Heading into Oregon’s season finale against Michigan State on New Year’s Eve in the Redbox Bowl, some good news for the Ducks is that the bowl game is still a month away.
After the Civil War one week ago, Oregon was a team struggling with depth due to injuries to nearly every position group. But with the extra time to rest, heal and rehab, the Ducks are expected to be near full strength for their showdown with the Spartans.
Quarterback Justin Herbert and defensive end Jalen Jelks will be suited up and playing after sustaining late season injuries. Herbert suffered a deep shoulder bruise in the first half against the Beavers and didn’t return while Jelks never saw action in the Civil War.
“Justin is healthy and will play in the bowl game,” according to head coach Mario Cristobal. “The injury in the game, we held him out because he could not continue — it’s essentially a really deep bruise.”
Left tackle Penei Sewell will be back after suffering an ankle injury against the Washington midway through the season. He missed the last half on Oregon’s season but is expected to be full-go.
Linebacker Kaulana Apelu, who suffered a lower leg injury and missed the final three games, is hoping to be practicing by the time the Ducks arrive in San Francisco for the bowl game. It’s a good development for the senior who’s having the best season of his career.
“Lana’s come along well,” Cristobal said. “We expect Lana to have an opportunity to, by the time we get to the bowl site, to be practicing and be a guy that’s full go.”
Running back Tony Brooks-James is in a very similar situation to Apelu after suffering a strained knee against Oregon State in the Civil War. While his status is unknown, Brooks-James is hoping play his final game for the Ducks, but it's looking unlikely.
“He had a knee strain but no real tear,” Cristobal said of Brooks-James. “We expect him to be recovered enough to where he can start practicing with us at the very latest by the time we get to the bowl game itself.”
Another thing to note is juniors Dillon Mitchell and Troy Dye have a decision to make considering the bowl game. They are expected to be drafted if they choose to leave Oregon early. After submitting draft evaluations, they have yet to hear back on where they can be expected to be chosen.
“After the last game of the season, we sent all their stuff to the NFL advisory committee, so we can have the most factual data that we could have to be able to sit down with not only them but their families,” Cristobal said. “(We) do our best to present information that’s valuable and relevant to making a great business and personal decision — and then do our best to advise them in terms of our thoughts as to how it’ll play out for them.”
As of now, according to Cristobal, all juniors are expected to play in the bowl game and none of them have expressed the desire that they’re leaving the Ducks early. The same can be said for the seniors, all of whom Cristobal expects to play in the bowl game rather than skip it in preparation for the NFL draft.
“This is a noisy time of year for those guys. Everybody is in their ear trying to talk of draft status and sometimes it’s a lot of noise that can really confuse a guy when their focus should be doing well on final exams and recovering and preparing to play their best football,” Cristobal said.