No. 3 Oregon proved its chops at home Saturday night, knocking off the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans in a game that lived up to its billing ... for three quarters, at least. Michigan State took a 27-18 lead early in third, but Oregon responded with a flurry of 28 points en route to the 46-27 win.
It started as a defensive affair, with the two teams trading a pair of punts each before quarterback Connor Cook's first-quarter interception gave Oregon a chance to capitalize. The Ducks did just that, driving 39 yards on seven plays and recording eight points -- six on Thomas Tyner's one-yard touchdown run, two on the ensuing two-point conversion.
Things picked up in the second quarter, especially for Michigan State. The first four drives of the quarter ended in scores. The streak ended on two straight Spartan sacks of Marcus Mariota, forcing a punt.
Michigan State scored on its next drive, cutting the Oregon lead to 18-17, and took the lead just a few minutes later on Cook's second touchdown pass of the quarter. The Spartans kicked another field goal early in the third, making it 20 unanswered points in under 11 minutes of game time.
Two drives later, Mariota struck. Facing third-and-long after another Michigan State sack, Oregon's star quarterback pulled this out of his bag of tricks.
Facing third-and-5 three plays later, Mariota found Keanon Lowe for 12 yards and another first down. Two plays later, he connected with a wide-open Devon Allen for the 24-yard touchdown, bringing the Ducks within two. The Oregon defense forced a quick three-and-out and Mariota took advantage again. The junior found Keanon Lowe up the seam for the 37-yard score, taking Oregon's first lead since midway through the second quarter.
After the Spartans' third straight punt, Royce Freeman ran 38 yards straight into the end zone, putting Oregon up 12 points in the fourth. Freeman scored once more near the end of the game, setting the final score at 46-27.
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Three things we learned
1. Marcus Mariota is as we remembered him. Heisman talk this early in the season is silly ... but Mariota and Georgia's Todd Gurley look like the two best players in the country so far, by quite some margin. Michigan State has a serious defense and the quarterback simply carved it up -- he finished with 318 yards passing (11.4 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns and 42 yards rushing. Mariota outscored Michigan State 14-3 in the second half.
2. Michigan State is still firmly the Big Ten favorite. The Connor Cook renaissance appeared to be for real for a half, at least, and Sparty held a two-score lead late into the third quarter here. That's more impressive than what the other Big Ten contenders did -- Michigan and Ohio State were each losing (to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech) when this story was published, Wisconsin started slow out of the gate against Western Illinois after its collapse against LSU and Iowa barely beat Ball State.
3. Don't forget about Oregon's defense. The Ducks swarmed Connor Cook and the Spartan offense in the second half, forcing a third-quarter stretch of nine offensive plays where Michigan State totaled -2 yards. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu may be the best corner in the country. The dude did this:
Oregon probably doesn't have to depend on winning shootouts this year, but it sure looks like the team could handle that as well.