Redbox Bowl preview: Spartans look to salvage season vs. familiar Ducks

Luke Sloan, Assistant Sports Editor

The road was bumpy, to say the least. Expectations were high entering the 2018 season, but setback after setback derailed the once promising season in the blink of an eye. Injuries and disappointments aside, the Spartans have a bowl to play, and an opportunity to finish a frustrating season in winning fashion.

Few fans expected that bowl to be the Redbox Bowl, but the Spartans will face a quality opponent in the 8-4 Oregon Ducks, one with the ability to provide an ample test.

Here are some prevailing storylines headed into the contest:

Cornerback carousel

The Michigan State defensive backfield has made multiple headlines in the days leading up to the Redbox Bowl, most notably the premature departure of top cornerback Justin Layne.

Layne will forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft, while also opting to skip the bowl game. This was much to the chagrin of Mark Dantonio, but that’s a story for another day.

The junior intercepted one pass on the season while breaking up 15, earning him second-team All-Big Ten honors. Layne is expected to be one of the top-10 cornerbacks selected in the upcoming draft by multiple draft analysts.

Fellow starting cornerback Josiah Scott will suit up against the Ducks, solidifying a decision that was in the works since the final game of the regular season. The game will mark the fifth of the season for the sophomore, who will now be ineligible for a redshirt season.

Lewerke back under center

After being listed as a co-starter with Rocky Lombardi on MSU’s bowl-game depth chart, Brian Lewerke will rather start the game, as announced by Dantonio during Friday’s press conference.

The junior hasn’t started a game since Nov. 10 against Ohio State, when he went 11-for-28 with an interception in a losing effort. Lewerke didn’t play any snaps at quarterback in the final two games of the regular season, but insisted that he’s feeling ‘a lot better’ in practice.

LJ Scott’s final act

It can be argued that no Spartan had higher expectations than running back LJ Scott headed into the season. But like his team, Scott was vastly underwhelming, missing a large portion of the season with an ankle injury that handicapped his status for weeks.

There were many games where the senior would dress and warm up just to spend the contest on the sidelines. His eighth driver’s license infraction added to the mystery, prompting speculation that he may have missed time for disciplinary reasons.

The ups and downs ended with the announcement of a redshirt season, giving him another year of eligibility in 2019. But Scott eventually came to grips and realized his time in East Lansing should be concluded, forgoing his fifth year and entering the NFL draft.

Scott will use the Redbox bowl to showcase his skills to NFL scouts one last time, putting a final mark on his highly-debated Spartan career.

Herbert here to stay

Talented Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, once ranked as one of the top signal callers in this spring’s NFL draft, will return to Eugene for his senior season.

Herbert compiled 2,985 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2018 and is expected to be a leading Heisman candidate in 2019. He leads an Oregon offense that also includes receiver Dillon Mitchell (1,114 yards and nine touchdowns) and running back Travis Dye, who is coming off a 199 yard performance against Oregon State.

MSU last matched up against the Ducks in 2015, winning 31-28 behind senior quarterback Connor Cook. The all-time series between the two teams sits at 3-3.

The Redbox Bowl marks the 11th postseason appearance for Dantonio in his 12 seasons at Michigan State. His five bowl victories are the most in program history. Last season the Spartans emerged victorious in the Holiday Bowl, grabbing a 42-17 win over the Washington State Cougars.

Kickoff of the Redbox Bowl is set for 3:00 p.m. at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The game can be seen on Fox or listened to on WJR-AM (760).