By Ariel Bedford
In the biggest match-up of the college football season so far, the Oregon Ducks pushed the Big Ten bullies back, gaining a key victory and earning some cache come playoff selection time.
— Oregon Football (@WinTheDay) September 6, 2014
Why the game lived up to the hype: UO jumped out to an 18-7 lead early, sparked by a 36-yard interception return by FS Erick Dargan that set up the first TD of the game. The Spartans responded with 20 unanswered points to put MSU up 27-18 with 10:55 left in the third quarter. QB Connor Cook rebounded from his pick to orchestrate a patient offensive onslaught for Michigan State, relying on timely run calls and intermediate throws to WR Tony Lippett, who finished with 11 receptions for 133 yards and a score.
With Oregon’s defense showing fatigue due to the time of possession deficit, losing the line of scrimmage battle and not getting pressure on Cook, things looked similar to the Ducks’ previous losses at the hands of physical foes from the SEC and Stanford in big games.
How the contest turned: Oregon’s all-world QB Marcus Mariota had just been sacked to set up a 3rd and 10 at their own 41-yard line. Facing a fierce middle rush, Mariota showed dazzling escape moves to shovel the rock to true freshman RB Royce Freeman near the far sideline, who finished it off by gaining 17 yards for a Duck first down at the Spartan 42-yard line. Easily the play of the game.
Players that stepped up big: CB Troy Hill and wideout Devon Allen. Make no mistake, Mariota won the football game with his arm, ball-security, and decision-making. But timely plays by the two red-shirted Ducks are what allowed them to pull away.
Hill, a senior from Ohio, was targeted more often than Oregon’s All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He accepted the challenge well, being in the proper place on most passing situations and making strong tackles to stop Spartan receivers on third down. Allen, a freshman track star in the 110-meter hurdles, was the deep threat unleashed on the Sparty D. His three receptions for 110 yards and 2 TDs were all massive plays, especially considering UO couldn’t consistently run the ball until late.
What the win means: Oregon fulfilled their motto. Besides that, a lot in the eyes of the college football world. They finally solved the puzzle of beating a defense equipped at stuffing their renowned spread running game. Mariota was patient, and the Duck offense displayed an advanced passing attack that matched the potency of what they love to do on the ground. Considering Michigan State has excellent corners and a beastly front seven, Oregon should be pleased with the points that they were able to amass.
For the defense, this win is signature. Defensive coordinator Don Pellum’s unit found a second wind in the latter half, and took the fight right to the Spartans. Playing physical, generating pressure to force Cook away from his spots in the pocket, and getting off the field quickly allowed the offense to take over. They got more stingy against the pass, and “drew the line in the sand” against the run.
The Ducks solidified their position as the premier West Coast team with the win today. Moving forward, they should build off this game by getting more unpredictable in their play-calling and not forgetting to utilize Mariota’s running capabilities. Beating the defending Big Ten Champs gets them something even Nike can’t guarantee though: respect.
Ariel Bedford is a writer for Scouts Alley. Follow him on Twitter @mpcmi.