Flash versus smash.
That is the only suitable way to categorize the showdown between the third-ranked Oregon Ducks and the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans.
The Ducks and Spartans are very different football teams—so much so that is almost seems like they’re not even playing the same sport. That’s why this matchup is so intriguing and ESPN’s College GameDay will be visiting Eugene this weekend.
We know that Oregon’s offense is revolutionary. It’s so revolutionary that the rest of college football has stolen bits and pieces of it, if not the whole playbook, and the NFL came calling for the offense's leading man: Chip Kelly.
The Ducks' zone-read-based “blur” offense operates at a speed and efficiency that would make Henry Ford cry tears of joy.
However, let’s not discount how great Michigan State’s defense is. In fact, it’s a groundbreaking defense in its own right. It seems simple, just like the Ducks offense, but can shift on a dime into a multitude of sets.
Dr. Evil once said to Austin Powers, “We’re not so different, you and I.” Well, Oregon’s offense and Michigan State’s defense aren’t all that different from one another.
In 2013, Oregon’s offense ranked second in the nation in total yards per game (565) and third in points per game (45.5). Conversely, Michigan State’s defense ranked second in yards per game allowed (252) and third in points allowed per game (13.2).
There’s no doubt that both Oregon’s offense and Michigan State’s defense are the best in the nation at what they do, and they're changing the game of football as they do it.
|Oregon's Offense vs Michigan State's Defense|
|UO Position||Name||MSU Position||Name|
|QB||Marcus Mariota||NT||Lawrence Thomas|
|RB||Marshall / Tyner / Freeman||DT||Joel Heath|
|WR||Devon Allen / Darren Carrington||DE||Shilique Calhoun|
|WR||Keanon Lowe||DE||Marcus Rush|
|WR||Dwayne Stanford||LB||Ed Davis|
|TE||Johnny Mundt / Pharaoh Brown||LB||Darien Harris|
|LT||Jake Fisher||LB||Taiwan Jones|
|LG||Hamani Stevens||CB||Darian Hicks|
|C||Hronnis Grassu||CB||Trae Waynes|
|RG||Jake Pisarcik||S||RJ Williamson|
|RT||Andre Yruretagoyena||S||Kurtis Drummond|
So, what exactly will Oregon’s offense up be against this weekend at Autzen Stadium?
Well, Michigan State is one of two teams to rank in the top five in defensive yards per play in each of the last three seasons, along with Florida State.
In 2013, while compiling a 13-1 record, claiming a Big Ten title and winning the Rose Bowl, the Spartans finished first in defensive yards per play.
The reason that head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi have built such a successful defense is because of the 4-3 scheme they run and how they coach their players to make quick, instinctive changes before the snap.
Instead of trying to guess what Oregon’s offense is going to do on Saturday and picking the wrong defensive formation, Michigan State will utilize a defense that will change into the right alignment depending on how the offense lines up.
There may be times when Michigan State is playing Cover 4 and others when it's stuffing nine players in the box.
The only thing we know for sure about the Spartans defense is that it will start in a “4-3 Over” paired with “Quarters,” which is more commonly known as the Cover 4 defense.
Now, Michigan State’s defensive schemes and its ability to maneuver the formations on the fly have worked well against opponents who operate slowly. After all, most Big Ten teams don’t operate at any speed, let alone at Mach 10 like the Ducks.
The biggest concern for the Spartans has to be whether or not they will have the time to read Oregon’s offense and adjust on the move. Oregon’s speed has left opponents in the dust before.
If Michigan State can’t adjust early to the speed, it may go home scratching its heads.
With that said, the Spartans defense is smart and talented enough to make Oregon work for every first down. There’s a reason the Spartans’ rushing defense has been in the top 10 nationally in each of the past three seasons.
Additionally, the Spartans only allowed 12 passing touchdowns in 2013, while holding opposing quarterbacks to a 47.5 percent completion percentage.
The Spartans defense will depend heavily on defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, who will be tasked with controlling Oregon’s nearly unstoppable rushing attack. Calhoun, who is perhaps the best defensive player in the Big Ten, will also be asked to put pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota, which isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to do.
Michigan State’s secondary lost its best player from last year's team, Darqueze Dennard, to the NFL. However, the secondary should still be solid this year, especially with the front seven putting pressure on the quarterback.
One of the biggest concerns for the Ducks has to be whether or not the young wide receivers are able to take on the aggressive Spartans secondary.
We know the Spartans are going to play a ton of man coverage. It will be on the Ducks' wide receivers to create space and make plays, especially in 3rd-and-long situations.
Oregon’s offense is in for one of its toughest tests in years. The last time Oregon saw a defensive like this, it was 2011 and LSU manhandled the team in Cowboys Stadium. Three seasons later, the Ducks get an opportunity to show the college football world that speed truly kills—and just because you’re fast doesn’t mean you’re soft.
In order for Oregon to succeed against Michigan State’s defense, and thereby grab a victory, the Ducks are going to need to play with more strength between the tackles and be more aggressive in all phases of the game.
Whether that means holding blocks a split second longer or taking a big hit trying to make a play, it’s all going to have to be done to beat Michigan State.
Oregon’s offense needs to use its speed to impact Michigan State’s ability to adapt at the line of scrimmage, which is the Spartans' best defensive asset. If Oregon can incorporate an element of nastiness to its vicious offensive attack, the Ducks should come away with a huge victory over the Spartans.
Follow Jason Gold on twitter @TheSportsGuy33.