The end was a little scarier than some of us would have liked, but Michigan State walks away from the biggest game in Spartan Stadium in decades with a win. That means it's time for us to visit Larry and Balki again:
Some quick thoughts after the game:
1) Special teams absolutely must improve.
Byron Marshall had a 50-yard kickoff return early and Bralon Addison ripped an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown and added a return that put Oregon in great position on their last drive. Kickoff coverage improved once MSU started kicking short and high, letting it drop around the 20-yard line outside the hash marks and forcing Oregon to scramble and just fall on it, but with two very dangerous return men in the division in Rutgers's Janarion Grant and Maryland's Will Likely, weaknesses in coverage could turn into disasters. Jake Hartbarger blasted the ball, averaging 51 yards on the punts, but he might have outkicked the coverage a couple times, contributing to the return woes.
Michael Geiger didn't have a phenomenal night either, missing wide from the right hash from just 28 yards out; he did hit from 36 from the left hash later.
2) The defensive front put on a show.
Four sacks, lots of pressure, one flag drawn for holding and a couple others that probably should have been, and two 4th-and-1 stops. Vernon Adams is a solid quarterback, but he's no Marcus Mariota and couldn't escape or keep plays alive with his feet so effectively. Royce Freeman did pick up 92 rushing yards on 24 carries, but a sack-adjusted total of 141 yards on 39 carries total (just over 3.5 a carry) is acceptable when you're dealing with Oregon. This front is going to give offensive linemen nightmares all season long.
3) Some danger signs still there on defense.
Tackling in space was not very good all night, and Oregon's outside swing passes were effective most of the night thanks to good blocking downfield from the other WRs. Still, this is 21 points allowed by the defense against Oregon and three fourth-down stops, including a goal-line stand. Can't be too critical of the results, even if it looked a little scary at times.
4) The running game was explosive but not particularly efficient.
197 yards on 37 carries is a pretty solid average, but 118 of those came on just three carries (Madre London's 62-yarder to open the game, L.J. Scott's 38-yard touchdown, and R.J. Shelton's 18-yard pickup on a sweep). There were a number of times where Oregon played everyone up close to stop the run and shut it down effectively, but there were a few back-breaking gains among the bunch.
5) The playoff is a real possibility ... even with a loss on November 21.
Obviously, there are some land mines to worry about before then (at Nebraska in particular), but if both MSU and OSU get to November 21 at 10-0, there's a chance that even the loser gets in, especially if it's MSU. If another conference ends up with a two-loss champion, Oregon runs the table in the Pac-12, and MSU ends up 11-1 with a competitive loss at the Horseshoe, it would be an interesting call for the playoff committee. Oregon would have the advantage of a conference title, but would they take a one-loss division runner-up who beat them instead? How much would the perceived strength of the Pac-12 matter in that decision?
Ideally, we'll win out and not have to worry about it. But the back door to the playoff may be open even if we lose in Columbus.