This weeks game features #3 ranked Oregon against #7 ranked Michigan State (MSU). All the talk is about Oregon’s prolific offense versus Michigan State’s stingy defense. Just how stingy is the MSU defense? The last time they gave up more than 28 points was in 2011. Oregon has averaged over 40 points a game for several years. Something has to give.
There are aspects of that matchup that I find fascinating and I’ll come back to those soon. But I think this game really will come down to MSU’s offense versus Oregon’s defense. It was hard to get a good read on Oregon’s defense based on last week’s game versus South Dakota. You can make a case it was mediocre or a case that it was better than it appeared.
MSU gets compared to Stanford a lot but they really are different in significant ways. For one they are much more balanced in their ability to both run and pass the ball. They have big physical receivers who try to dominate smaller defenders. But they are not guys who are going to blow past the defense with speed. Oregon’s defensive backs are very capable and I give Oregon a slight advantage here.
Here is my take on the Duck defense at this point. The Ducks played a lot of players last week. In fact everyone who was eligible and not redshirting (sitting out the year for practice only) got in the game. This week will be different as Oregon will rely more on the first team and second team players. My biggest concern is the Oregon Linebackers who are instrumental is stopping the opponents running game. They played more aggressively in the second half last week with better results and I’m cautiously optimistic. If they don’t do their job expect MSU to pound the ball at Oregon much like Stanford has done recently. I don’t think MSU is Stanford though so I would expect this only if MSU can get a 7-14 point lead on Oregon.
A player to look for on defense? Look for 6’8” 290 lb Erik Armsteadt. His is #9 and the Ducks will need him to get in the back field. As a senior in HS he was considered the top defensive lineman in the country and seems to finally be ready to live up to his potential. 1-on-1 he is almost unblockable.
So lets look at Oregon’s offense versus MSU defense. What is fascinating to me is that both teams do things that others are only trying to catch up with. Oregon only runs a small number of plays but they all have a variety of options. What they are attempting to do is well disguised as everything looks like one of a few sets before the ball is snapped. From the same formation they can execute a power running play or a long pass attempt.
Michigan State’s defense only runs a small number of plays but they all have a variety of options. What they are attempting to do is well disguised as everything looks like one of few sets before the ball is snapped.
See the dilemma? MSU is looking to see what happens right after the ball is snapped and then adapt their defense on the fly. Oregon looks to see what the defense does right after the ball is snapped and then adapts their offense on the fly. I think this plays, very slightly, to Oregon’s advantage as the offense can wait longer than the defense to read and adjust and Marcus Mariota is very good making good decisions. This will all happen within the first half second of the ball being snapped. Fascinating and I don’t think this kind of matchup has ever happened at this level.
MSU does like to stack 9 of their 11 players near the line of scrimmage to stop the run and then have their two pass defenders up in the face of the receivers. It will be interesting to see if MSU attempts this because I think Oregon can exploit it by getting the ball wide quickly. Close up defenders makes it easier for the receivers to block the defender out of the play which is key to success when running/passing wide. Oregon’s receivers are very fast, A national champion in the 110 hurdles at age 19,Devon Allen (#5) is likely the faster player in college. If MSU gets too aggressive and a receiver gets past them Oregon should have an opportunity for some long passes for TD’s. Lastly, if Oregon can run a lot of wide plays it will help to wear down the defense as they sprint from sideline to sideline. Oregon’s concern is picking up the MSU blitz. If Marcus Mariota has a weakness it is securing the ball when under pressure. Neither team can afford turnovers.