Ducks’ secondary looks to take advantage of shaky QB play from Michigan State

With 13 interceptions from its starting secondary, Oregon looks to get more against the unsettling play of Brian Lewerke


Scouting the pass defense: Michigan State is one of 10 teams in the country with more interceptions than touchdowns, a 13:12 ratio. Quarterback Brian Lewerke has thrown for 1,868 yards and eight touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He’s completing just 54.2-percent of his passes with a quarterback rating of 108.8.

Michigan State does have a distinctive size advantage when it comes catching the ball, big-bodied receivers who do a good job of boxing out opponents. If the Ducks have a downfall in the secondary, this would be it as their starting corners are 5-foot-11 and 5-foot-10.

Cody White, who stands 6-foot-3, is the top receiver for the Spartans, posting a team-high in yards (491) with 36 catches.

Felton Davis III is the big play receiver, often using his 6-foot-4 frame to outmuscle defenders. He averages 15.3 yards per catch with four touchdowns on the season, going with his 31 catches for 474 yards.

Darrell Stewart Jr. leads the team with 39 catches for 368 yards, a measly 9.4 yards per catch. But Stewart shows great hands and is fearless going over the middle, often taking the big hit.

Lewerke also relies on his running backs to catch the ball — Connor Heyward has 32 catches for 249 yards. But Michigan State is expecting LJ Scott to return from injury and lead the team in his final game as a Spartan. Scott has proven himself a talented runner with great hands out of the backfield, showing speed and allusion to turn screens into big gains.

“He'll bring something, he's been a guy that's been out most of the season, so we'll look forward to his progress and returning,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said of Scott. “It fluctuated back and forth in terms of what he was going to do, but he decided he's going to play.”

The Ducks are one of the country’s more opportunistic defenses, ranking 12th with 16 interceptions.

Oregon’s starting secondary has combined for 13 interceptions, three of which have been returned for scores. Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. is fifth in the nation with 35 passes broken up and defended.

Safeties Ugochukwu Amadi and Jevon Holland have combined for seven interceptions, often taking advantage of misplaced deep balls. They also have shown the ability to play down in the slot and cover tight ends.

As a unit, the Ducks defense gives up 247.4 yards per game through the air, 94th in the country. Despite the interceptions, Oregon has also been prone to giving up the big play, surrendering 24 touchdowns on the season.

But, the Ducks allow just 56.9-percent of passes to be completed, 45th in nation.

The reason this matchup will be one to watch is because the Spartans are going to want to extend the game, keep the ball for as long as possible because it keeps Oregon’s high-octane offense on the sideline. To do so, the Spartans must be able to throw the ball because relying solely on their rushing attack is not the way to beat Oregon’s talented front-seven.

By forcing the Spartans into third-and-passing downs, the Ducks will be able to blitz freely and force Lewerke to get rid of the ball quicker than he’d like. This bodes well for the Oregon’s secondary as the Ducks love to jump routes and have proven capable of doing so.