Ducks Look to Maintain Mojo vs Spartans

Ducks will attempt to beat the Spartans for the second year in a row.

Every dedicated Duck (and Spartan) fan remembers the pivotal play in Oregon’s 46-27 comeback victory last September. Third-and-11, down by nine with little momentum and an anxious Autzen stadium looking on, Marcus Mariota miraculously evaded Spartan defenders before shoveling the ball to Royce Freeman for a first down. This determination rejuvenated the Duck spirits as they went on to score four unanswered touchdowns and solidify themselves as championship contenders.

Kevin Cline

The Ducks are ready for this season to kickoff and build off their 13-2 record last season

In one month’s time the Ducks will migrate to East Lansing where these two preseason top 10 teams will face off in a rematch with College Football Playoff implications looming once again. Writers Joe Tuohey and Jeremy Dewar of “The Only Colors,” a Michigan State football publication, took the liberty of producing a preview of this pivotal game. While the article has tons of crucial information on both teams, there are some key factors not mentioned in the article that could play a huge role.

With arguably the best defensive line in the country, Michigan State will look to wreak havoc on the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun and defensive tackle Lawrence Thomas will have the task of controlling the line of scrimmage and stopping an Oregon running attack that averaged 234 yards per game last year.

Tuohey and Dewar suggest that the dominance of the defensive line will be a deciding factor in a potential Spartan victory. Much of this confidence stems from Oregon losing all-American center Hroniss Grasu and offensive tackle Jake Fisher to the NFL draft, but there are plenty of equally talented Duck offensive linemen waiting in the wings.

Returning from injury is senior tackle Tyler Johnstone, who brings leadership and plenty of big game experience. Replacing the two-time all-American Grasu will be difficult, but graduate transfer Matt Hegarty from Notre Dame is as a proven commodity at the Power 5 level. Returning starters in junior Cameron Hunt and sophomore Tyrell Crosby will also anchor a strong unit.

Behind the protection of the offensive line, Royce Freeman looks to have another great year.

Kevin Cline

Behind the protection of the offensive line, Royce Freeman looks to have a big game against Michigan State.

When asked about the transition of new players, offensive coordinator Scott Frost said, “You know, every year you lose some key guys, and some guys have to step up and fill the spots. Obviously, it’s going to be great to have Tyler Johnstone back.” Frost’s confidence in his offensive line should provide relief for Duck fans who may be frightened by highlight videos of Spartan defenders.

On the other side of the ball, the Ducks have their work cut out for them going against quarterback and Heisman candidate Connor Cook. Oregon’s secondary is heavily depleted after losing cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill, as well as safety Erick Dargan.

Andrew Grief of OregonLive, who had the chance to interview defensive coordinator Don Pellum a few weeks ago, learned more about what we should expect from the Duck defense this season. When asked about the strengths of the team, Pellum said,”Based on paper it would be the front seven because there’s a lot of experience. There are four senior linebackers and three senior defensive linemen and then a ton of juniors who’ve played a ton.”

That defense will be led by all-Pac-12 performer Deforest Buckner whose size and speed will be on display and showing the country that Michigan State isn’t the only team with NFL talent on the defensive line. As Pellum said, the Ducks could start four senior linebackers against the Spartans, led by Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker and Rodney Hardrick. Watch for their experience and tackling skills to shine against a Michigan State rushing attack that has yet to find a legitimate replacement for graduated running back Jeremy Langford.

The Ducks will have to emulate this strong tackling in order to stop the Spartans.

Kevin Cline

The Ducks will have to emulate this strong tackling in order to stop the Spartans.

Limiting the running game and creating pressure on Cook will put the Ducks secondary in significantly better situations. The success of the front seven will thus be a crucial factor against the Spartans.

September 12th will be a true test for the Ducks, as the wounds from last year’s defeat are still fresh for Michigan State. With 17 seniors, however, Oregon boasts an abundance of leadership to withstand a tough opponent in a hostile environment.

New Spartan defensive coordinators Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel have the difficult task of stopping the prolific Duck offense that scored 45 points per game last season. For all the reasons listed above – and because I just love my Ducks – we should be able to exit East Lansing with a huge win. Too much speed at the skill positions will create countless mismatches, and the defense will be able to get Connor Cook off the field at least a few times. It should be an exhilarating game that will have every fan pumped for the remainder of the season.

Prediction: Ducks 38, Spartans 31

Be sure to stay updated on all pregame and postgame analysis with our friends from the Midwest @ theonlycolors.com

Top Photo by Kevin Cline

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Sam Felton

Sam Felton

Sam Felton is currently a Sophomore at the University of Oregon. Residing from Calabasas, California, he is an avid sports fanatic who can be seen cheering on the Lakers, Dodgers, Rams as well as any team rocking the green and yellow of mighty Oregon. As a Journalism major and Anthropology minor, Sam ideally wants to write about the connection between foreign cultures and their love of sport. As someone well versed in sports lingo and facts, he is more than willing to argue against anyone about why Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player to ever play.

  • duckusucker

    I’m as big a Duck fan as anyone in Duckville, but beating the Spartans may be too tall a task for even the high-flying Ducks. An inexperienced QB, whether Adams or Lockie will face one of the nation’s best D fronts.
    Our D, though it should be fearsome, has a very inexperienced DB/Safety situation, especially going 2-deep. The talent is there, but it’s a question mark for the time being.
    Meanwhile, Connor Cook is a senior, and he begins the season having led his Spartans to 3 fourth-quarter scores (including the winning TD with ten seconds remaining in the game) that beat the highly rated Baylor boys in the Cotton Bowl. Cook, while not sensational, is a solid QB with a host of scary weapons.
    On paper, we ain’t gonna win this thing; it’s too tough an opponent, too soon. If we played them in game 5, yeah, it would be pretty even.
    I hope I’m wrong, of course.

    • hokieduck

      I think this game will spell out which of these two teams has a shot to be there in the end. It is a shame it has to be played on the second Saturday, but so be it. I would agree with you that the experience edge that MSU has over the Ducks at the QB position may make your prediction prescient. however….

      I am unwilling to cede that ground to Sparty yet. The Ducks return a better squad than last year at receiver, I would have said RB but for Tyner’s loss but I still think the backfield will rock, the D line is stronger (hopefully Armstead grows into his massive potential but he never lived up to it in Eugene), the LB corp is *much* stronger than last year and that is key, the O line lost a lot but gains a lot in getting TJ back and having an experienced center replace Grasu. That leaves the secondary,which has more talent than last year but less experience.

      Michigan State lost a lot as well, and in very important spots. Will Cook make the difference? That is the question. I say “no”. I pick the Ducks.

      • duckusucker

        I’m more optimistic than you about the RBs. I think we’re going to be better, by far: Tyner, to me, has been the offensive twin of Armstead: amazing potential, mediocre performance, overall (sure, to date…). Benoit has looked very powerful; word is that Brooks-James has impressed; Taj, one of the fastest, shiftiest runners in the country before his prep injury, is healthy and also appears ready for stardom, a la LMJ. I’ll take those three, any day, on promise of performance.

        Unfortunately, one game is a ridiculously short QB warm-up for a team of the Spartan’s caliber. Mistakes will kill you and it’s a lot to ask of Lockie OR Adams to be near perfect after just 60-minutes (and I’ll bet the farm they’ll share almost equal time during the E. Wash game) of preparation, game-wise.

        There is no place to run-and-hide when you’re the QB; we know Connor will be consistent, unflappable, and a solid “B.” The surprise of the “hurry-up” ain’t a surprise any more: the second-to-the-last game they will have played was against a team that’s “Duck-fast.”

        I think the Ducks have a chance, but it’ll take Vernon to be all that he’s supposed to be—- or Lockie to show the talent that led Jake Rod to transfer.

  • Mike Green

    it will be an exciting game, but lets take a short trip on memory lane…

    only games ducks lose in recent history are due to the LINES not performing ( or an odd field goal miss)

    I think the D line will be OK,
    I think the O line with Heggerty and more experience with the newer guys will also be OK,

    linebackers will improve as seniors + Pellam’s second season as D coord

    secondary — better athletes this year

    Vern – I think he could be better than Mariota

    Tyner? — that is a loss that hurts, but Taj will rock

    Ducks look great in conf championship game & vs Fla st,
    not so good vs Ohio St,

    I think Ducks blast out of gate vs sparty and shake up the media