Mama said there’d be days like this. Well, she really didn’t, but I’m sure if given the chance, my mother would have told me that eventually, Michigan State football would get shellacked by 19 on the road in one of the most important games in school history, 46-27.
The Spartans of Michigan State University took on the Ducks of the University of Oregon yesterday in Autzen Stadium, in Eugene, OR. Easily the most highly anticipated early matchup of the regular season, many held on to the “Something’s gotta give” belief, regarding MSU’s stout defense versus Oregon’s lightning-fast offense. Some felt that after beating Stanford–a team that has had recent success against Oregon–the Spartans would carry over some of that proficiency to a tilt against the Ducks. Others figured that while Sparty “out-physicalled” Stanford, the D lost a few key players to graduation and the NFL Draft, and that Oregon and star QB Marcus Mariota would ultimately prove to be too much for the Big Ten’s reigning champion.
For about a half, it looked as if Sparty would “upset” the Ducks and do a little more to establish themselves as a legitimate national title contender, this in the first year of the College Football Playoff. And then the second half started.
Offense: If you told me before the game that MSU would amass over 460 yards of total offense, 340 yards passing, commit only 5 penalties, and hold onto the ball seven minutes longer than the Ducks, I would have basically guaranteed a MSU win, especially noticing that very first number. QB Connor Cook (29-47, 343 YDS, 2 TD, 2 INT), outside of a pass under duress that was intercepted, was great in the first half, finishing 17-25 for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns against that lone pick. RB Jeremy Langford (24 CAR, 86 YDS, TD) ran the ball 15 times for 72 yards and a 16-yard touchdown in the first half, as well. It took Sparty’s offense a little time to get going, but when it did, it scored 24 points in 11 minutes in the second quarter to go into the half with a 24-18 lead. MSU’s O racked up 303 total yards in the first half, as well as 14 first downs, managing to run 16 more plays than Oregon, in addition. WR Tony Lippett, despite a drop or two, was great all game long, finishing with 11 catches for 133 yards and a score. TE Josiah Price (5 CAT, 51 YDS, TD) also hauled in a touchdown pass, and nine different Spartans caught a ball from Cook.
And then the second half started. A Michael Geiger 42-yard field goal put them up 27-18, and that was about it for the offense until the game was essentially out of reach. Cook was under more pressure in the second half, as he was sacked three times. Langford was certainly bottled up, running the ball 9 times for only 14 yards. Seeing Oregon stuff the run in the second half was easily the most surprising part of the game, for me. Down 39-27 early in the fourth quarter, MSU faced 4th and 2 at Oregon’s 24. Rather than kick a field goal and still find themselves in a two-possession game, MSU attempted to run for the first down and came up a little over a yard short. Ballgame.
Defense. To be honest, I didn’t think Sparty had a chance of stopping Oregon. At best, I figured they would contain Mariota and take away big plays from the Ducks that tend to blow games wide open. Unfortunately, Mariota is simply too good of a quarterback, and now I’m wondering how at all Stanford managed to limit him just enough to beat the Ducks a few times. Mariota was very good in the first half (9-15, 185 YDS, TD), but ran 5 times for negative -5 yards. Ducks sophomore RB Thomas Tyner ran 8 times for only 12 yards, and besides Devon Allen’s 70-yard touchdown catch and a 64-yard reception by fellow WR Darren Carrington, Sparty’s D didn’t really allow all that much in the first half. It was in the second half when Mariota took over, and his teammates followed suit. Time and time again, Mariota seemed to make the right play, whether keeping the ball and running for a first down, evading pass rushers to complete a pass downfield, or putting on a show, like the play in which he avoided a sack twice before offering a backhanded flip to a teammate, who then ran for a first down to do away with a third-and-long situation. I chuckled to myself as Sparty converted third-and-long several times in the first half, largely because I assumed Sparty’s D would never allow Oregon to convert in such a situation.
But, Oregon has Mariota. Period. Mariota finished 17-28 for 318 yards and 3 touchdowns, not to mention 42 rushing yards on 9 carries, which would mean that he ran 4 times for 47 yards in the second half. Mariota may have very well won the Heisman with this performance, (it’s still incredibly early to state this, I know) especially with what he produced in the second half when his team needed him most.
Special Teams. Geiger made both of his field goal attempts and punter Mike Sadler punted 6 times for an average of nearly 43 yards a punt. Sparty wasn’t wildly successful in either the kick or punt return game, but it didn’t hurt them.
What’s Next: The Spartans will play the Eastern Michigan Eagles two Saturdays from now in Spartan Stadium. The Eagles traveled to Gainesville, FL, yesterday and were soundly beaten by the Florida Gators, 65-0, and they will travel to Old Dominion this upcoming Saturday. EMU beat Morgan State at home by 3, so I think it’s safe to assume that MSU won’t have any problems putting away Eastern. A week off after this loss will be good for Sparty, but not so much for EMU, as you’d better believe that MSU head coach Mark Dantonio will have his guys more than ready for the Eagles.
GO GREEN. GO WHITE.