Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 4, 2014

Michigan State has a tall task this Saturday when it travels to Eugene, Ore., to play Oregon.

The Ducks are one of the nation?s best teams, a top contender to not just earn one of four precious playoff spots-but to win it all. The optimism is fueled by one of the nation?s top offenses led by quarterback Marcus Mariota. He has the Heisman in his sights.

It will be a classic clash between the Ducks? mighty offense and Michigan State?s rugged defense. So, what do the Spartans need to do to beat Oregon? I asked BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo for a three-point plan that MSU must follow to return to East Lansing with a victory. Oh, and DiNardo knows something about winning in Eugene, as he guided his 2004 Indiana squad to a 30-24 victory there.

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 1. Control the line of scrimmage

The advantage that Michigan State?s offense has is the defensive line of Oregon is not used to going against this style of physical attack. They only see it when they play Stanford. I think the style that Stanford plays is part of the reason why they have beaten Oregon the last two times they played. If Michigan State wins, it will be partially because of the style they play, which is similar to Stanford. So, Michigan State has to use that as an advantage. Oregon typically wears down the defensive line of other teams with its quick pace. It can be exhausting. But Michigan State has depth on its defensive line and will play a lot of guys. So, that?s how the Spartans can control the line.

2. No busted coverages

Michigan State is a man-coverage team and it is playing an up-tempo offense, so communicating who is covering whom is critical. Michigan State can?t have any busts. So, as the tempo gets going and quickens, the Spartan defenders have to communicate their responsibilities. One of the reasons everyone is going to man coverage is to stop the spread. That does the job physically, but mentally you have to make sure you cover everybody. That?s the challenge for Michigan State.

3. Time of possession

The Spartans have to keep three-and-outs to a minimum on offense. Michigan State?s strategy offensively is directly opposite of what Oregon wants to do on offense when it comes to the play clock. Oregon wants to use as little of the play clock as possible; Michigan State wants to use as much as it can. In football today, the emphasis on time of possession has basically gone away for many teams. Spread teams could care less about time of possession. One of the few times that time of possession is a factor is when you have a Michigan State style of offense against an Oregon style of offense. This is one of the rare times when time of possession will help dictate the winner of the game. When Oregon plays, say, Washington State, time of possession means little to either team. Nobody cares. But for Michigan State to win this game vs. Oregon, winning time of possession is key.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.