New Year’s Eve will close out 2018 and the Michigan State Spartans and the Oregon Ducks will provide a show in the 2018 Redbox Bowl. This will mark the seventh time the programs have faced off. The series is tied at three apiece with Michigan State last winning 31-28 in East Lansing back in 2015.
2018 Redbox Bowl
What: The 2018 Redbox Bowl
When: Monday, Dec. 31, 3 p.m. ET
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
The Redbox Bowl, originally known as the San Fransisco Bowl and most recently known as the Foster Farms Bowl, will feature a tale of two sides. The Spartan defense is as strong as it has been in the last decade. The offense, however, has done just about everything except score this season. Meanwhile, the Ducks have a solid offense led by quarterback Justin Herbert. They’ve been explosive at times and stagnant at others. The Duck defense has been solid, but not quite stout. This game will come down to the best of the mediocre.
Michigan State Spartans (7-5, 5-4 Big Ten Conference)
The Spartans, led by head coach Mark Dantonio, have had an average year. Fans criticized Dantonio for mediocrity in the past, as well.
The Spartans come into the Redbox Bowl averaging 343 yards per game (221 through the air, 122 on the ground). A formidable, yet lackluster campaign in the eyes of the Spartans. Michigan State fans expect a little more from this program.
Their best win was easily at Happy Valley when they defeated Penn State 21-17 on October 13th. The Spartans’ worst loss was arguably the match-up against Ohio State at home. They held close for the majority of the game but fell apart late to lose 26-6.
Junior quarterback Brian Lewerke has struggled mightily this season and has had a major drop-off from last season. He threw 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017, and has thrown eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 apperances this season. Lewerke was replaced by redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi against Purdue on October 27th. Lombardi started the next game, a loss to Nebraska, and the regular season finale against Rutgers. Lewerke came on in relief in the second half to give the Spartans the 14-10 come-from-behind victory.
The Spartan passing offense has been inconsistent throughout the season. There were two times that the Spartans threw for under 100 yards. Likewise, there have been two occasions where the Spartans have amassed 300 or more passing yards.
Spartan rushing attack
While the passing game has struggled, the running game has struggled even more. With the loss of senior tailback LJ Scott to an ankle injury and then the NFL Draft, the Spartans have had to turn to sophomore Connor Heyward. Heyward’s performance in Scott’s place has been decent. He has rushed for 520 yards on 114 carries and five touchdowns. Freshman La’darius Jefferson has helped the running game, he’s rushed for 255 yards on 78 carries and two scores. While it has helped them get by, 2018 has been a down year for Spartan rushers and it could plague them against Oregon’s defense.
Michigan State’s Defense
The defense for Michigan State was formidable this season but not stout like they were at the beginning of the decade. Mike Tressel’s defense has allowed 311.5 yards per game with 230.2 through the air and just 81.3 yards on the ground. Running the ball against the Spartans will pose tough sledding for the Ducks.
Michigan State’s key to victory
The Spartans will need one of two things to happen to stay competitive in this game. They need their defense to play lights out and perfect to slow down the Ducks. Or they need to find every offensive option possible to keep up with the Ducks offense.
Oregon Ducks (8-4, 5-4 Pac 12 Conference)
Second-year head coach Mario Cristobal leads the Ducks into their second consecutive bowl game following an up-and-down regular season.
Their best win, like Michigan State’s, came on October 13th with a 30-27 overtime victory over the then seventh-ranked Washington Huskies in Autzen Stadium. Their worst loss played out two weeks later at Arizona when the Wildcats dismantled the Ducks 44-15.
Coming into the Redbox Bowl, the Ducks boast an explosive offense that moves the ball effectively, averaging 445.9 yards per game (254.7 passing and 191.2 rushing) and score 37.2 points per game. That’s almost double Michigan State’s average.
Passing game strengths
The biggest news to come from this bowl game is that junior quarterback Justin Herbert is not only suiting up in this game, but he is returning for his senior season.
Herbert has been able to sling the ball all around the field this season as he averages 248.8 yards per game and has thrown 28 touchdowns with a passer rating of 147.75. His favorite target is junior wideout Dillon Mitchell as he has ammassed 1,114 yards on 69 completions with nine scores this season.
Strong ground game
The rushing attack is strong this season led by redshirt freshman CJ Verdell. Verdell has rushed for 975 yards on 188 carries and 10 touchdowns. He missed the Civil War against Oregon State with a foot injury and his status for the Redbox Bowl is uncertain. Should Verdell not be available, the Ducks would have to look to true-freshman Travis Dye. He filled in well when needed with 721 yards on 134 carries this year with four scores. His biggest game this year was against the Beavers when he ran for 199 yards on 33 carries.
Junior linebacker Troy Dye leads a Ducks defense that gives up 390.5 yards per game (247.1 passing, 143.4 rushing) and 27.0 points per game. Dye leads the team in tackles by a wide margin at 107 total tackles. The next on the list is senior linebacker Kaulana Apelu with 58. Apelu missed the last three games of the season with a fractured leg, ending his time with the Ducks.
Oregon’s weakness is no doubt its defense, but Michigan State’s offense has struggled to score on some of the worst defenses in the Big Ten, like Nebraska.
Oregon’s key to victory
Michigan State is looking to make this game a battle of the defenses. The key for Oregon is to throw the ball and force Michigan State to stop them through the air. An ideal situation for Cristobal and the Ducks would be scoring through the air, thus forcing the Spartans to score, which they have shown throughout the season they struggle doing.
The Spartan defense will hold tough in the early stages of the game, keeping it close through at least the first quarter. The offense will then stall and be forced to punt, or turn the ball over and not give the defense much rest. At which point the Duck offense will capitalize on a turnover and then expose the Spartan defense even further. The aerial combination of Herbert and Dillon with the ground attack will prove too much for the Spartans.
Final score: 31-17, Oregon.