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Mark Dantonio’s Best Wins: Week Two

With the absence of Big Ten football this fall, we continue with our look back at the best win each week during the Mark Dantonio era.

Many of you probably remember my series from spring Reliving Past Tournaments: Tom Izzo’s Top Wins. Given the lack of football this fall, I will be hitting the gridiron history each week taking a look back at all the wins we enjoyed under former head coach Mark Dantonio’s 13-season tenure. Each week of (what would have been) the regular season, I will go through and select what I think was that corresponding week’s “best win” out of 13 seasons worth of them and recap the action.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the previous week’s wins here:
Week One

While 2016’s win over Notre Dame felt pretty great for the first week or so following the win, there was truly no competition for the game selection in Week Two. Michigan State’s 2015 top-ten showdown against Oregon stands atop the list of candidates unrivaled in every category. Let’s start with the fact it is the first, and sadly only thus far, top-10 showdown in Spartan Stadium history since 1966’s “Game of the Century.” The stripe the stadium theme was a smashing success. ESPN GameDay was on hand. The prime-time night start provided a full day of tailgating fun to get ready for the matchup, and the atmosphere in Spartan Stadium for the game was one of the most electric I have ever experienced as a fan.

No. 7 Oregon at No 5 Michigan State
September 12, 2015
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
MSU 31-Oregon 28

The Michigan State Spartans had revenge on their mind after the late fourth quarter collapse in Eugene against the Oregon Ducks in 2014. While Connor Cook would not get the opportunity to best Marcus Mariota, The Ducks’ Vernon Adams was a capable quarterback successor for the national runner-up Oregon. The back and forth game did not disappoint for excitement and hype, but the Spartans emerged victorious this time in the closing minute with a strong defensive series.

First Quarter

Oregon started the game on offense, and made quick work. The Ducks drove 75-yards over 13 plays to strike first with a touchdown. On just the second play, Adams completed a 19-yard pass to Charles Nelson for the first down. Three downs later he connected again, this time to Royce Freeman for 10 yards and another first down. On the next set of downs, MSU manages to force another third-and-long after Oregon’s Matt Pierson drew a false start penalty, but Adams comes up big yet again with an 11-yard pass to Nelson to convert and move the ball to MSU’s 31-yard-line. Just five plays later the Ducks cross the goal line for the touchdown on a two-yard run by Freeman and it’s 7-0 Oregon.

Were you hoping for a typical grinding, clock-eating drive from the Spartans? I am sure none of you were disappointed this was not the case. MSU started their drive with a 62-yard run by Madre London on the opening play until he was brought down at Oregon’s 13-yard-line!

After London went for just one yard on the next play, Cook connected to Josiah Price for a 12-yard pass and it was “Touch-Down MSU!” The score is all tied-up at seven points each.

After the quick opening action from each offense, the defenses started slowing them down. Oregon’s next series saw great field position after Kevin Cronin’s kickoff was returned 49 yards to the Oregon 49-yard line by Byron Marshall. A quick first down strike on an 11-yard pass to Nelson on the opening play put the Ducks in dangerous territory, but then on second-and-eight on the next set of downs Joel Heath forced a fumble by Freeman that Oregon recovered after an 11-yard loss. That set-up third-and-19 at the MSU 49-yard line, but Shilique Calhoun broke through for a one-yard sack on Adams to force the Oregon punt.

MSU proceeded to go three-and-out, forcing a punt. Oregon did the same. The next Spartan series got exciting, however. After an initial loss of two-yards on the opening run by London, Cook connected to Aaron Burbridge for 13-yards and a first down. London ripped off an 11-yard gain, and two plays later managed another six-yard run. However, on third-and-four from the Oregon seven-yard line the Ducks tackled Damion Terry for a four-yard loss. Michael Geiger came out for the 28-yard field goal attempt, but missed.

The Spartan defense came up big on the next series when Vernon Adams dropped back to pass from the 23-yard line on second-and-seven, but was picked off by Montae Nicholson who ran it back to the Oregon 30-yard line. The Spartans start their drive deep in Oregon territory with just 56 seconds left on the clock for the first quarter. As the closing minute unfolds, Cook throws an incomplete, connects with R.J. Shelton for a loss of one-yard, then finally connects to Macgarrett Kings for 10-yards to set up fourth-and-one at the start of the second quarter.

Second Quarter

MSU ended the first quarter with the ball on Oregon’s 21-yard line, but the down marker on fourth down. The Spartans decide to risk it and Cook keeps the ball for a two-yard gain and the first down. After LJ Scott managed just two-yards on first down, Cook throws another outstanding pass to Burbridge for 17-yards and the touchdown. The Spartans make it 14-7 MSU!

On Oregon’s ensuing drive, the Ducks marched it 82-yards down the field on 10-plays. It was a disappointing drive for Spartan fans right up until the end. The Ducks ripped off a 17-yard run, a 12-yard pass, a 25-yard pass, and a 16-yard pass all in a row to set up first-and-goal on the MSU three-yard line. After a two-yard gain by Adams on the keeper, a false start penalty on second-and-goal from the 1=one-yard line moved it back to the six. While Adams gained those five-yards back on another keeper, the Spartans proceeded to stuff the Ducks at the one-yard line for two straight plays for a goal line stand.

MSU managed a 20-yard drive on six plays to help win the field position battle at least. After stalling out at the MSU 21-yard line, Jake Hartbarger came out and booted a 53-yard punt that was fielded for no gain by Bralon Addison at the Oregon 21-yard line. However, the Spartans had a helping had in the form of an illegal block by the Ducks to further push them back to their own 16-yard line. While Oregon managed to push the ball 29-yards over the next four plays, helped by a 25-yard pass to Addison, the drive ended in disaster for the Ducks. MSU’s RJ Williamson picked off a pass by Adams at State’s own 27-yard line.

The Spartans rattled off a 33-yard drive of their own, but Oregon’s Ugo Amadi returned the favor by picking off Cook and returned it 25-yards to the Oregon 49-yard line. With just 1:41 left on the clock for the first-half, Oregon managed to push the ball 17-yards over a six-play drive. However, after a big 17-yard pass to Freeman on second down with nine yards to go, Oregon stalled out and turned the ball over on downs after Adams threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-11. Michigan State brought the offense out to kneel and heads into the locker room with a 14-7 lead.

Third Quarter

Michigan State received the ball to start the second half. The Spartans managed just nine yards and were forced to punt. Unfortunately, for the second straight game MSU’s special teams faced an elite returner and fell short on the task. Addison returned the kick 81-yards for a touchdown, though there were a few questionable blocks that failed to draw a flag. The Ducks, however, tied it up at 14-all.

The Spartan offense came out with a new focus for their next drive. After a touchback on kickoff, MSU proceeded to march the ball 75 yards on their drive to take the lead back. The highlight of the drive hands down was when the Spartans decided to go for it on fourth-and-six from the Oregon 34-yard-line. Yet again, but oh so early in a long, long list of these types of plays to occur throughout 2015, Cook connected with Burbridge for a huge 29-yard gain and a Spartan first down! LJ Scott on the next play finished off the final six yards needed to cross the goal line, and just like the MSU seized back the lead 21-14.

The Ducks failed to convert for a first down on their next series and were forced to punt. Michigan State kept the pressure on the Ducks on offense. The Spartans ate 5:29 off the clock with a 12-play, 59-yard drive of their own. The highlight of the drive was a catch by Jamal Lyles for 18 yards to bring MSU solidly into the red zone on the Oregon 19-yard-line. MSU failed to convert for a fresh set of downs, but Geiger came out to nail a 36-yard field goal attempt and open the lead to 24-14 MSU with just 1:08 left in the third quarter.

Fourth Quarter

Oregon’s drive started with just over one minute left in the third quarter, and the Ducks managed to pick up 15-yards before the end of the third. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Ducks continued to move the chains. Over the next nine plays, Oregon moved the ball another 63-yards, highlighted by a 21-yard pass to Addison and a 25-yard pass to Marshall, before Adams finally finished it off with a two-yard run into the end zone. Oregon made the extra point and it was just 24-21 MSU.

If anyone was still unfamiliar with freshman running back LJ Scott, this next Spartan drive sure fixed that. Scott returned the kickoff 25-yards to the Michigan State 35-yard line. Then R.J. Shelton ran it another 18-yards on the opening play of the drive to the Oregon 47-yard line.

Still another 47-yards to go for the Spartans, Scott lined up for the hand-off on first-and-10 and rattled off nine yards on the gain. Still with another yard to gain for the first down, Scott gets the hand-off again. Did you expect him to only manage a first down? Think again folks! LJ Scott breaks out for a 38-yard run, and cue that George Blaha voice: “TOUCH-DOWN M-S-U!!!” MSU extends its lead 31-21.

The Ducks manage an 11-play drive on their ensuing series. MSU’s defense was helped by the Ducks’s Marshall getting tackled at the Oregon 17-yard line when he tried to field the kick. Still, the Ducks move the ball 40-yards over 11-plays. They finally fail to convert on fourth-and-one for the first-down and turn it over on downs at the MSU 43-yard line. The Spartans are forced into a three-and-out of their own and punt as well.

Oregon then manages a nine-play, 80-yard drive in just 2:49 in response. On the opening play of the Ducks’s drive, Adams connects with Addison for a 30-yard gain. The next play MSU assists the Ducks five-yard run with a holding penalty that makes it 15-yards. Additional big plays of a 21-yard pass to Addison and the final 15-yard pass from Marshall to Adams for the touchdown brings Oregon within striking distance of the MSU lead with 3:25 left on the game clock. It’s 31-28, MSU with a narrow lead.

Can the Spartans offense eat the clock and ice the game? Unfortunately MSU manages a five-yard loss on the opening set of downs and is forced to punt. Addison catches the 50-yard punt by Hartbarger and manages to pick up 19 yards for the Ducks to start their drive at the Michigan State 48-yard line. The Ducks pick up another first down immediately after Freeman rips off 11-yards on a run. However, MSU keeps him to just four yards on his next attempt. Adams tries to air it out on second-and-six, but the pass is incomplete to a wide open Byron Marshall. Third down sees Chris Frey and Lawrence Thomas both break free to combine for a 10-yard loss by Oregon as they sack Adams for the big loss. With just 1:06 left on the game clock, both Oregon and then MSU burn a timeout. Finally, with the game on the line, Oregon attempts to go for it on fourth-and-16 from MSU’s 43-yard line, but Adams fails to complete the pass to Addison and it is a turnover on downs!

Oregon has two timeouts left, so Michigan State’s offense needs to convert for a first down on the ensuing drive to ice the game and seal the victory. Right off the bat the Ducks throw some assistance with a substitution penalty. London proceeds to pick-up three-yards to setup second down with two yards to go. Oregon uses its second-to-last timeout with 52 seconds left. London gets the handoff again and manages the first down and a yard extra for good measure. Oregon uses their final timeout with 47 seconds left, but a fresh set of downs for MSU. The Spartans proceed to kneel it, and run the clock out on their opening down. That’s a “Victory For M-S-U!”

This was Michigan State’s fifth win over an AP top-10 team since 2011. It also continued MSU’s record setting streak from the week prior of scoring 30-plus points to a 10th-straight game. The previous record was eight games between the 1978 and 1979 seasons. The Spartans also avenged the loss from 2014 and established themselves solidly in the conversation as a contender for a berth in the College Football Playoff.

If you want to relive the game in full, you can rewatch it on the Big Ten Network tomorrow, Saturday, September 12 at 4:00 pm ET. It will also re-air September 14 at 12:00 pm ET.