Michigan State, which invades Autzen Stadium on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. showdown against the Oregon Ducks, has led the Big Ten in defense for three consecutive seasons.
The Pat Narduzzi-coached unit has been phenomenal allowing only 252.2 yards (86.6 on the ground) and 13.2 points per game last season.
Key defensive players returned this season in defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, linebacker Taiwan Jones and secondary players Kurtis Drummond and Trae Waynes.
In last week's opening 45-7 victory against Jacksonville State, the Spartans allowed 22 net yards rushing on 25 carries and 222 yards on 18-of-37 passing, with three interceptions.
Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum's unit gave up three scores, 370 yards (including 172 rushing on 39 carries) to a mediocre FCS team, South Dakota.
Ducks coach Mark Helfrich insisted that defense – and offense was "vanilla" in the 62-13 home win against South Dakota, but the Ducks didn't tackle well, didn't dominate the line of scrimmage and gave up yards on many passing and running plays.
Helfrich says the UO defenders needed a greater sense of urgency.
"That's our intensity it was inconsistent," Pellum says. "At times it showed; we have to get it consistent in a hurry ... being more passionate and adamant about it.
"We're expecting a much faster, dynamic team" in Michigan State.
Michigan State and running back Jeremy Langford will likely try to be physical on offense and control the line of scrimmage, a la Stanford and Arizona (and Oregon State in many respects) against Oregon last season.
The Ducks feature only three down linemen now starting ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead and nose guard Alex Balducci with Tony Washington not a drop end but a second outside linebacker. All the backups are new to the rotation.
Will the Ducks be ready to play a power running team?
"Yeah, I think we'll be ready for it," Armstead says. "Um, we're going to have to go into the game with that mentality that, you know, we're not going to get the ball run on us. It's going to be a good challenge for us early in the season."
Helfrich pinpointed receiver and secondary as key areas for continued "development" on his team.
Michigan State throws the ball well with quarterback Connor Cook and defends well all around, including in the secondary.
Cook nearly saw his season end last week, as he took a hit to the knee against Jacksonville State. He stayed in the game, and finished 12 of 13 for 285 yards and three TDs.
Tony Lippett had four receptions for 167 yards and two scores, and Langford led the 227-yard team rushing performance.
"Connor Cook is a man, a great football player," Helfrich says. "A tough guy making plays with his arm and his feet."
NOTES: Backup Oregon QB Jeff Lockie had a terrific day against South Dakota, leading two scoring drives and going 11 of 13 for 113 yards and a TD. "He's the guy everyone in the locker room has confidence in," Mariota says. "He's proven himself in the last few years, gaining confidence of his teammates." How much did the Ducks scout and study Michigan State before this week?
Said Pellum, last Saturday: "I've not had a chance to watch them. I haven't watched them since last year in the Rose Bowl. But I have an idea of what they do, they're a very talented team." Said offensive coordinator Scott Frost: "In the summer before the season starts we go through and make a preliminary plan on every team that has the same coaching staff returning."