Coming off a Week 1 demolition of Jacksonville State, and FCS team, No. 7 Michigan State faces a slightly tougher challenge when it travels across the country to square off with the third-ranked Oregon Ducks.
It’s the biggest game of the weekend and head coach Mark Dantonio has no doubt that his Spartans will be ready to compete.
“These are things that you anticipate when you go play college football: Big football game on national TV. I think we embrace those situations. We've played in big games before, so that's not new to us,” Dantonio said at his Tuesday news conference.
Dantonio shouldn’t be worried about how his team will handle the big stage. After all, his team did win the Rose Bowl against perennial Oregon killers Stanford last season. The Spartans are no slouches, but the high-powered Ducks are currently 11.5-point favorites to win the game. What gives?
If it’s another case of the Big Ten not getting respect nationally compared to the Pac-12 or SEC, Dantonio won’t allow himself or his team to get caught up in it.
“We just go out and try and play every game to the best of our ability,” Dantonio said. “We can't control everything that everybody writes, so why deal with it? I sort of shrug my shoulders. We won against a very good football team in the Rose Bowl. We just play the game, but we'll be ready to play.”
With Braxton Miller going down for Ohio State and Wisconsin losing to LSU, the Spartans are looking like the Big Ten’s best shot to earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff. A win over Oregon, who beat South Dakota 62-13 to open its season, would do numbers for the team’s long-term resume as the year progresses and also, whether Dantonio wants to acknowledge it or not, help with the national perception of the Big Ten.
To beat Oregon, though, the Spartans’ strength – its defense – will meet the vaunted Oregon offense head on. Dantonio sees both sides – the MSU defense and the Oregon offense – as trendsetters in the world of college football, making for a very intriguing matchup.
“They've had so much success, a lot of people are taking some of the things and imitating them or not copying, but using their concepts and trying to adapt it into their offenses,” Dantonio said. “And then when you look at our defense, I think, again, it's cutting edge. There's not a lot of people who have played our defense in the past. I think people are moving towards it and doing some of the things that we've done.”
Standing in the way of Michigan State’s “cutting edge” defense is star Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a Heisman candidate. Dantonio called Mariota “outstanding” and lauded his leadership and his ability to creatively turn a bad play into a good one with both his feet and his arm. The key to stopping Mariota and the Ducks, Dantonio said, is limiting big plays.
“Big play ability is what you see with Oregon,” Dantonio said. “They can be stopped for four or five plays and then all of a sudden hit a 70-yarder. You have to able to take that away from them. We've been good at that lately with not giving up a lot of explosive plays, particularly last season. That's something we have to hang our hat on. When they don't have explosive plays, people don't lose too often.”
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