SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Justin Herbert didn’t spend as much time thinking about the decision as Oregon’s fan base.
“Not a whole lot,” Herbert said when asked how much he pondered whether to leave for the NFL draft or return for his senior season. “I’ve kind of known what I wanted to do. I’m just in a good situation and have great guys around me.”
Herbert announced before the Redbox Bowl that he will be returning to lead the Ducks in 2019.
The two players who flanked the star quarterback at the podium after Oregon’s 7-6 win over Michigan State on Monday at Levi’s Stadium — linebacker Troy Dye and wide receiver Dillon Mitchell — will both talk to their families before making a decision.
“It hurts because I love Troy,” La’Mar Winston said of possibly losing the team’s leading tackler to the NFL. “I support Troy with whatever he does.”
If Mitchell leaves, Herbert will be losing his security blanket. The junior wide receiver set an Oregon single-season receiving record (1,184 yards).
With 11:19 remaining, Herbert extended his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 28 with his 28-yard game-winner to Mitchell.
“Things didn’t always go our way this year,” Herbert said. “But we battled through a lot, and I think we found out how tough this crew is.”
If Mitchell returns, all 11 offensive starters from the Redbox Bowl will be back.
Offensive line shuffle
Penei Sewell returned to his starting spot at left tackle after missing the final six games of the regular season with a leg injury.
Calvin Throckmorton, who had played both tackle positions and center this season, started at right guard with Dallas Warmack getting bumped to the second team after fighting the flu this week.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said Throckmorton suffered a serious ankle injury, possibly a fracture or a dislocation, during the game.
“He’ll be back, but it could take a little while,” Cristobal said of Throckmorton, who made his 38th consecutive start. “The doctors, they felt good that that thing is going to be OK, in time.”
Brady Aiello started at right tackle with Shane Lemieux (left guard) and Jake Hanson (center) manning their usual positions.
Michigan State’s best pass rusher, Kenny Willekes, suffered a broken left fibula in the third quarter.
Tony Brooks-James tribute
Running back Tony Brooks-James was unable to play due to a knee injury suffered in the regular-season finale against Oregon State.
The fifth-year senior was still a part of the celebration after cheering on his teammates on the sideline wearing his letterman’s jacket.
“He was a great senior, a great leader, always kept us pumped up before the game, got our heads right,” CJ Verdell said.
After grinding out 43 yards on 14 carries against Michigan State’s stout defense, Verdell became the 19th Oregon player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
The redshirt freshman rushed for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns. True freshman Travis Dye had 739 yards and four touchdowns, and Brooks-James added 306 yards and four touchdowns this season.
“I had goals of course, but I wasn’t thinking about that, it just kind of happened,” said Verdell, who joins Royce Freeman (1,365 yards, 2014) and LaMichael James (1,546 yards, 2009) as the only freshmen to rush for 1,000 yards. “That’s pretty much the baseline marker for me now. Every year I’ll be trying to exceed that.”
Inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu, who missed the final three games of the regular season with a fractured leg, started his final game for Oregon.
The former walk-on from Aiea, Hawaii, finished with seven tackles and carried the Redbox Trophy to the locker room.
Apelu was one of the four seniors chosen to be a team captain, along with safety Ugo Amadi, outside linebacker Justin Hollins and defensive end Jalen Jelks.
Running back Darrian Felix, tight end Cam McCormick, cornerback Verone McKinley and offensive linemen Sam Poutasi and Dawson Jaramillo did not suit up for the game. … San Francisco 49ers defensive linemen Erik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, who helped Oregon win the 2014 Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium, attended the game. … The six points allowed by Oregon were its fewest since a 66-3 win over Nicholls on Aug. 31, 2013, in Mark Helfrich’s debut as head coach. … Oregon improved to 14-18 all-time in bowl games and snapped a three-game postseason losing streak.
“Eat or be eaten, that’s all I can say,” Winston said of Oregons defensive mindset to make sure the one-point lead held up late in the fourth quarter. “That’s what it comes down to. It’s a mentality … deep down inside, who has more grit. And that’s what it came down to.”