STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL/GAME BREAKDOWN
Scouting the rush defense: It’s an interesting predicament Oregon finds itself in when it lines up across from Michigan State on New Year’s Eve.
On one end, the Ducks know what to expect when they face Spartans running back Connor Heyward. They’ve seen film on him this year, seen him play the last month and know that he’s fresh and ready to go.
However, the wildcard is the Spartans other running back, LJ Scott. Scott, who has appeared in just four games this season, hasn’t taken a snap since the end of October. But head coach Mark Dantonio says he will suit up and play in his final game as a Spartan.
“He'll bring something, he's been a guy that's been out most of the season, so we'll look forward to his progress and returning,” Dantonio said of Scott. “It fluctuated back and forth in terms of what he was going to do, but he decided he's going to play.”
Prior to this season, Scott has been a starter since he stepped on campus, racking up 2,591 yards and 25 touchdowns in three years. A running back with potential to play on Sunday’s, a healthy Scott could provide big problems for the Ducks.
With Scott out, Michigan State has struggled running the ball, ranking 116th in the country at 122.0 yards per game. The Spartans average 3.49 yards per carry and their 1,464 total rushing yards is less than Oregon’s top-two rushers, CJ Verdell and Travis Dye.
The Ducks counter with the 44th ranked rushing defense in the nation, a group that gives up 143.1 yards per game. Led by nose tackle Jordon Scott, Oregon got off to a great start by limiting teams to just 77 yards per game. But as the competition ramped, holes were found as the Ducks struggled.
Oregon’s unit is extremely tough to run against when the unit plays as one. Because of their scheme, if one player doesn’t do his job, the unit crumbles because holes become a plenty. But when the unit is cohesive, it’s tough to find a stouter unit in the trenches.
Scott is the key, a 340-pound behemoth in the middle. He’s light on his feet and shows great quickness for his size, often beating man-to-man blocking. When he’s double-teamed is when Oregon is at its best, because it frees up the linebackers and defensive end Jalen Jelks.
Jelks, a potential first-round draft pick, possess size, strength and speed to get around blockers and live in the backfield.
Outside linebacker Justin Hollins leads the Ducks with 12.5 tackles for loss, often using his athleticism to beat tackles and get into the backfield.
Linebacker Troy Dye is an athletic freak who does a good job of diagnosing running plays and then sprinting the gap to make the tackle. He has enough strength to disengage with blockers and the speed to run sideline-to-sideline to track down ball carriers.
Oregon’s defensive front seven is one that shows a massive amount of potential and until the last game of the season, had struggled to put it together. Against Oregon State and one of the Pac-12’s leading rushers, the Ducks held Jermar Jefferson to a season-low 64 yards on 21 carries — while holding the Beavers to just 1.9 yards per carry total.
It will be imperative for the Ducks to win this matchup on first and second down, forcing the Spartans into third-and-longs and having quarterback Brian Lewerke beat them. To do so, the Ducks must know when to blitz and have to watch out for the cutbacks, a successful part of Michigan State’s run game. If Oregon stays disciplined and eats up the double-teams, the Ducks will find themselves a big reason to celebrate the New Year.