The tweets and messages have been pouring in this week with one simple question: How are you feeling about Oregon’s chances against Michigan State?
It took me all week to settle on a prediction.
There’s no sugar-coating it. This is a very big game for teams, validated by ESPN’s College GameDay arrival to Lansing. Yes, it’s one non-conference game. It just so happens both teams come in the top 10 and at this level, every game absolutely matters. It is what it is.
Last week, I sat in the Oregon press box, watching the defensive madness unfold. As ESPN writer, Chantel Jennings pointed out earlier this week, the only teams nationally that gave up more passing yards were Akron and Ball State. Ouch. I may or may not have texted my friend, Kenny Wheaton, to let him know the Ducks needed him. OK. I didn’t do that, but I thought about it and I’ve done it before.
Simply put, the defense, particularly the secondary, looked terrible. So much so, both Head Coach, Marc Helfrich and Defensive Linebacker, DeForest Buckner, couldn’t even beat around the bush.
“Tackling and doing your job,” Helfrich replied when asked what needed to be cleaned up in the secondary. “We didn’t do a lot defensively.”
Buckner, a defensive leader, also smirked when telling reporters,
“We didn’t do everything bad tonight.” He later added, “We obviously have to pick up our passing defense.”
That defensive performance or lack thereof, has quite honestly left Ducks fans and college football analysts feeling a little nervous about Oregon’s odds. Rightly so. I was there too. Until tonight.
Call me crazy, but after looking at both teams, I’m more optimistic than I have been all week. This one time, I happen to disagree with the masses, including CSNNW.com’s, Aaron Fentress, one of my personal favorite analysts (Sorry Aaron).
It comes down to this: Though I don’t expect a miraculous turn around for the defense, the Ducks’ offense will be way too much for Michigan to handle.
Folks, prepare for an offensive showdown- one the Ducks will eventually win.
Here are 4 reasons why Ducks fans should be optimistic as the clock ticks to Saturday, 5pm PT.
1. Michigan State’s secondary is also struggling.
Against Western Michigan in week 1, MSU’s young secondary was exploited, much like Oregon’s was. With both teams struggling to defend the pass, expect each offense to pass, pass, pass. Though MSU has some talented receivers, Oregon will win that battle hands down (Yes, I’m aware that MSU QB, Conner Cook, is very talented).
For the first time in years, Oregon has a LOT of depth and talent at receiver. Instead of one or two go-to play-makers, Oregon’s newest quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr., will have a plethora of dependable receivers to get the ball to. In week one, Adams Jr. seemed to have picked his favorite in WR Dwayne Stanford, but this week, big time play=maker, Charles Nelson, is expected to get back on the field after rehabbing a minor injury. Let me go on record as saying, Nelson will be Oregon’s X-factor tomorrow against MSU. Or, at least one of them. The kid is crazy good and I for one am happy he opted to stay on offense rather than moving over to defense. Oh wait! just kidding. Could he just play on both sides of the ball?
2. Oregon’s Offensive Monster
If Oregon’s offense was just one-dimensional, I’d be more concerned, but it’s not. As it turns out, the Ducks have a big time run game. With pre-season Heisman hopeful, Rollin’ Royce Freeman, in the backfield, Oregon is sure to rack up some yards. Freeman may be somewhat limited by a strong Spartan’s defensive front, but he won’t be completely held, which should open up the passing game. Add to that, Vernon Adams Jr.’s ability to scramble on his feet and you’ve got an offensive monster. But is Vernon Adams Jr. Ready for this big stage?
3. Vernon Adams Jr.
Vernon Adams Jr. joined the Ducks less than a month ago yet has somehow managed to win over his teammates, coaches and fans alike. That says something. Last week, Adams Jr. played his first game at a top-notch school and despite facing his friends and recent Alma mater, managed to stay poised and led the Ducks to a 61-42 victory.
Yes, that victory came against a non-FBS team but given the emotion and immense pressure he likely felt, Vernon Adams Jr. performed very well. A lot is being made about the fact he will be playing the biggest game of his life when he faces MSU. I’m not convinced he will see it that way. My guess is his head will be much clearer than it was last week. His first game is behind him and if anything, Adams Jr. will likely find his stride playing the game he loves. Given his success last week under the circumstances, my guess is Ducks fans will get an even bigger glimpse of what Adams Jr. is capable of. Provided the Oregon O-line gives him at little time, watch for Adams Jr. to put on a show.
4. Special Teams
It would be irresponsible not to mention the Ducks’ special teams in this list. Wide receiver, Bralon Addison, has returned from a year-long injury rehab and looks hungry from a punt/kick off return.
He’s not alone.
Punt/Kickoff return counterpart, Byron Marshall was also visibly frustrated after failing to run back a return more than once last week. Clearly both have high expectations of themselves. Watch for either(or both) to get a break through this week. It will happen. It’s only a matter of time.
To sum it up, this game will come down offense. Both teams will score a lot of points and exploit opposing secondaries. MICHIGAN STATE WILL SCORE POINTS. Oregon just has the weapons to score more, especially if the game winds up being a shoot out.
Here’s my only disclaimer: Things could get ugly for the Ducks if turnovers interrupt their flow. We all witnessed some scary passes by Adams Jr. last week and those kinds of mistakes could prove costly against a top 10 FBS team like the Spartans. Let’s hope that Coach Helfrich is right when talking about Adam’s ability to learn right away from some of those mistakes. My guess is there will be at least one turnover. That wouldn’t be the end of the world. Two might be.
Let’s not think about that scenario. Stay optimistic Ducks fans, there’s a game to win.