I love to discuss and learn from the diverse community of Oregon fans that come to this site from across the nation. Over just a couple of days recently, I spoke with readers in California, Texas and then South Carolina — Duck fans and FishDuck.com readers are everywhere! So let’s discuss the bowl before the game, I imagine I’ll give some thoughts at halftime, and of course let’s trade feedback over the final score afterwards.
This game (to me) is much bigger to the program than most would suggest because of the unusual circumstances surrounding it. The Michigan State defense is relatively unknown to Oregon fans, but to the coaching community, they are on a pedestal of their own. This unique “4-3 Cover-4” defense has been made famous in college football and enabled former MSU defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzi, to become the head coach at Pittsburgh, where he is setting defensive records there.
Spartan head coach Mark D’Antonio has continued this impressive defensive tradition at MSU, and the numbers are simply astounding. They only give up 18 points a game (to Oregon’s 27), but more importantly, in conference play they only give up 16 points while the Ducks give up nearly twice that much (29 points). That is a scary, head-bending difference that requires we learn a little of what to watch for in this bowl game, as Oregon has a tougher draw than the pundits understand.
The good news is that two of the most-read articles about the Michigan State defense on the web were published at FishDuck.com! The depth of football knowledge stored in the Oregon Analysis Library is amazing and quite handy in times such as this.
What makes the MSU defense so difficult against the run?
The Spartans play their safeties close to the line of scrimmage, which effectively turns them into additional (fast) linebackers. It will create blocking mismatches, because even the best front five or six cannot block eight or nine Michigan State defenders in the box. The defensive tackles cover the outside plays superbly, and the Spartans like to squeeze the linebackers inside and completely stuff the run, which is why Ohio State gained their least number of yards of the season against Michigan State.
As far as pass defense, the Spartans recruit studs at corner who play a tough man-to-man (press) defense, which allows the safeties to play more run-support. A key component is the simplicity of what they do; they know precisely what to do with each situation, as this defense has been institutionalized at Michigan State over the years. They know it inside and out and they do not beat themselves with mistakes.
Against UCLA this year, the Oregon defense gave up two touchdowns on busted coverages, which is not something you will see from MSU. Cut down your own confusion and errors, make the opposing offense work like crazy and you hold the points down … it is that simple. If you want to learn more about the “4-3 Cover-4” defense, then go read one of the most popular articles about it on the web right here from this site.
Michigan State must be doing “high-fives” over this match-up, because it is a dream one for them. Take on a team that wants to run between the tackles with only one good receiver? This is a perfect opponent for the Spartan defense, as they will limit Oregon’s inside gap pounding to few yards and then force the Ducks into third-and-long scenarios.
Read our bowl game analysis from retired college coach Ken Woody on Wednesday and check for articles on this site every day of week but Saturday. (Six days a week!)
The only thing worse than trying to run on Michigan State is being caught in obvious passing downs that unleashes their sophisticated blitz packages. You do not want to taking this on very often, as the Spartans feast on turnovers created from the pass rushing pressure, which is what you see below.
Above are only a few examples of turnovers created by MSU’s pass rush, which has been refined from years of devising this defense. To take a deep dive into the MSU blitzes that Oregon will see, check this article about what the Ducks’ offensive line will encounter today …
What will it take to win? I believe the Ducks need to score a minimum of 24 points. They received some great ideas from FishDuck.com writer Steven E. Smith in his recent article, where he suggests a varied and unpredictable offensive attack. Of course, the Mario Cristobal coaching staff can simply go look at how the Ducks scored an average of 37 points against the Spartans in 2014 and 2015, since it is the same defense.
Do I expect this coaching staff to have as innovative game plans as prior coaching staffs? No, because this staff has to learn everything the hard way and eschew the wisdom learned from the superb Oregon coaches of the past. We won’t see plays pulled from the playbook that were used up to four years ago, like we saw on key third-down plays in the past. But will they loosen up and pull some surprises to score on this exalted Michigan State defense?
There are no excuses this time, as it is now an experienced Oregon offense across the board; they are healthy and had a full month to prepare. They know about this defense, just like every college coach in the NCAA does. (Heck, I have a DVD about the MSU defense, as do half the college coaches out there!) If our coaches insist on “playing our style” over what wins? Then that is on the coaches. The talent is there to win this game under prior regimes.
I have been rough on the offensive staff since the San Jose State game, as I have been displeased with the coaching at every offensive position to date. Yet, I want this staff to succeed, especially with the culture and recruiting foundation laid for the future. If Oregon pulls out an innovative game plan, mixes things up, throws on first down before the blitzes come at them … then I will give full credit where due and have fun in the off-season breaking down how they did it.
To me, this game is entirely on the offensive coaches, and they will receive full credit for the victory. Let me know your thoughts in the comments throughout …
“Oh how we love to ponder our beloved Ducks in a bowl game!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo from Twitter
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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