Michigan State fans won’t have to wait long to find out if the Spartans are a legitimate National Title contender in 2014. MSU travels to Eugene to face Oregon week two in what will likely be a matchup of top-ten teams.
Early odds have Michigan State as two-touchdown underdogs, which is understandable considering the amount of talent departed from last years team and the fact the game is going to be played in Autzen Stadium. That being said, I don’t expect this game to be a blowout by any means.
Michigan State has plenty of talent returning, especially on the offensive side of the ball including quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford. The Spartans have a chance to make a statement on a national stage early in the year by getting a win in Autzen.
Here are three keys for Michigan State if it hopes to pull off the upset against the Ducks in week two.
SLOW DOWN MARIOTA
This definitely falls into the category of “easier said than done”. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the frontrunner for the Heisman trophy last season before missing time with an injury, so he is not an easy guy to gameplan for.
Over the past few seasons the one kryptonite of the Michigan State defense has been mobile quarterbacks. The likes of Taylor Martinez and Braxton Miller have had a lot of success against the Spartan defense, and Mariota is more talented than either of them. This doesn’t seem to be a great matchup for MSU, but if you look at Mariota’s few weaknesses there is one thing than can be exploited.
In the few games that Mariota didn’t have a lot of success last season there was one common theme–he was getting pressured on almost every snap. Coincidentally, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi loves to use complex bitzes to try and get to the quarterback.
If MSU can dominate the line of scrimmage and constantly keep Mariota uncomfortable, it has a good chance of slowing down the Ducks high flying offense.
CONTROL THE BALL
While this might seem like a given considering how fast Oregon likes to play and that the Ducks rarely win the time of possession battle, it is still vitally important for MSU.
Oregon is going to play quickly on offense whether it is scoring or not; Michigan State can’t control that. What MSU can control is the amount of time it possesses the ball. The longer Connor Cook and the Michigan State offense are on the field, the less opportunities Marcus Mariota will have for the Ducks.
In 2013, the Spartans tied for second in the country in average time of possession so they are no stranger to controlling the ball. Michigan State will need to establish the run game and maintain drives if it hopes to stay in the game against the Ducks.
Michigan State hasn’t allowed a team to exceed 30 points in over two seasons. That streak will most likely end in Eugene, but that doesn’t mean MSU can’t win. The coaching staff just can’t panic if Oregon starts putting up points quickly.
The Spartan offense will be improved in 2014, but it isn’t built to throw the ball 50-60 times a game. What this means is that even if Oregon scores a few early touchdowns, MSU needs to stick to its gameplan and trust that it’s defense will start getting stops. If Connor Cook starts passing on first and second down every drive once Oregon puts up a few points Michigan State will be in trouble.
Maybe the young Spartan defense will shock the world and hold Oregon to 17 points, but that scenario seems extremely unlikely. MSU needs to have a plan in place in case Oregon goes up a few scores, and that plan needs to include Jeremy Langford and the Spartan’s patented power run game.
If the Spartans get behind early and abandon the run it could be a long night in Eugene for the Spartan faithful. On the other hand, if the Spartans stick to the gameplan, contain Mariota and control the ball there could be an early season upset in Eugene.
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