Oregon Ducks vs Michigan State: Players To Watch


Twelve months later, it’s here — again. The 5th ranked Oregon Ducks will travel to East Lansing this week to take on the Michigan State Spartans (5 PM PT, ABC). Following Oregon’s 61-42 victory over Eastern Washington last week, a dose of clarity was received as to who will be the key players on Oregon’s road to the College Football Playoff.

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Three Oregon Players to Watch: 

Quarterback Vernon Adams

After months of his status being in question, Adams rose to the occasion against his Alma Mater last weekend, throwing for over 200 yards, and nearly rushing for 100. Similar to a year ago, when quarterback Marcus Mariota took control of the game in the second half, expect Adams to be forced to do the same at some point Saturday. He’s proven to be a smart runner, and in what should be a huge plus for the Ducks, he’ll be more comfortable by the week — a scary thought for opposing teams. His athletic ability is a huge plus for the Ducks, and his ability to keep plays alive with his feet could prove to be the difference in the game.

Sep 5, 2015; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Kani Benoit (29) runs past Eastern Washington Eagles defensive lineman Marcus Saugen (93) at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back Kani Benoit

Interesting, huh? After setting a career high in rushing yards (83) against Eastern Washington, expect the same against Michigan State. He possesses explosive speed, with the perfect touch of power. After a breakout offseason, he rose to the occasion in the opening game. Listed behind Royce Freeman on the depth chart as the second-string running back, a strong performance by Benoit, especially in the first half, before Freeman is called to  wear down MSU in the second half, is the best way for Oregon to establish its running game.

Linebacker Joe Walker

Walker’s best performance as a Duck game a year ago in this game. He was everywhere; he made plays in the backfield, line of scrimmage, and even in pass coverage. He hit the gaps better than any Oregon defender that game, and looked as prepared as an NFL linebacker that day. Look for the same this year: Walker is arguably the Ducks’ best Linebacker, and it wouldn’t be true to say that Connor Cook won’t know his whereabouts on each snap. He’s also among the smartest linebackers in the nation, and his ability to deter the Spartans offensive rhythm, especially in the run game, will be something to pay attention to early on. Walker set the tone for a physical game last season, and this week should prove to be no different.

Sep 4, 2015; Kalamazoo, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defense takes the field prior to a game and Western Michigan at Waldo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State Players To Watch

Quarterback Connor Cook

Cook has evolved into a top Big Ten quarterback over the past 3 seasons. Although he had an inconsistent performance against the Ducks in Autzen Stadium a year ago, it’s safe to assume that he’s showing up to play the game of his life this go around. Facing an Oregon Ducks secondary that struggled last week against Eastern Washington, it’s clear that Michigan State coaches will try to single out the secondary early in the game. The Spartans have developed into a strong passing team with Cook at QB, and his performance on Saturday will likely have more impact on the game than anyone on the Michigan State roster. Oregon has a strong defensive front 7, leaving the game in Cook’s hands to make plays with his arm.

Michigan State Defense

Simple as that. Oregon has a collection of weapons on offense, and each Michigan State defensive player will have his hands full with whatever his assignment may be. While attempting the eliminate Royce Freeman and the Oregon running game, Sparty can’t take an eye off Vernon Adams and the Oregon passing game. For the Spartans to keep Oregon’s point total low (their best chance at victory), the defense needs to eliminate Oregon’s weapons early in the game.

Oregon and Michigan State face off in East Lansing on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 5pm Pacific Time on ABC.

Next: Spartans Have Work To Do On Defense