September 4, 2014 at 1:30 am

Showdown pits Ducks' high-flying offense vs. Spartans' stingy defense

MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi  on upcomin...
MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi on upcomin...: Narduzzi talks about next Saturday's matchup with Oregon

East Lansing — It might seem simplistic to break down Michigan State’s showdown against Oregon as a battle between the high-flying Ducks offense and the stifling Spartans defense.

There will be other factors that will play out.

But when it comes down to the key matchup, few disagree it will be decided between two of the best units in the country.

“The most intriguing thing to me is Michigan State’s defense,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “You are talking about a dominant defense a year ago.”

Shaw has a pretty good idea about both teams. His Stanford team has two straight victories over Oregon in the Pac 12, while it lost to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl in January.

“(Michigan State) graduated a lot of guys, but if they can play at a high level that will be a close, tight game,” Shaw said. “Oregon is tough to match up with offensively. The whole game hinges on that defense. If that defense is playing at the same high level, the game will go down to the end.

“I love the way that they coach at Michigan State, I love the way they play — tough, physical, aggressive. But Oregon is about matchups and speed.”

The Spartans have had plenty of it the last three seasons.

Since 2011, Michigan State is one of three teams (Alabama and Florida State) to rank among the top six each season in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense, while the Spartans and Crimson Tide the only teams in the top 11 in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass defense.

At the same time, the Ducks have been lighting up scoreboards, averaging 44.9 points since 2009. And with quarterback Marcus Mariota on the verge of setting several career records, including passing touchdowns and total yardage, the high-paced attack will be plenty for the Spartans to handle.

But instead of come up with any sort of special game plan, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi plans to stick with what works — a scheme that puts pressure on the quarterback while locking down receivers with a zone defense that mixes in man-to-man concepts on the outside.

“The key is for us to be sound,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve got to tackle well. And we’ve got to play fast.”

There’s no doubt the Ducks will play fast in an attempt to keep the Spartans defense off balance and limit substitutions, something that could be more critical considering the temperatures could reach the mid-90s.

And while Michigan State is doing everything it can to replicate Oregon’s speed — four fresh receivers have been going at one cornerback during practice — little can prepare a team for the real thing.

“The thing about Oregon is you can do all the right things and they can still run into a big play because they’re so good athletically,” said Fox analyst Charles Davis, who will call the game. “They can get you physically. But where they really get you is mentally because you have to lock into who is on the field, how many receivers, which way are they going. ... For a lot of teams it can grind you down mentally.”

The key to avoiding that ultimately will fall on Spartans middle linebacker Taiwan Jones.

Narduzzi said he thought Jones played well against Jacksonville State, a team that played at a similar pace to Oregon and provided a test for Jones in his first game leading the defense.

“He’s very critical,” Narduzzi said. “Taiwan has got to have a good game for us. ... It’s just a step up speed-wise, a step up personnel-wise that they have.”

The Ducks agree Jones is the right man in the middle for the Spartans, as well as Ed Davis.

“Their linebackers are outstanding,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “I don’t have a stopwatch on Taiwan Jones, but he runs great, if not maybe even a little better. The combination of Davis and Jones, they run really great.”

Michigan State at Oregon

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.

TV/radio: Fox/WJR

Line: Oregon by 12½

Records: No. 7 Michigan State 1-0, No. 3 Oregon 1-0

Series: Tied 2-2 (Michigan State 27-20, Sept. 2, 1999

Did you know? It is the first regular-season matchup of top-10 teams for Michigan State since the infamous 10-10 tie game with Notre Dame in 1966.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com
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Marcus Mariota directs the Ducks' powerful offense, which averaged 45.5 points last season. / Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images