Oregon held its final football practice of the season in Eugene on Saturday morning before the players headed home for Christmas.
The Ducks (8-4) will reunite in the Bay Area on Wednesday to prepare for the Redbox Bowl against Michigan State (7-5) on Dec. 31 in Santa Clara, Calif.
“We will go right into a regular routine,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said. “We have a five-day window over there so we will treat it like a Monday through Saturday. The schedule is identical to what we do here minus the 15-minute bus ride to the facility.”
The Ducks practiced in pads Saturday, their eighth workout of the bowl season. The Ducks worked their No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense in early practices before turning their focus to preparing for the Spartans on Thursday.
“A lot of scrimmage-like plays to try and get back into game mode and playing situational football,” Cristobal said after practice Friday. “Extending drives, putting ourselves in situations where we are not rusty. These practices have been real productive, the energy has been excellent. The want-to has been great. We had a couple young-guy scrimmages as well to continue that development process. That gives us 16 underclassmen scrimmages and that is a lot of plays, a lot of good development for those guys. Now the focus has been on Michigan State and recognizing that they are an excellent football team and we have to be at our best to have success.”
Among the players that Cristobal praised from the scrimmages were freshman defensive lineman Andrew Faoliu and sophomore safety Steve Stephens, who can both play against the Spartans and still redshirt the season because they have played in three games this season — one below the four-game limit.
Cristobal said linebacker Kaulana Apelu, who missed the final three games of the season with a fractured leg, is “about full-go” and other injured players, including offensive linemen Steven Jones and Penei Sewell and defensive lineman Jalen Jelks are also expected to return for the bowl game.
Senior tight end Kano Dillon, who has eight catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, is questionable to return to face the Spartans. Sophomore tight end Cam McCormick, who was injured in the opening game against Bowling Green, will not return for the Redbox Bowl.
Oregon is expected to debut two linebackers in the game as freshman Andrew Johnson and sophomore D.J. Johnson can play and still redshirt this season.
D.J. Johnson is a transfer from Miami who had to sit out the season due to NCAA rules before becoming eligible for the bowl game.
“It is such a benefit to actually have live reps as opposed to scout team,” Cristobal said.
Andrew Johnson sat out the season with a knee injury.
“Andrew has taken his first live contact reps, which was great to see,” Cristobal said. “He is a young man coming off a significant injury with hard work and rehab. He’s a physical presence, a big and strong guy. When he hits you, you feel it. It is good to see him out there.”
Cristobal said no players elected to skip the bowl game and he expects the entire roster to reunite in San Francisco.
“We don’t want to leave anyone behind unless they haven’t earned it,” he said. “To me, this is a team reward for guys who have been on the scout team all year long. Guys who have worked their behinds off to be a member of this organization. At this point, I don’t expect anyone to not make the trip.”