Three days before Oregon and Michigan State meet in Santa Clara, California, for the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium, two head coaches and six players met with the media to preview the matchup.
Despite playing as recently as 2015, only one coaching staff remains the same.
In 2014, the Ducks and eventual Heisman winner Marcus Mariota won 46-27 en route to the Rose Bowl where they won the first ever College Football Playoff game over Florida State. The following season saw Michigan State won 31-28. The Spartans went on to make the playoff that season where they were shut out 38-0 by Alabama, who had both Cristobal and former Michigan State head coach and current Oregon special teams coordinator Bobby Williams on staff.
“Both the games we played were early season games,” Dantonio said. “I think both programs have been in a national spotlight where all eyes have been on them and I think that generates interest from across the country.”
Those games catapulted the winner to national attention, and although the Redbox Bowl won’t have the same effect on the current season, it could lead to bigger things next season.
“This in itself is its own entity,” Cristobal, whose team has struggled to a 2-3 road record, said. “We have to show that we are capable of going on the road against an opponent like Michigan State and playing the brand of football that we want to play and be the type of program we want to be.”
Eyes should on the No. 47 Oregon rushing offense and the Michigan State No. 1 rushing defense.
“This is not a top-5, top-10 defense,” Cristobal said. “This is the No. 1 run-stopping defense in America and the pass defense isn’t very far behind. … They’re one of the top defenses in America. Period. And by far one of the most physical teams you’ll see on tape.”
On paper, the advantage goes to the Spartans. Oregon left guard Shane Lemieux compared them to Washington a few weeks back but now thinks they are much tougher, stating that they probably won’t be able to rely on big plays, which makes the need to get four yards on every run vital.
“A lot of the time you don’t really want to look at the stats, you want to watch the tape, but really the tape lines up with their statistics,” Lemieux, who also announced he was returning for his senior season, said. “A couple weeks ago I compared them to [Washington]. They’re obviously a lot better after diving in deeper. It’s gonna be a grinder and come down to the fourth quarter.”
Oregon defensive lineman Jalen Jelks and safety Ugochukwu Amadi are defensive seniors that have been through ups and downs during their collegiate careers, but with this being their last time putting on the Oregon uniform, both felt the program is on the cusp of new heights.
“The sky’s the limit for these guys,” Amadi said. “I give it two or three years these guys are gonna win a National Championship. You’d be surprised what Coach Cristobal has up his sleeve.”
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