Scouting Report and Prediction: #5 Michigan State (1-0) vs. #7 Oregon (1-0)

A look at this week’s opponent…

The Oregon Ducks come into this game as a premier and elite program in college football.  They have maintained a level of excellence over a period of time built on their opportunistic nature and speed.  They are one of the most thorough staffs in the nation evaluating tape and exposing teams’ weaknesses.  Having said that, when the
Ducks struggle it is when teams pound them.

Similar to my statements last week vs. Western Michigan, the Ducks want to play in wide open spaces.  The Spartans want a fist fight in a phone booth.  The 2015 version of the Ducks is predicated on a lot of rushing and that plays into the hands and the psyche of the Spartans.

I took a lot of criticism for doing my job last year and being honest that I thought the Spartans were good, but would have no answer for the improvisational
skills of Marcus Mariota.  Despite taking control and having the lead midway through the third quarter when Marcus “The Magician” Mariota started his improvisational routine, MSU had no answers.  Well, Marcus is gone and although Vernon Adams is an exceptional athlete, he is no Mariota and that favors the Spartans.

 

When MSU has the ball…

The Spartans are going to score points.   A lot of points.  I mean a ton of points.  The Ducks faced an FCS (NCAA second tier smaller school) last week and their defense was physically beaten up and manhandled.  The Ducks gave up 42 points and 549 yards of offense (111 rushing & 438 passing) to an FCS school last week.  One other note is that
it was against the 2nd and 3rd string QB’s of EWU.

I analyzed that game 11 times and you could see undersized OL for EWU pushing Ducks all over the field.  The mammoth Spartan OL is going to have a field day.
Now don’t be fooled.  The Oregon DL is not bad, their defensive backfield is terrible.  The issue with MSU is NOT going to be scoring.  The MSU offense must pound the
ball and avoid turnovers. MSU needs to keep Oregon off the field.  You can pass whenever you want on Oregon, so MSU needs a nice TE attack and a WR scheme that tallies first downs, but sustains drives as well.

The Ducks are THE MOST opportunistic team in college football.  What I am about to say is a term of respect.  Forget Ducks, they should be called BUZZARDS; they feed off of the mistakes of others.  They are geniuses of it.  If MSU avoids turnovers and doesn’t help them, all signs point to A BIG Spartan win tomorrow.  Here is an interesting stat.  Since 2010 the Ducks have scored 32 NON-OFFENSIVE touchdowns.  That is the most in division one football and it speaks to their opportunistic ways.  Oregon specializes in waiting for people to make a mistake and pouncing.

For two years I have consistently mentioned in every medium in which I operate (TV, radio, print and internet) that Mark Dantonio wants Connor Cook to run more.  He doesn’t want him to be Vernon Adams, but he needs and craves it.  Dantonio said it again this week about Cook, “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.”

Dantonio understands the impact his offense needs to have this weekend, “Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Bottom line at the end of the game is do you win or do you lose? So whether we win 10-9 or 40-39 really makes no difference. They’re all going to count one, pretty much like I said last weekend. But you’ve got to play this as
a team game. We can’t just put our defense out there and say, okay, day one, and the offense lost.”

When MSU is on defense…

The Spartans defense must prepare for the Ducks quick strike attack.  38% of their touchdowns come within two minutes.  They look for and do a masterful job of attacking your weaknesses. They are one of the best staffs in the nation at analyzing tape.

Dantonio is NOT ONE to wax loquacious  with hyperbole, but he does truly have respect for the Ducks offense, and he should.  “Oregon does a lot of good
things. They’re going to pass it and run it. They’re going to create a lot of problems systematically with formations and motions and things of that nature.  I think Adams is a guy that can take a bad play certainly and make it a good one, so some of the rush yards come off the scramble, things of that nature, much like they did with Mariota.”

He went on to add, “If you look at our game last year, the x-factor in that game was Marcus Mariota. He made things happen. I mean, they’ve got great players that surround him, but he made things happen in terms of getting out of sack situations and those types of things from a defensive standpoint, our defense.”

He continued, “There are runs, there are passes, there are all these different adjustments, but they create a lot of different problems. They’re an excellent
football team. They’re extremely well coached. I would say cutting edge in terms of what they do offensively. There is the whole component of having to get lined up and play within 15 seconds or so or less.  There is that combination of things, and they have the different speeds just like everybody else. But I think it’s helped that we’ve played there last year. I think it’s helped us also that we’ve played teams like Baylor and Indiana and other teams that are fast tempo as well.”

He added an additional caveat, “ There is still that conditioning aspect of it and that aspect of being able to get lined up play with your knees bent, focused, change personnel, subs and things of that nature and it’s a challenge.”Another misconception of the Ducks is that they are a pass, pass, pass team.  Not true.  To go with the above stat I give you this.  Since 2010 the Ducks have scored 437 touchdowns.  222 of them have come via rushing the ball. This team lives to run the ball.  That is their lifeblood despite perceptions.

The Spartans defense is built on the mentality that if you can’t run on us, you can’t beat us. That doesn’t mean more yards rushing than passing.  What it means is that if they have to change and adjust their defense (as they had to last year) to stop you from running that is how you win.

The Spartans defensive backfield must improve from last week, but people around the nation forget that the Spartans stayed VERY VANILLA against WMU doing nothing new and WMU has a better defense than Oregon.

The Spartan defensive backs must tackle better in pass coverage, but if the Spartans can control Adams running and keep him in the pocket that is game set match.
This is a better Spartan D than last year and the Ducks ARE NOT as good on offense.  Not bad by any means, but not as good.

MSU is going to make this a physical game.  Read into that Balboa vs Mr. T.   They want a physical pounding game.  The more pain the happier the Spartans are.  Oregon wants finesse.  I am not sure that this Duck team without Mariota can change the narrative.  You might want to hide the children because this game comes with an R rating for
violence.

If you saw the Cotton Bowl once MSU got back to blitzing and physicality, they pounded Baylor and wore them out.  This Oregon team is very good, but not last
year’s version of themselves or Baylor and the Spartans are foaming at the mouth for this heavyweight fight like a pack of rabid wolves. If Adams runs all over unchecked
playing sideline to sideline and end line to end line the Spartans have no shot.  If this is a physical battle, look out.  Oregon will score.  But can they get the game in space enough to neutralize the Spartan physicality?  Mariota was a great runner, but knew when to create space with his legs and then throw.  Heretofore, Adams has not shown that talent.  He is an even better runner than Mariota, but once he commits to the run he doesn’t pull up and pass.  Once he commits he is gone.  Once the Spartans see him take off they must go at him like a heat seeking missile.  When Mariota would do that you had to stay in your gaps because he could get you to come at him and throw over you. Simply put, the Spartans must make this game about pain.  Every chance they get legally they must physically punish Adams.  His pain factor must be tested.

Intangibles…

The Spartan Nation is attempting to stripe the stadium by section green and white and with Gameday on site you know the place is going to be rocking.  Dantonio talked about the  atmosphere at length.

He knows the impact of the Spartan Nation fan base.  “There is a definite home-field advantage for Spartan Stadium. We need people to come and do their thing because it is loud. I mean, Spartan Stadium, I got to the stadium last year out there and it’s a loud stadium. The game progressed and my reaction was this is no louder than Spartan Stadium.”

He shared an interesting note, “I mean, Spartan Stadium from me to you, I could be screaming at you and you can’t hear me, so it’s loud. It’s extremely loud
down there, and those are great opportunities to affect a no-huddle offense.”

Prediction…

Oregon is a very good team.  Adams is a great runner and QB when he throws.  This is NOT a slam, but he isn’t Mariota.  Who is?  Mariota was an X factor last year.  He isn’t this year.  The X factor this year is the Spartans physicality; making Adams pay every down and beating him up.  If he lives in space this is simple, Oregon wins.  If he doesn’t, Spartans win BIG.

Oregon will score, but MSU is better.  Make it 45-24 MSU wins!