Matt Charboneau breaks down MSU's loss to Oregon in the Redbox Bowl The Detroit News
Santa Clara, Calif. — Nearly a month off didn’t change much for Michigan State.
Like nearly every week throughout the 2018 season, the Spartans followed the same script Monday against Oregon in the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium.
Another impressive defensive effort was lost as the offense, once again, failed to find any sort of rhythm and couldn’t get into the end zone, leaving the door open for Oregon to score a fourth-quarter touchdown for a 7-6 victory.
“You're not going to win many games scoring six points,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
It was the third time in the last four games that Michigan State (7-6) was unable to score a touchdown, and despite outgaining Oregon by 128 yards, picking up eight more first downs and holding the ball for a little more than 37 minutes, the result was more frustration for the Spartans.
“You look at the statistics and see we ran 26 more plays than they did, had 15 minutes more possession time and you sort of scratch your head,” Dantonio said.
But it’s been like that all season for the Spartans, who entered the game with the 116th-ranked offense in the nation.
MSU coach Mark Dantonio on loss to Oregon The Detroit News
“It’s definitely frustrating for our offense, knowing we have the ability to make more plays and put more points on the board and it’s just not happening,” sophomore wide receiver Cody White said. “We’re not finding a rhythm this year. … I feel like we had some opportunities, but we just didn’t make plays today.”
The opportunities were there against the Ducks, that much is clear. First came quarterback Brian Lewerke’s first-half interception deep in Oregon territory after a fumbled snap, followed by two more red-zone trips that resulted in Matt Coghlin field goals. A missed 50-yarder in the fourth quarter was followed by another 50-yarder that never got kicked as Lewerke fumbled the snap in the final minutes.
“That’s one I’ve got to come up with,” Lewerke said. “The ball kind of hit my hand on top of the ball and I could only get my left hand underneath. Tried to make something happen, but that’s what happens.”
Michigan State’s defense forced a three-and-out and the Spartans utilized all three timeouts to get the ball back leading to the final drive. But White was unable to hold onto a fourth-down pass that would have given Michigan State a first down near Oregon’s 36.
“If Cody comes up with that catch it’s a first down with 36 second left and we’re in field-goal position again,” Dantonio said. “So, that’s the way these games go.”
Lewerke finished 21-for-39 passing for 174 yards while LJ Scott ran for 84 yards with Darrell Stewart Jr. catching nine passes but for just 45 yards.
What was nearly as predictable as the offense struggling was the defense dominating.
Michigan State held Oregon to a season-low 203 total yards and just 37 on the ground after the Ducks entered the game averaging 445.9 yards and 37.2 points a game. Quarterback Justin Herbert threw for 166 yards and a touchdown for the Ducks (9-4), the lone score going to Dillon Mitchell with just more than 11 minutes to play.
“I think we’re playing championship defense,” Dantonio said. “We’re playing as well as any defense we’ve ever had here.”
The win ended a three-game bowl losing streak for the Ducks while it simply extended the frustration for the Spartans. The only scores came from two 34-yard field goals by Coghlin in the third quarter as Michigan State saw drives stall near the end zone.
After Coghlin’s second field Oregon’s offense finally came to life, taking just 1:40 off the clock to gain its first lead. A 28-yard pass from Herbert to Mitchell put the Ducks ahead, 7-6, with 11:19 left. The drive took just six plays, with three going for more than 15 yards.
“You take a victory whether it be one point, two points or 50 points,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “These guys found a way to get it done.”
Not much was getting done in the first half. Michigan State did a better job of moving the ball, gaining 169 total yards, but an interception thrown by Lewerke under pressure deep in Oregon territory early in the second quarter ended the Spartans’ only true scoring threat while the Ducks couldn’t convert a deep pass from Herbert to Mitchell, who was unable to hang on in the end zone in the second quarter.
The Ducks managed just 90 yards of total offense, including just 18 on the ground as the Spartans’ defense controlled the game.
However, the offense failed to take advantage. Twice, the Spartans moved into Oregon territory as one drive ended at the Ducks 23 when the Spartans failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 while late in the first half, Michigan State got as far as the Oregon 38 before being forced to punt.
“I thought we changed up things. We ran out of the pistol, we went no-huddle, we did different things at the line of scrimmage and put in new plays,” Dantonio said. “So, we did some different things and I thought we did some things well. I thought Brian did a nice job scrambling with the football and made some good plays, but we never got that bust-out play in the passing game. Even the last play of the game hangs on a thread.
“We’re looking for more production. You’re not gonna win many games scoring six points.”