CFB Film Review: MSU Defense Did Its Homework

The Michigan State Spartans emerged victorious in the first meeting between Top-10 teams this season, knocking off the Oregon Ducks 31-28. Mark Schofield previewed the matchup, and looks at the tape from Saturday to show how the MSU defense did its homework.

The Spartans rode to victory behind a solid performance from quarterback Connor Cook and a defense that turned in a number of big plays. This interception showed how much they learned from last season’s meeting:


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This play is very similar to one of Marcus Mariota’s touchdown passes in last year’s game. The Ducks offense lines up in a bunch formation to the right with two players flanking quarterback Vernon Adams. Michigan State has its 4-2-5 nickel personnel in the game for this play:



Prior to the snap, wide receiver Charles Nelson (#6) leaves his QB’s side and comes in motion toward the bunch. Oregon is showing a screen on this play but like last year, they are really running switch vertical routes ‒ trying to bait the defensive backs into flowing forward on the screen action:


The inside trips receiver (Devon Allen – #13) swings into the backfield as the screen receiver. The other two WRs, Bralon Addison (#2) and Dwayne Stanford (#88) pause at the snap to simulate blocks, then break on vertical routes aiming inside. Nelson stops his motion just inside Allen, then swings to the outside and deep along the sideline on a vertical route. This play works at the outset.

The defense is in Cover 1, and as the players switch responsibilities on the screen/switch verticals from Oregon, cornerback Jermaine Edmondson gets sucked in a few steps toward Allen, allowing Nelson to gain separation on the outside. But the single-high safety is senior R.J. Williamson, who saw this offense up close last year. The veteran plays this perfectly ‒ gaining depth as the play develops, putting him in perfect position for the interception:

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Pressure off the edge played a role as well. Defensive tackle Craig Evans (#72) uses a bull-rush to force Adams to step up in the pocket and away from the intended target, making this a more difficult throw to execute.

The game still came down to Oregon’s final possession, and a long field goal try. But the Michigan State defense turned in a number of big plays early in this contest, including a goal-line stop on 4th and goal from the 1. The big interception from the senior Williamson was not just a crucial turnover ‒ but an example of how experience and film study can pay off in the big moments.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy ABC Sports.

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