The Michigan State Spartans' early season trip to Eugene to face the Oregon Ducks marks the first time since 1966 that they had been involved in a top-10 regular season showdown.
For the Oregon Ducks, the chance to establish themselves as a runaway early-season favorite for a College Football Playoff berth had their players and fans alike radiating electricity at the start of this massive game.
Last year's Rose Bowl MVP, QB Connor Cook, led the MSU offense on to the hostile Autzen Stadium turf to open things off. The Oregon defense had all the answers, however, forcing the Spartans into a three-and-out.
Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota didn't have much better luck leading the Ducks on the field for their first series, as two dropped passes (including one to wide-open WR Dwyane Stanford) by the Ducks' receiving corps led to another three-and-out.
The Ducks' defense, clad in blinding safety yellow, continued to swarm the running game, but WR R.J. Shelton split two defenders for a huge catch down the middle to put the Spartans in business in Oregon territory. Oregon's secondary would tighten up, however, forcing MSU's second punt of the first 4 minutes.
Mariota would pick up a first down for the Ducks on the team's second possession, but a false start on their next set of downs coupled with a suffocating Spartans' front seven forced their second punt of the afternoon.
Connor Cook, relatively under-promoted compared to the dynamic Mariota, took charge of the field at the opening of the Spartans' next possession. Head coach Mark Dantonio and his crew mixed up their ground-and-pound ethos with a steady diet of middle-distance throws to get into Oregon territory.
However, disaster would strike for the Spartans on 3rd-and-10 at the Oregon 38, as Cook would airmail a throw right to Oregon safety Erick Dargan. Dargan would return the ball all the way to the Spartans 41, putting the high-tempo Ducks offense right into the thick of a scoring opportunity.
The Ducks would turn the jets on and coast to the Spartans' 3, but an energized MSU defense would hold Oregon RB Thomas Tyner to just two yards on two carries, before deflecting a rainbow pass to the corner of the end zone from Mariota to WR Devon Allen to force fourth down.
Oregon went for it...and barely got in on a wiggling, slithering Tyner run. As is now a Ducks tradition, Oregon lined up for a two-point conversion, and picked it up to give the Ducks an 8-0 lead (freshman QB Taylor Alie pass to the gargantuan DeForest Buckner) with under four minutes remaining in the first.
MSU's response drive fell apart after two impressive Nick Hill rushes, as the Ducks were handed ball once again with a chance to extend their lead in front of their raucous home faithful.
From there, it was the Marcus Mariota show. Mariota dipped and ducked away from the MSU pass rush on 2nd-and-5 from the Ducks 18, hitting a wide-open Darren Carrington for a momentum-enhancing 62-yard reception. The drive would turn to smoke from there, but K Matt Wogan would slice in a 28-yard field goal to extend the Oregon lead to 11-0.
Connor Cook made a point to show off his own mobility on MSU's next drive, as he rolled right out of pressure before hitting WR AJ Troup with a dart. 19 yards later, and the Spartans were firmly planted in Oregon territory.
The Oregon defense would be introduced to Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford, who would scamper 29 yards on three carries capped off by a lighting bolt of a 16-yard TD run inside right tackle to trim the Oregon lead to 11-7.
That would last less than a minute. 45 seconds to be exact.
Following a five-yard run by freshman RB Royce Freeman, Mariota would connect with Devon Allen in the middle of the Autzen green. Allen split and sped past the entire Spartans defense for a 70-yard score to push the lead to back up to 11, 18-7.
Kick return R.J. Shelton provided an answer for the Spartans straight away, as he returned the ensuing kick 55 yards to the Oregon 32. MSU dialed up Jeremy Langford's number once again to pierce the Ducks red zone, but solid open-field tackling and impressive back-seven coverage would force the Spartans to settle for a 34-yard Michael Geiger field goal.
With 6:40 left in the half and an 18-10 lead in hand, the Ducks would have to punt the ball right back to the Spartans as Mariota would eat two sacks during a quick three-and-out (including a crushing blow by MSU DT Lawrence Thomas).
A defensive holding penalty on the Ian Wheeler punt gave the Spartans outstanding field position at the Ducks 38. Connor Cook wouldn't let the opportunity go to waste, going 3-for-3 for 34 yards (including a 7-yard TD strike to WR Tony Lippett) to reduce the Ducks lead to a penny at 18-17.
The Ducks had only 10 minutes of possession (out of 27.5) to their credit with just over two minutes left and couldn't add much more on their next drive, going three-and-out before having to punt it away.
With 1:27 on the clock and one timeout, Connor Cook would come out firing in the two-minute drill, hitting his first two passes to push the Spartans past midfield. A huge 34-yard reception by (once again) Tony Lippett followed by a 7-yard Connor Cook TD pass to TE Josiah Price stunned the Autzen crowd, giving Michigan State a 24-18 lead with under 20 seconds left.
Oregon would run the clock out from there, as the Spartans went into the break up by six.
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