Santa Clara, CA
There was probably no more fitting way for Michigan State to have capped off the 2018 season than the way the Spartans did in the Redbox Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
In a disappointing season where a dominant defense was overshadowed by an inept and anemic offense, a stellar defensive effort was wasted once again by yet another lackluster offensive performance, as Oregon held on for a 7-6 win.
After Michigan State’s only trip in the red zone in the first half ended in disaster, sending the game to halftime in a scoreless tie, the Spartans managed to come away with points on their first drive of the second half.
A 12-play, 64-yard drive highlighted by a 17-yard run by Brian Lewerke and a 14-yard run by L.J. Scott eventually resulted in a Matt Coghlin 34-yard field goal, giving the Spartans a 3-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Scott, who played in the bowl game despite declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, rushed for 84 yards on 24 carries.
Two drives later, with the Spartans taking over inside Oregon territory, Michigan State was unable to find the end zone, but again extended the lead to 6-0 after settling for another 34-yard field goal from Coghlin.
After Oregon forced a 3-and-out on the next Michigan State offensive drive, the Ducks would finally get its prolific offense going as the Ducks needed just six plays to go 77 yards to take its first lead of the game when quarterback Justin Herbert found Dillon Mitchell for a 28-yard score, putting Oregon on top, 7-6 with 11:19 left in the fourth quarter.
Herbert, who was widely regarded as the top draft-eligible quarterback before he decided to return to Oregon for 2019, was held largely in check on Monday afternoon, throwing for just 166 yards on 19-of-33 passing and a touchdown.
But even after losing the lead, the Spartans had two more opportunities to retake the lead.
The Spartans managed to move inside Oregon territory on the ensuing drive, but the offense would again stall out and a 50-yard field goal attempt by Coghlin would miss to the left, preserving Oregon’s narrow lead with under nine minutes left to play.
But the Michigan State defense would turn in yet another stand, thwarting disastrous a fake field goal attempt by the Ducks, giving the offense more than enough time to put together a game-winning drive.
The offense would slowly move inside Oregon territory and eventually settle for another long field goal attempt with under two minutes left to play.
With Coghlin lining up for his fourth field goal attempt of the day, this time from 49 yards away, Lewerke bobbled the snap, pulled the ball and took off running to his right, but was chased down by Oregon defenders who ripped him out of bounds while he attempted to get a throw off as the pass followed out of bounds and incomplete.
That sequence exemplifies Michigan State’s 2018 season where an outstanding defense that came up with stop after stop and impressive performance after impressive performance saw those efforts wasted on a regular basis by one of the country’s worst offensive units and a coaching staff that was unable to right the ship for the vast majority of a season that once started with high hopes for those in and around the program.
Lewerke, who dealt with a shoulder injury for much of the season, finished the game with 172 yards passing and an interception while completing 22 of his 40 pass attempts. Lewerke also rushed for 63 yards on the day.
Michigan State’s offense was a non-factor for much of the first half, but the Spartans did manage to drive deep into Oregon territory late in the first quarter, as the Spartans faced 3rd down and five at the Oregon 20-yard line, needing to come away with points for its defense that dominated for the first 30 minutes of the game.
That would not be the case as Lewerke first bobbled the snap and scrambled all the way back to the 37-yard line and made the ill-advised decision to throw off balanced in the direction of Jalen Nailor, but the ball was picked off by Jevon Holland on the first play of the second quarter, keeping the game scoreless.
Michigan State now heads into the offseason with plenty of questions for head coach Mark Dantonio to answer, including the status of his offensive staff, which has come under fire during one of the worst offensive seasons in program history.
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