In college football’s lowest-scoring bowl game of 2018, the Oregon Ducks outlasted Michigan State 7-6 in the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium on New Year’s Day. Neither team scored until Michigan State’s 34-yard field goal more than five minutes into the second half, while Oregon was held scoreless absent Dillon Mitchell’s game-winning 28-yard touchdown snare with 11:19 to go in the match-up. In between those two scores, Michigan State knocked another 34-yarder through the uprights to cap the day’s scoring.
A game that some billed as a great Oregon offense versus a great Michigan State defense, the Redbox Bowl instead saw two dominant defenses and scuffling special teams units battle for field position throughout the day and especially in the first half. All of Oregon’s first-half drives ended in Blake Maimone punts, as Oregon scraped together 90 yards. Michigan State managed 169 yards, but a turnover on downs and an interception – a terrific diving effort by freshman safety Jevon Holland on a Brian Lewerke throwaway – kept the Spartans from capitalizing on their relative advantage.
The Spartans started the second half strong, driving 64 yards in 5:04 of game time before Matt Coghlin’s field goal gave them the lead. Oregon receiver Jaylon Redd then muffed the ensuing kickoff, and while he recovered the ball, the mistake started a string of three UO drives started no further than their own 11-yard line. However, Redd otherwise put together a great game, converting eight targets into seven catches and 65 yards. Two of those grabs helped set up Mitchell’s score during quarterback Justin Herbert’s best drive of the day. After starting at the UO 23 early in the final quarter, Herbert completed all four of his passes on the drive for 70 yards and the score. For the game, though, Herbert was a pedestrian 19-33 with 166 yards and a lone touchdown. UO survived Michigan State’s final pushes, helped by a botched snap on MSU’s 47-yard field goal attempt with 6:31 to go. With under a minute left, Thomas Graham, Jr sealed the victory by breaking up Lewerke’s dart to Cody White on 4th and 12.
Mitchell, the star junior wideout for the Ducks, earned the bowl MVP thanks to the touchdown but caught just six of 13 Justin Herbert targets for 70 yards. In doing so, he became Oregon’s single-season leader in receiving yards, posting 1,184 to pass Josh Huff. Meanwhile, CJ Verdell capped an impressive redshirt-freshman season as one of three freshmen with 1,000 yard rushing seasons in UO history, joining program legends LaMichael James and Royce Freeman. However, Verdell did so on a poor day, as MSU’s nation-leading run defense punished him and Oregon’s offensive line; Verdell ended with 14 carries for 43 yards.
The win marks Oregon’s first bowl triumph since the 2015 Rose Bowl when the Ducks beat Florida State 59-20 to clinch a National Championship berth; Oregon (9-4) also reaches their first nine-win season since 2015. With Herbert returning for his senior season in 2019 and the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class heading to Eugene, the Ducks fly into the New Year with momentum in abundance.
Under Pressure, Oregon Defense Neither Bends Nor Breaks (by Bill Braker)
One Perfect Drive Sees Oregon Squeak Out Victory (by Jordan Brenner)
Head Coach Mark Dantonio
Quarterback Brian Lewerke, Linebacker Andrew Dowell, and Defensive End Kenny Willekes
Head Coach Mario Cristobal, Quarterback Justin Herbert, Linebacker Troy Dye, and Wide Receiver Dillon Mitchell