SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA
DUCKS 7 - SPARTANS 6
The Oregon Ducks (9-4, 5-4) and Michigan State Spartans (7-6, 5-4) have a recent history of thrilling and competitive games. Before the Redbox Bowl, these teams met a total of six times, and those games produced a bevy of highlights and memorable moments, but if the Mariota/Adams Jr. games were the Marvel movies of this rivalry, then this was the Spaghetti Western.
Oregon’s Clint Eastwood moment took place in the fourth quarter, a drive in which Oregon went 77 yards in six plays and scored the game’s lone touchdown- a 28-yard pass to Dillon Mitchell with 11:19 left in the final quarter. And in true spaghetti western form, the conclusion made up for all the borderline unwatchable moments.
Justin Herbert: 19/33 - 166 YDS - 1 TD
All season long, the story surrounding Justin Herbert has been his NFL potential. Now that he has made it clear that he intends to stay for his senior season, the question many will ask is- was it worth it?
We don’t really know the full reason why Herbert made his decision, though it really could be as simple as he’s a Duck through-and-through, but we do know that he has the talent to make Oregon a competitive PAC-12 player again. Unfortunately, this year’s receiving corps has not allowed us to fully analyze Herbert, due to a horrendous amount of drops.
Of course, it’s not fair to put all the blame on the pass-catchers. Herbert has a tendency to force throws into double coverage and fire rocket passes at times when a lighter touch would serve better, but it’s clear that to analyze Herbert’s junior season without mentioning the subpar play of his receivers would be unfair.
So, perhaps it’s best to grade Herbert’s performance in the Redbox Bowl with a pass or no pass, rather than a letter grade, in which case he most certainly passed.
Dillon Mitchell: 6 rec - 70 YDS - 1 TD
Jaylon Redd: 7 rec - 65 YDS
Jacob Breeland: 2 rec - 26 YDS
Johnny Johnson III: 1 rec - 10 YDS
CJ Verdell: 2 rec - 3 YDS
Travis Dye: 1 rec - (-8) YDS
Enough about the drops, let’s talk about how this unit performed when they did catch the ball. Dillon Mitchell scored the games only touchdown and was once again the Ducks’ leading receiver. His 70-yard game gave him 1,183 yards for the season as well as the single-season record for most receiving yards as a Duck.
Jaylon Redd deserves nearly as much credit for his 65-yard performance. Oregon had only eleven first downs in this game and Redd was responsible for five of them. Also, the touchdown pass to Mitchell was set up by two Redd catches of 15 yards and 18 yards, respectively.
Other than those two, no player had an especially notable game. Cristobal clearly favored going through the air instead of regularly testing Michigan State’s outstanding defensive line and was able to squeeze out exactly one successful deep pass, which turned out to be enough.
CJ Verdell: 14 car - 43 YDS
Travis Dye: 6 car - 18 YDS
Justin Herbert: 4 car - (-7) YDS
Blake Maimone: 1 car - (-7) YDS
Michigan State came into this game as the best rush defense in college football, allowing a measly 81.3 yards per game. And though Cristobal has established his desire to transform this team into a downhill, run-first offense, it was clear that challenging the Spartan’s defense on the ground was never the gameplan.
Oregon ran the ball 11 times in the first half and 14 in the second for a combined total of 37 yards, the longest run being a 16-yard CJ Verdell rush with 8:09 left in the fourth quarter. It’s actually quite the compliment to Michigan State’s defense that Oregon elected to place it’s own fate in the hands of the very flawed Duck receiving corps.
Though this was certainly not Verdell’s most prolific game of the season, his season as a whole has been fruitful; his 43 yards in the Redbox Bowl puts him just over the 1,000-yard mark with 1,018 yards.
The Ducks punted the ball 11 times and were held scoreless for the first three quarters, yet the Spartans offense somehow proved to be worse.
Brian Lewerke: 22/40 - 172 YDS - 16 car - 63 YDS
LJ Scott: 24 car - 84 YDS
Cody White: 6 rec - 64 YDS
Darrell Stewart Jr: 9 rec - 45 YDS
THE ENTIRE DAMN DEFENSE
Michigan State may have outgained Oregon, 331 yards to 203 yards, but they were unable to take advantage of the many opportunities they were given to win this game, thanks in large part to Jim Leavitt and his defense.
Neither team was good on third down (Spartans: 8 of 22, Ducks: 2 of 14), or on fourth down (Spartans: 0 of 3, Ducks: 0 of 1). The difference turned out to be Oregon’s single big play in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State, down one point, had control of the ball for three more drive before time ran out. Those three drives ended with a missed field goal, a 33-yard drive ending on downs, and then a failed field goal attempt that ended in a failed pass. Much of this failure is solely on the Spartans offense, but Oregon’s defense also played very well, especially on meaningful 3rd downs.
Spartan Passing: 22/40 - 172 YDS - 1 INT
Spartan Rushing: 46 car - 159 YDS
Turnovers: DUCKS 0 - SPARTANS 1
Before we start gushing over this Duck defense, let’s remember how bad this Spartan offense really is: Michigan State entered the game averaging 19.8 points per game, good enough for No. 121 in scoring offense.
But that shouldn’t take away from Oregon’s defensive performance, which was perfect outside of two drives. Their first points were produced on the opening drive of the second half, a 12-play, 64-yard drive resulting in a 34-yard field goal, and their second was later in the same quarter, another field goal after starting on Oregon’s 47-yard line.
Other than those two field goals, the Spartans’ offense was regularly stopped due to shutdown secondary play, an aggressive pass rush, and losing the turnover battle zero-to-one.
ALL-GANG GREEN TEAM
- Jevon Holland - All season, Holland has proven to be the most valuable freshman on the team. In the Redbox Bowl, he proved even more valuable than that, deflecting a pass and playing generally very sound coverage. His diving interception prevented a Michigan State field goal, which obviously proved crucial.
- Kaulana Apelu - The former walk-on finished his Oregon career on a high note with seven solo tackles, including one for a loss. Despite his small stature, he will be sorely missed for his enthusiasm and heady play.
- Troy Dye - In what was hopefully not his final game as a Duck, Dye showed why he is the undeniable leader of the linebacking corps. The junior had eight tackles, including one for a loss, and a sack.
- Thomas Graham Jr. - Rarely heard his name called, but that’s mostly due to Lewerke’s hesitation to throw deep. And when he did make his presence known, it was by expertly defending potential big plays. The most notable being the broken up pass intended for Cody White, effectively sealing the win for the Ducks.
- La’Mar Winston Jr. - Led all teams with his 10 tackles, including one for a loss.
- Justin Hollins - The senior had one of the best games of his career, finishing the bowl game with seven tackles, one and a half sacks, and two and a half tackles for a loss.
SALUTE TO SPECIAL TEAMS
In a game full of hard-to-watch moments, the most cringeworthy play took place with under seven minutes left in the game, when Oregon elected to run a trick punt (which started in punt formation, then transitioned into a swinging gate, then turned into who-knows-what with Blake Maimone as surprise QB) instead of punting.
Had Sparty marched down the field and connected on a third field goal, this would have been up there for one of Oregon’s most boneheaded bloopers of all time. Luckily, Michigan State ended its proceeding drive with a botched special teams play of its own, when a bad snap forced the Spartans into a no-win situation.
Jordon Scott, Dillon Mitchell, and Ugochukwu Amadi all left at some point in the game but then all returned for more playing time. Calvin Throckmorton needed help walking off right before the conclusion of the game.
The win may have been ugly, but it broke the trend of losing in postseason play. After Oregon’s glorious Rose Bowl win over FSU, they would go on to lose to Ohio State in the National Championship, then to TCU in the Alamo Bowl, then to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Cristobal Era has arrived and now the 2019 hype can begin!