Photo: Tony Avelar / Associated Press
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Justin Herbert has until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL draft.
After the Redbox Bowl, the Oregon junior quarterback might seriously want to reconsider his decision to return to school for his final season.
The Ducks looked wholly disinterested Monday afternoon, and only a perfect, back-shoulder pass from the future top-five pick saved them in a 7-6 victory over Michigan State that left a half-filled crowd wondering why it paid for tickets.
Oregon (9-4) somehow won its first bowl game since 2015, when it beat Florida State to advance to the national title game (a 42-20 loss to Ohio State). The Ducks gained just 203 yards of offense on 3.4 yards per play and were especially awful when trying to run.
Possessing the ball for only 23 minutes, Oregon gained 37 rushing yards — about 40 inches per carry.
Michigan State (7-6) entered the game as the nation’s top-ranked defense against the run, but much of Oregon’s troubles had to do with lack of execution. The same could be said for the Spartans, who missed a field goal, botched a hold and bobbled a punt return in the game’s final nine minutes.
The first half was so boring that the in-house, public-address announcer mocked the play. There were 12 punts and 13 first downs.
The teams averaged just 3.6 yards per play, and crossing midfield seemed like a momentous feat. Michigan State got inside the red zone twice in the first half, but failed to score.
The Spartans went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Oregon 23 in the closing minutes of the first half, but Brian Lewerke’s pass fell incomplete. Two series earlier, on a 3rd-and-5 from the Oregon 20, Lewerke bobbled the snap and kicked the ball backward a few yards before picking it up, spinning and throwing an interception to Jevon Holland.
Matt Coughlin made a 34-yard field goal after Michigan State’s drive to open the second half stalled at the 16-yard line. The sophomore tacked on another 34-yarder 8½ minutes later to give the Spartans a 6-0 lead with 1:17 remaining in the third quarter.
Oregon never advanced past its own 19-yard line in the third quarter. Then, as if the first three quarters had never happened, the Ducks looked like the Ducks to start the fourth.
After completing 14 of 27 passes for 109 yards in the first three quarters, Herbert went 4-for-4 for 50 yards on the fourth quarter’s first drive. He capped the possession with a 28-yard back shoulder touchdown pass to Dillon Mitchell to put Oregon ahead 7-6 with 11:19 to play.
After Michigan State missed a field goal, and Oregon failed to convert on a fake punt, the Spartans took over at their own 35-yard line with 6 ½ minutes remaining. With 1:35 on the clock, Lewerke botched the hold on a potential go-ahead field-goal attempt in Michigan State’s last real chance.
That made a winner out of Herbert, who announced the day after Christmas that he was returning for his senior season along with the other 10 starters on offense and top-10 recruiting class.
Herbert finished 19-of-33 for 166 yards, CJ Verdell ran 14 times for 43 yards, and Mitchell had six catches for 70 yards. Oregon joined Oklahoma and Memphis as the only teams with a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and a 1,000-yard receiver.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/collegesports/article/Oregon-wins-sloppy-Redbox-Bowl-over-Michigan-State-13500905.php.