think the key defensively for MSU is how the defensive ends perform in making Marcus Mariota make reads without having committed to either player, which is something Stanford has done well previously. That and the play of new cornerback Darian Hicks and middle linebacker Taiwan Jones, who moved inside this year after three years on the outside. If Jones can’t get the defense lined up as Oregon runs up to the line quickly, it could be a very long day for the Spartans. Fortunately, the Spartans run almost all their sets in their base defense, so that makes getting lined up a little bit easier.
It should be a fun Saturday!