Michigan State vs Oregon
When: 3:00 PM ET, Monday, December 31, 2018
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
REDBOX BOWL STORYLINES
SANTA CLARA – Michigan State of the Big Ten travels west to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., to take on Oregon of the Pac-12 in the Redbox Bowl on Dec. 31 in a matchup of two teams trying to put a positive end to disappointing seasons. The Spartans were hopeful of contending for the Big Ten title – if not the national title – but injuries slowed them down for much of the season, especially on offense. The Ducks started 5-1 with the only loss an overtime affair to Stanford, but ended with a 3-3 finish to the season, with victories in their final two games to stay above .500 and get to this bowl, where they hope to prove to be better than their record shows.
The Spartans’ offense grinded to a halt at the end of the regular season with coach Mark Dantonio’s squad managing 26 points total in its last three contests. A month-plus of rest will put junior quarterback Brian Lewerke (1,868 yards, eight touchdowns) back in his starting role after he was hampered by a shoulder injury for the second half of the season. Michigan State had some struggles near the end of the regular season in 2017 as well, then routed Pac-12 opponent Washington State 42-17 in the Holiday Bowl, giving some around the Spartans hope for a bounceback against the Ducks.
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert has been brilliant this season, throwing for 2,985 yards and 28 touchdowns to power the Ducks’ offense. But he faces a Michigan State defense that has carried the team for much of the season, holding opponents to 18 points and 311.5 yards per contest, including a national-best 81.3 rushing yards a game. Herbert will have to be able to stay upright against a ferocious Spartans’ pass rush, though Michigan State has shown a penchant for giving up big plays in the passing game, something that could be big for Herbert and the Ducks.
TV: 3 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Oregon -3
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (7-5, 5-4 Big Ten): With many players across the country deciding not to play in their team’s bowl game to prepare for the NFL, it’s a little strange to think Spartan fans aren’t thrilled that senior LJ Scott is planning to play in the Redbox Bowl. That’s because Scott had planned on redshirting this season since he’s only played in four contests because of injury, but the team’s leading rusher from a season ago has decided to go pro, so he’s returning for the bowl game. Showcasing Scott won’t be Dantonio’s No. 1 objective though, especially with sophomore Connor Heyward emerging as a feature back, but until Lewerke shows he’s ready to throw the ball consistently, both players could see a number of carries.
ABOUT OREGON (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12): When Herbert went out of the Ducks’ regular-season finale in the first quarter with a shoulder injury, coach Mario Cristobal turned to his young running game, and it didn’t let him down, with freshmen CJ Verdell and Travis Dye combining for 386 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Cristobal may be tempted to hand the ball to his freshmen again against Michigan State, especially if Herbert is getting a lot of pressure, but may run into the Spartans’ stout run defense. The Ducks will likely go to the air more often than not in an attempt to get Herbert going and receiver Dillon Mitchell (69 catches, 1,114 yards, nine touchdowns) open deep to stretch the Michigan State defense and perhaps create some running lanes for the young backs late in the contest.