Oregon vs. Michigan State Breakdown: Why the caged duck quacks

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Each week DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J Pridgen will play dueling banjos of prose with Pints and Picks™. The season starts with a “very special pick” as Kyle and AJ both have very unique ties to Michigan State at University of Oregon. Here then, is their point-counterpoint. Or, if you’re not at lunch, simply scroll down for their picks.

AJ: I chose to attend the University of Oregon in the early ’90s for three reasons: 1) I loved wearing flannel and wanted to live in a place where it was appropriate to wear flannel. 2) I like when the leaves change and the weather gets shitty. Eugene’s nine months of rain suited my melancholy just fine. And 3) I wanted to go to a school that was national champions at a major sport. When I visited the Oregon campus spring of my Senior year, painted on the memorial union plate glass window were the words, 1993 National Champions: Ultimate Frisbee. Though I could never aspire to such great heights, I knew there would be winners in my ranks and that was good enough for me.

Upon arrival to Eugene the next fall, all my expectations were met—and then some: I wore my flannel until it was (literally) moldy. Note to mom: You didn’t have to throw it out over my first Christmas Break, you could’ve totally washed it. I listened to a lot of sad music and maybe talked to one girl one time—it was in this grammar for journalists class and I sat next to a Heather. I didn’t buy my text book for that class because the professor guy was selling them out of his office, not the bookstore. And I was afraid of office hours. He was later caught for subverting the bookstore process and fired and it was a big scandal so I found myself touting my own integrity. This was the time I learned that lazy = rock-solid values, an ethos most journalists carry their whole career. Anyway, I shared a book with Heather for about half the quarter till the scandal broke and we all had to go buy legit books for the new grammar Nazi. I thought about her way too much when I slurped my dorm noodles and drank five glasses of orange soda with every meal. I think she married a reality show producer and lives in LA now.

The Ultimate Frisbee team did not repeat but the football team went 2-6 in the Pac 10 and 5-6 overall, which was like the best Ducks’ finish in a decade.

My memories of the football games my Freshman year are as such:
Filling up a boda bag with Snapple and Southern Comfort (don’t whince at the concoction because it all tasted like boda leather either way). Strapping on the boda. Putting my flannel over the boda. Going to the Burger King for breakfast on the way to Autzen. Walking around the perimeter of the stadium like I was lost for a half. Listening to Oregon fans talk about how “this place really comes to life when Jerry’s in town.” Finding my seat. (Actually, that’s not true, you could basically sit down anywhere, there was an endless Yellow Brick Road-type expanse of gold bench’d seating in the student section.) Swaying around when they played Louie Louie, because Animal House. Stumbling across the train tracks to Track Town Pizza. Getting to the front of the line and realizing I had no money. Going back to my dorm and play the guys on my floor in Super Bases Loaded. Somewhere in this, I discovered why my father referred to Oregon as “Cal’s bye week.”

Now, things are a little different. The last Oregon game I went to was the Halloween “Black Out” game vs. USC a season ago. I thought that meant all the student body get hopped up on SoCo and Snapple and wouldn’t remember a GD thing by halftime. What it really meant was that all the student body buy the SAME black Nike Oregon t-shirt at the bookstore and sit in the stands and take selfless as they crammed in like sardines underneath the foreboding Eugene sky. Then everyone who was an alumni went inside halftime to tell stories about how things were when they went there and spill IPA on their wives and kids’ shoes in the practice facility. Oregon won, I think. And then Pink Floyd stared playing over the PA and all the students lined up and jumped in a meat grinder. This is what happens when flannel becomes ironic and Heather doesn’t share her book with a geek anymore. Things fall apart.

So, the first reason I’m taking Michigan State and the points this week: Oregon’s fickle fan base. Notice how Autzen turns from a stadium that goes to 11 to a whisper and a #hashtag instantly when things start out not great. If Sparty’s D is on point in the first half—which it should be—and can stop chrome trailer hitch corporation from touching up the scoreboard early, it’s going to be a long flannel-less afternoon on the shores of the mighty Willamette.

Oh, one more thing. I also went to Eugene because I wanted to start a Zine. I still want to start a Zine.

Kyle: My relationship with Michigan State (not my alma mater—#FightOakland!) stems from a difference in sales tactics employed by my parents. Up until I was six years old, I was unaffiliated when it came to being a fan of any college team. In my college football-crazy corner of the rustbelt, competing interests are always battling for the hearts & minds of impressionable youths.

My father is a Western Michigan grad and a lifelong Notre Dame fan. My mother is a Magic Johnson-era Michigan State grad and devoted fan of the green and white. Her older sister is a grad and her father and my grandfather have had ties to the school going back to the Great Depression when he showed his 4H cows on the land grant, agriculturally-focused college’s campus. I have various nefarious University of Michigan fans creeping ‘round the corners of my family’s immediate relations and group of friends who saw to it that I had a Lil’ Wolverines hoodie at some point during the time when I shat myself regularly.

In first grade (circa 1991), my father pulled me out of school for the better part of a week and flew me out to Colorado. We summited Pike’s Peak, bouldered in the Garden of the Gods—which, holy crap, how’s that place not a National Monument?—and generally had a splendid introduction to the American West at what I can imagine was no small expense. On our final full day, we went to watch the 5th-ranked Fighting Irish, led by Jerome Bettis and a handful of future NFLers, take on Air Force on campus in Colorado Springs. I was enamored of a plastic cowboy and Indians toy set I’d begged from my father at one of our stops on the trip and watched little of the action.

My mom employed the soft-sell. At some point in the next year, we took a day trip on a sunny fall Saturday up to East Lansing to watch some godawful Spartan team take on some godawful Indiana team. We packed a picnic together and ate it on the banks of the Red Cedar River. We went to the university’s famed student-run Dairy Store and got ice cream. We probably left at halftime. From then on, I was hooked.

It was a lonely existence, being a hardcore, devoted Michigan State fan in an elementary and middle school environment then dominated by the University of Michigan supporters. Michigan beat the living hell out of State most years—they did it with a boa constrictor-defense and an offensive line built like a group of Eastern Bloc shot putters. Layered atop the beatings was the sheen of what Michigan is and what State is. Michigan is where the MBAs, lawyers and doctors went. State turns out teachers, ag science majors, foresters, biologists and veterinarians. There’s a city-country divide and an attendant inferiority complex even an 11-year-old can pick up on.

I went to a college with no football, and in doing so justified my continued Spartan fandom. During those years, the Spartans were shellacked by everyone. Once I graduated and moved West, they hired head coach Mark Dantonio, who’s supervised a massive exorcism of State’s demons. They started beating Michigan (5 wins in the last six tries), won the league by beating Ohio State last year and won the Rose Bowl for the first time since the Reagan administration earlier this year. I suppose my first, narrative-driven reason they’ll beat the Ducks in Autzen Saturday is momentum. I’d have never believed, in my heart of hearts, that they’d beat Urban Meyer and Stanford in the same season. Might as well keep it rolling.

AJ: Wow Kyle, I never knew about your mom and, um, Magic Johnson.

My Sophomore year at Oregon, Danny “Real Deal” O’Neil led the from-out-of-nowhere Ducks to the Rose Bowl where they got waxed by Kerry Collins and future number-one-overall-pick and present-day sports blogger Ki-Jana Carter. Didn’t matter though, the Ducks hadn’t been to a Rose Bowl since the Eisenhower administration and Nike money was beginning to pour in to the University like Everclear and Tang splashing around an orange Igloo cooler on a Friday evening.

As if overnight, Kurt Cobain was dead and nobody was wearing flannel to the games anymore. My days of loving the then-lovable Ducks were pretty much winding down in time to the hit machine that was Better Than Ezra.

Congruous with the newfound success of the Duck gridders was the quick fade of the Ultimate squad, a double-dose of reality. Me, a year older and none wiser, still not talking to girls, still not going to office hours and skulking around in the rain trying to glean something from an album entitled Loveless, simply had wet jean bottoms, too-long bangs and the business of an upstart football powerhouse to attend to. An unlikely pairing in the Willamette Valley indeed.

Let’s fast-forward to Saturday’s match-up. East Lansing’s defensive mastermind Pat Narduzzi knows he’s got his work cut out in Oregon. And yet, with a Ducks’ squad that features no stand-out wideout (Marcus Mariota spread the ball around to 11 different receivers in the Duck warmup last weekend v. South Dakota) and a running back by committee. Duck fans cry, “Too many weapons.” I say unseasoned at the skill positions and ready to be exploited.

I fully expect Mariota to be able to spread some Aloha in the first half, but if Narduzzi’s front five can neutralize the Ducks’ frenetic no-name attack for the first four possessions and not let one or two break free, it’s on.

Also, check the game time and conditions. Kick-off is at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on a day the mercury’s supposed to creep into the mid-90s. Add five degrees on the field and you’ve got three digits bad news for Sparty. Yes, September is Oregon’s nicest month, but a little global warming has contributed mightily to the clouds lifting over the house the Fouts built (and Phil remodeled). My melancholy may be here to stay, but Oregon looks to bask in the summer sun.

…Or will they? (Oh, sorry Kyle about the Magic Johnson dig).

Kyle: AJ, no worries about the mom swipe, it’s been a real pleasure giving you something to ponder besides your daily high-fiber cereal shit. I’d love to pick your brain about the 90s over some Werther’s Originals some day.

You’re right, MSU will probably have a hard time with triple digits, but how well will the Ducks fare? Unless Uncle Phil has a Nike+ saline drip hooked up to all of his human billboards student athletes, I don’t see where a team that plays in games with an average temperature of about 30 degrees cooler than it’ll be at Autzen derives an advantage.

What I’m more worried about is the history between the two squads in Autzen in general. The Ducks curb—stomped MSU’s 1980 squad in Eugene, racking up a 35-7 win. In 1998, the next (and most recent) visit from Sparty to Oregon, the Ducks rolled them up for a 48-14 win in a loss that was particularly painful to then-MSU coach Nick Saban. The home team has never lost a game in this series.

Dantonio’s current team, however, is markedly different than almost every iteration of the Spartans to don the uniform in the last fifty years. I really can’t stress enough how different these teams are than the Spartan squads of my youth.

I remember, distinctly, my excitement over Charles Rogers’ Michigan State career. One day, a very, very cool football teammate of mine came to my job as a lifeguard at the Y to tell me my mom had cleared me to go up to East Lansing with him for a night game against highly-ranked Wisconsin. MSU had been slogging through a bit of rough season but had an offense that was gangbusters led by future addicts in Rogers and quarterback Jeff Smoker. He said we were leaving straight after my shift ended, and I said I needed to grab my State sweatshirt at home. He motioned to a Meijers bag and said my mom had already packed it. It was, of course, the super lame one my aunt had given me from Christmas, some off-Kelly green Steve and Barry’s knockoff and not the official Nike number I’d dropped my 12-hour workweek paycheck on just a few weeks before. She also took the liberty of packing my jeans and dopest braided belt along with like, $10.

I took the cash and sweater but opted to wear my sweatpants. We got to campus and hit his brother’s frat house first. We got some earnest lecture from his brother’s buddy on pledging Alpha-Phi in two years because we were a legacy and ‘obviously a bro.’ We took a shot of Jack and tried not to vomit in front of the cool older guys.

The game was a disaster. Smoker, in his last game before taking the rest of the season off to deal with a coke problem, tossed like four interceptions. Rogers went apeshit as usual but couldn’t keep State in the game. I inadvertently revealed what a loser I was to my buddy by properly identifying a guy on the sidelines as State’s backup punter (to be fair, he was a GREAT recruiting get). At that point I realized that no matter how many stud running backs, wideouts or quarterbacks State had, it never bothered on defense, and that was the reason the team failed.

Nowadays, this team has defenders who can cover just about anyone in the nation. Cornerback was previously a Spartan position occupied by failed running backs and obvious no-hands receivers. Narduzzi, who everyone knows is waiting for the next real B1G job to open up, almost never has a passing defense that gives up more than 170 yards in a game. That’s a little more than 40 yards through the air, per quarter. Save for a big play here and there, nobody really gets off through the air on MSU, and cornerback Trae Waynes is quickly eliminating his side of the field as an option for opposing offenses. The middle linebacker position has been manned by a succession of All-Americans (Greg Jones, Max Bullough, now Taiwan Jones), and defensive end Shilique Calhoun works on offensive lines the way the old man from A Christmas Story worked in implied profanity. It’s a medium he has mastered. This three-level defense has cowed high-level spread offenses like Michigan’s circa 2013 into essentially playing for good punting position. Mariota has been schemed for since January 2, 2014. These factors do not bode well for him.

AJ: I just checked the line on this game and it’s getting ridiculous (Oregon -13). So, let me start by previewing Saturday’s other marquee match-up. USC is going up to the Farm to wax Stanford. Like, by a lot. Like, take the money line.

The Cardinal’s convincing win over UC Davis week one makes them three-point favorites. But I’m not thinking about this season, I’m thinking about 2007 when USC was 41-point favorites coming off a 42-0 win over Stanford in 2006. But all of a sudden Jim Harbaugh’s 1-3 Cardinal shocked the world and rolled up the Trojan 24-23. Pete Carroll came back the next year and ran up the score on Stanford, 45-23, just because he needed to out-jerk the jerk on the other side of the field (repeat on West Coast sidelines for the next six seasons …and counting).

Why am I talking about Stanford/SC and Harbaugh Carroll and a pair of games that happened almost a decade ago decided by jerky jerks? Because, well, USC’s Sarkisian’s the jerk in charge now. Stanford’s David Shaw has at least come off like less of a jerk, but he’d rather be coaching in the NFL this season so that makes him probably a little jerkier—but not jerky enough to win. In other words, USC and Stanford are two schools founded on the principle of turning high school jerks into college jerks and releasing them out into the world as professional jerks with bad ideas that somehow get venture capital or made into movies—or maybe they just all end up working at their dad’s Maserati dealership in Newport Beach, I dunno.

Anyway, take the bigger jerk in today’s um, jerk-off, and the points.

Speaking of tangents, as Kyle pointed out before dimming the lights, slipping some GHB into the Asti Spumante and throwing Jodeci on the five-disc changer in time to sweat the Way(nes?) brother who is MSU’s funnyman/shut-down corner, Oregon’s young and inexperienced secondary will be tested more than co-workers at Kink.com by MSU quarterback Connor Cook. The Ducks are questionable when the balls go, um, deep. With gimpy ankle’d Ifo Ekpre-Olomu shoring up one side and redshirt Freshman Tyree Robinson fielding center, it could be a long day for Don Pellum’s 3-4 package.

And then we have Shilique Calhoun. Yes, Mr. Magin, the guy who wears the heavy crown of Big Ten D-lineman of the year all sideways and flat-billed wants his Mariota slow-roasted on a spit at this luau. While the Ducks have four returning starters in their front five, right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena will have his hands more full than his last name is with vowels.

Wow, that sure didn’t come out right. But you get what I’m saying, right?

To clarify: Take MSU and the points and, oh yeah, the 56-point over/under looks like a sure bet for the under (that’s right). This is one track meet that the Ducks don’t want any part of. Look for a 23-18 MSU upset at Autzen.

Kyle: AJ, we agree the point spread seems a tad wide. Despite all the bluster, I am worried about seeing a well-run read option offense out of the Ducks. It’s something State’s never seen at the caliber Mariota can.

I think the Ducks get loose for a big play early and get the crowd into it. As the night wears on, though, Connor Cook will be efficient and the D will rack up a few stops. State ekes it out late on a fake field goal, 31-28.

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