STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL/GAME BREAKDOWN
Scouting the pass offense: Oregon’s passing offense has been the same week-in and week-out — have quarterback Justin Herbert throw the ball to wide receiver Dillon Mitchell and dare opposing teams to stop them. So far it hasn’t worked as Mitchell has been one of the best receivers in the nation all season, racking up 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns on 69 catches, all team-highs.
Both a deep threat and yards-after-catch type of player, there are very few holes to find in his game. He has strong hands that he uses to pluck Herbert’s fastball out of the air and he shows enough elusiveness in short areas that he’s difficult to bring down. He’s also got a flair for the dramatic, coming up with big-time plays when the Ducks need it most.
Herbert is having another solid season, throwing for 2,985 yards and 28 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He’s shown the ability of being a very good NFL quarterback someday, capable of making every throw and going through his progressions (before ultimately ending up back at Mitchell). He has good awareness sin the pocket and isn’t afraid to step up in the pocket — but where he’s proven most dangerous is when he gets out of the pocket to extend the play, often making pinpoint throws going either direction.
Michigan State is no slouch defensively, which means that somebody other than Mitchell will have to step up.
Jaylon Redd is second on the team with 31 catches, 368 yards and five touchdowns while tight end Jacob Breeland averages 16.0 yards per catch on 22 catches. While both are good pass catchers, they’ve each struggled to disengage from man coverage or find holes in zone defenses.
Two players who might break out are Johnny Johnson III (16 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns) or freshman Bryan Addison. Johnson has had issues catching the ball throughout the season, but he’s more than capable of being a big threat if he can just hang on to the ball. Addison is the wildcard, a freshman who’s played in four games throughout the season and will burn his redshirt if he plays. Still, the 6-foot-5 playmaker has drastically improved throughout practice and could be a massive difference-maker the rest of his career.
“It’s a tough call because (Addison) can really factor in with some of the things that we’re doing, but as the same time, an entire year for a game,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “And then again, the way football works nowadays you never know when a guy is going to get injured or not… so you use it as you see fit.”
Even with a prolific quarterback and one of the best receivers in the country, Michigan State knows how to play defense.
Safety Khari Willis is one of four Spartans with two interceptions on the season, but his ability to make tackles in space (81 total tackles) has helped prevent explosive plays.
However, the Spartans will be without cornerback Justin Layne (6-foot-3, 185-pounds). Layne is opting to skip the bowl game so he can prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. His loss is rough for Michigan State because he has the speed and moxie to play with Mitchell.
Where Michigan State might find its most success in containing Herbert could come from its vaunted pass rush. Defensive end Kenny Willekes leads the team with 8.5 sacks on the season, but as a whole the unit has 25 on the year. Making Herbert uncomfortable by always having a hand or person in his face could force his timing off with his receivers and render them ineffective.
If Herbert can keep his calm and the veteran offensive line does a good job of protecting him, the Ducks will pick apart the Spartans defense. This might be the best defense Herbert has seen all year, how he goes about his business will ultimately determine this game.