EUGENE — Oregon and Michigan State have at least one thing in common entering their Dec. 31 meeting in the Redbox Bowl: Both faced Arizona State this season.
The Spartans (7-5, 5-4 Big Ten) lost to the Sun Devils on a last-second field goal in Tempe on Sept. 8, while the Ducks (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12) held on for a 31-29 win at Autzen Stadium on Nov. 17.
Teams always look at an opponent’s most recent three or four games during game prep, so Michigan State was going to see how Oregon performed against ASU regardless. Having faced the Sun Devils makes the game a more relevant point of reference.
“We understand the quality of football that’s played in the Pac-12 and appreciate that,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Every single football team that (Oregon has) played we’ll look at extensively and a lot of it will be like you usually look at teams that are the same as you to some degree and try to format different ideas from there. We’ll take into consideration Arizona State and what went on in our game relative to what went on in their game, both very close football games.”
Michigan State and Oregon held two-score leads over Arizona State entering the fourth quarter, 13-3 and 28-13, respectively.
The Spartans could not hang on. The Sun Devils kicked a field goal in the first minute of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to a touchdown and after the teams exchanged three punts, Manny Wilkins completed two passes for 65 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown to N’Keal Harry to tie the game 13-13. Michigan State drove into ASU territory, but back-to-back sacks forced the Spartans to punt and the Sun Devils capped the game off with a 13-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 28-yard field goal as time expired.
“What sticks out in your mind is how physical the game was,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “In terms of schematically, the changes from then up until now, it’s hard to say that everything would be identical to what (Michigan State was) doing early in the season. But the part that stands out is the score of the game is a pretty good indication of what the game was.
“It was a very hard-nosed, tough football game that both defenses played really, really well. They handled the noise and the environment extremely well and I know Arizona State came back towards the end of the game and got it done.”
Oregon’s game with Arizona State, in which the Ducks overcame four turnovers, was much more recent and therefore more useful in game prep to the Spartans. However, all is not lost if the Ducks look back at Michigan State’s early-season game since quarterback Brian Lewerke and running back L.J. Scott were both starting for the Spartans that week.
It is still unknown whether Lewerke or Rocky Lombardi will start for Michigan State in the bowl game. Scott has announced he will enter the NFL draft but play against Oregon.