On a day that saw Stanford win an absolutely ugly game to get the Pac-12 a second bowl victory, Oregon added one more. The Ducks (9-4) held on to win a scrappy and ugly Redbox Bowl against Michigan State (7-6) by scoring just one touchdown in a 7-6 win.
Oregon did not score until early in the fourth quarter with a Justin Herbert 28-yard pass to Dillon Mitchell. Michigan State had a 6-0 lead on the strength of a pair of field goals, both of which came in the third quarter following a scoreless first half.
Oregon nearly cost themselves a win in the fourth quarter with a bizarre fake punt, in which the punter never even got off a pass on the fourth down call aimed to catch Michigan State off guard. It failed miserably.
Although Oregon’s gamble did not pay off, it ended up not hurting them either. Michigan State put themselves in position for a potential go-ahead field goal on the ensuing possession, but a botched handle of the snap forced Lewerke to try picking the ball up and getting the ball to any open receiver on a whim, and Oregon stayed in good coverage to prevent any miracle play from developing.
Oregon’s offense could not slam the door shut on the game, however, which led to one last offensive opportunity for the Spartans. But the defense for the Ducks held strong one final time as Brian Lewerke had a fourth-down pass fall incomplete for a turnover on downs.
Lewerke completed 21 of 39 passes for 174 yards and an interception. Herbert completed 19 of 33 passes for 166 yards and the game’s only touchdown. Oregon never got going on the ground but was able to keep the Spartans from posing much of a threat. LJ Scott rushed for a game-high 84 yards on 24 rushing attempts for the Spartans, who combined for 157 rushing yards. Michiagn State out-gained Oregon 331-203 but was unable to win the game where it counts the most.
This is the first bowl victory for Cristobal since the 2010 season as head coach of FIU, when his Panthers won the Little Caesars Bowl. With a record of 9-4, this is now Cristobal’s most successful season in terms of win total, topping the eight wins he previously had at FIU in 2011. His counterpart, Mark Dantonio, suffered his first defeat in a non-College Football Playoff bowl game since the 2010 season. Michigan State had won five straight bowl games in years they played a non-playoff bowl game. The Spartans lost in the Cotton Bowl to Alabama in the College Football Playoff in 2015 and the Spartans did not meet bowl eligibility requirement in 2016.
Next year should be pretty interesting for Oregon. The Ducks, with Herbert coming back and a large number of starters projected to return on top of a solid recruiting class just signed, will likely be one of the top contenders in the Pac-12 next fall. A race between Oregon and Washington could be fun, but the Ducks will start the 2019 season in Arlington, Texas against Auburn, the team Washington’s 2018 started out against. Will Oregon be able to get a win against an SEC team on a neutral field to start the year, unlike Washington? Expect some good preseason hype for Oregon to build in the offseason and a win over Auburn could really raise the bar for the Ducks early on next season.