At the end of the day, a win is a win.
And Oregon will take it.
Despite some major offensive struggles, the Ducks rode a great defensive performance and one good offensive drive to a 7-6 victory over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl. With the win, the Ducks improve to 9-4 on the season, a two-game improvement in head coach Mario Cristobal’s first season at the helm.
Quarterback Justin Herbert finished 19-of-33 for 166 yards and one score. Dillon Mitchell, who was named the most outstanding player, finished with six catches 70 yards while Jaylon Redd added seven catches for 65 yards.
CJ Verdell ran for 43 yards on 14 carries as the Ducks were held to a season-low 37 yards on 27 carries by the nation’s No. 1 ranked rush defense.
Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke finished 22-of-40 for 172 yards and an interception, adding 63 yards on 16 carries on the ground. Running back LJ Scott ended his Michigan State career with 24 carries on 84 yards.
Trailing 6-0 early in the fourth quarter and with no offensive rhythm to speak of, the Ducks somehow found one as Herbert threw a 28-yard scoring strike to Mitchell for the touchdown. It was the only touchdown in the game, but it approved to be the most important.
The drive began when Herbert hit Redd for 15 yards on first down and then in a surprising move, the Ducks went uptempo, forcing the pressure onto the Spartans who never recovered. Herbert found Redd for 18 more yards before hitting Mitchell for nine to set up the winning throw.
Although that touchdown ended the scoring, the drama was just beginning.
Michigan State responded and within two plays, had the ball at Oregon’s 35-yard line. Three plays later, the Spartans found themselves in a 4th-and-7 and elected to go for a 50-yard field goal. Matt Coghlin’s attempt never had a chance as the momentum had fully moved back to the Ducks.
Oregon then embarked on a 6-play, 33-yard drive that got them to the Michigan State 28-yard line. Instead of attempting a long field goal, the Ducks drew up some trickery and went with a fake punt.
However, the Spartans weren’t fooled as Andrew Dowell sacked Oregon punter Blake Maimone for a seven-yard loss.
With 7:21 left, Michigan State methodically went to work on the offensive side of the ball. It took 12 plays for the Spartans to go 33 yards, setting up another 50-yard field goal attempt by Coghlin.
This time, he never got the chance as Lewerke bobbled the snap, setting off a scramble where his pass fell incomplete.
Still not over, Oregon’s defense had to hold one more time after the Spartans got the ball back at their 42-yard line with 1:12 left and no timeouts. After a Justin Hollins sack on first down, the Ducks defensive backs came on big as Thomas Graham Jr. broke up a pass to Cody White on 4th-and-12, setting off the raucous celebration on Oregon’s sideline.
Hollins capped his Oregon career with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Lamar Winston Jr. led the Ducks with 10 tackles while Troy Dye added eight. Freshman safety Jevon Holland got his fifth interception of the season when he picked off Lewerke on the first play of the second quarter.
It was an ugly game all around as the team combined for 727 total yards on 18 punts while the offenses combined for 539 yards on 146 plays. The Ducks averaged 3.4 yards per play while the Spartans totaled 3.8 yards per play.
Oregon’s attention now turns to Mitchell and fellow junior, linebacker Troy Dye. Both players have decisions to make as each could forego their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft. Or they could return, along with Herbert and the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation, to do some real damage next year.
Either way, Oregon’s win snapped its three-game bowl losing streak and gave way to a bright future.