EAST LANSING — No. 7 Oregon suffered it’s first loss of the season at the hands of No. 5 Michigan State on Saturday night in front of a packed house at Spartan Stadium, 31-28.
What may be most surprising was the fact that Oregon (1-1), which was dominated up front by an aggressive Spartans (2-0) defense for much of the game and kept out of the end zone offensively for over 40 minutes, was mere inches from winning the game when quarterback Vernon Adams overthrew a wide open Byron Marshall for what would’ve been the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The pass was one that Adams said was one he’ll think about following the defeat.
“I can’t stop thinking about that,” he said. “He was wide open and you gotta make that throw, and the game’s different.”
Adams finished 22-of-39 for 309 yards passing, two touchdowns (one rushing) and two interceptions while spending a fair portion of the contest trying to make plays with the pocket collapsing. Meanwhile, Spartans senior Connor Cook showed the cool poise of a veteran quarterback, finishing 20-of-32 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Cook made several throws during the game that resulted in key first downs, but none of which was bigger than a gutsy 4th and 6 throw for 28 yards to Aaron Burbridge in the third quarter that put Michigan State at the Oregon six yard line and set up a touchdown run by L.J. Scott to give the Spartans a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
“They did a good job of picking the little holes in our zone defenses and things like that,” safety Reggie Daniels said. “We’ve just got to fix those mistakes and come out next Saturday ready.”
The Ducks started the game with a 13 play scoring drive capped off by a Royce Freeman touchdown run from two yards out. While the Ducks set the tone and found plenty of success on the outside of the field — especially Charles Nelson who had seven first half receptions — Michigan State was usually quick to respond and slowed Oregon’s run game to a point that it was a non-factor for most of the contest.
A mere three plays after Oregon took the lead, Michigan State scored on a Josiah Price 12 yard catch, following a gashing 62 yard scamper by Madre London on the first play from scrimmage.
After that, Oregon’s defense kept Cook and company in check minus a short 30 yard scoring drive in the second quarter. However, on a key drive in that second quarter the Ducks failed to convert on fourth and goal after several tries at the goal line, leaving Freeman stuffed and UO without points. A false start penalty didn’t help matters, one of nine Oregon penalties on the night that cost them some opportunities despite racking up 432 yards of offense.
“The last one, one their d-lineman got the better of one of our o-lineman and knocked him back into Royce,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “I thought we had it in on the play before on the quarterback draw. You can go back and look at a ton of situations that changed the game and that fourth and goal on the one is one.”
The Ducks looked to be turning things around when Bralon Addison took a punt back 81 yards to tie the game. But Cook led the Spartans on a scoring drive where he went 7-of-9 passing, including the aforementioned fourth down conversion to swing momentum back Sparty’s way.
With the game seemingly in hand, Michigan State became conservative and the Ducks pounced, forcing Michigan State to punt late in the fourth quarter. Adams later found Byron Marshall in the end zone for a touchdown to get the Ducks within three. Another three and out gave the Ducks one last chance at hope, but it was not to be as Adams couldn’t connect with Addison on 4th and long, giving the ball back to the Spartans who ran out the clock.
The Ducks now look ahead to a matchup with Georgia State before Pac-12 play begins. While Saturday’s loss won’t knock the Ducks out of playoff contention this early, the loss still lingered for a team that knew it had a chance to pull a big upset on the road.
“We get our opportunities we have to take advantage of them,” Addison said. “Especially against a good team like that. We have to punch it in when we can especially when we’ve got a young defense. We have to help them out as much as we can.”
Oregon and Georgia State kick off at 11 a.m. next Saturday from Autzen Stadium.