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Oregonians Justin Herbert and Brady Breeze become Duck legends with Rose Bowl win

Oregonians Justin Herbert and Brady Breeze become Duck legends with Rose Bowl win

The closest bowl game of the season, yet.

The highest attendance of this season’s bowl games, yet.

66 degrees and a blue clear sky at kickoff.

A pink sunset glittering from Oregon’s chrome helmets.

Green and yellow confetti falling from the sky.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight grinning from ear to ear.

A tear rolling down the face of senior linebacker Troy Dye on the victors stage.

Coach Mario Cristobal dancing to “Shout” out of the Stadium with his sons by his sides.

Two Oregonians (who scored all of UO’s touchdowns) crowned offensive and defensive most valuable players.

A complete and totally emotional scene.

No. 6 Oregon's 28-27 win over No. 8 Wisconsin lived up to the name, ‘The Granddaddy of Them All’.

The senior class earned the best win of their careers in their last games as Ducks. Senior linebacker La’Mar Winston Jr. took the win as an opportunity for a teaching moment, hugging junior Nick Pickett as photographers swarmed, reiterating that Pickett must carry the torch to continue the legacy to get the Ducks back to the Rose Bowl (or beyond) next season.

Winston Jr., a Central Catholic graduate, was an integral part of why Oregon finished eighth nationally in scoring defense and couldn’t have been happier for the Rose Bowl Offensive Most Valuable Player, Justin Herbert. The four-year starter had the chance to be the hero and he sprinted towards it with shocking speed. Herbert wow’d with his legs, rushing for three touchdowns, including a 30-yard rushing touchdown that won the game. 

I’m going to be honest with you, we’ve been telling him to run all year! All year, we’ve been telling him to run! He runs in practice and torches us. So I told him, ‘Pull that thing and get loose! Stiff arm them dudes, juke them dudes. Is he a running back or a quarterback? We don’t know. –Winston Jr.

It was not only Herbert’s first career game with three rushing touchdowns, but he also became the first quarterback to have three rushing touchdowns in the Rose Bowl since Vince Young in 2006. A storybook ending for the quarterback who grew up idolizing Marcus Mariota and Joey Harrington from down the street at Sheldon High School in Eugene, Oregon.

It's legendary. I think (Herbert) is a guy that you can't – it's hard to even script this kind of Hollywood story, right? Right down the road, born and raised, just like Brady (Breeze), been watching Oregon Duck football forever. And they're sitting here in front of you as Rose Bowl champions -­not only as Rose Bowl champions but as MVPs of the Rose Bowl after winning the Pac-12 Championship. –Coach Mario Cristobal

Coach Cristobal became the fifth Oregon coach to reach 12 wins in a season with large part to Defensive Most Valuable Player, Breeze.

Breeze, who is also a graduate of Central Catholic, badgered Wisconsin constantly, providing Oregon with drive saving tackles multiple times on deep passes and leading the team with 11 tackles. With the offense sputtering, Breeze provided momentum-shifting plays when the Ducks needed it most: scoring on a fumbled punt and forcing a fumble late in the fourth quarter that turned into the game-winning score.

Before the game, Breeze warmed up with his teammates and took the time to sign autographs and take photos with kids before heading into the locker room to suit up in uniform. Breeze, whose uncle Chase Cota started at safety for Oregon’s Gang Green defense in the 1995 Rose Bowl, knows what its like to be in the stands with a dream.

It's cool to see all these people waving at us in the stands... Just like I was when I was at the game watching Ohio State play Oregon and watching Florida State play Oregon. I was just a fan, dreaming of playing in these type of games. –Breeze

With two hometown kids making the difference in Pasadena, the 106th Rose Bowl could be considered a Disney Movie plot or a chippy 15-round fight for the title. It’s really in the (teary) eye of the beholder.

Instant Analysis: Oregon rings in new year with Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin

Instant Analysis: Oregon rings in new year with Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin

PASADENA- In the 106th Rose Bowl on a clear 66-degree Southern California day, the No. 6 Oregon Ducks (12-2) beat No. 8 Wisconsin (10-4) to the delight of 90,462 spirited fans at Rose Bowl Stadium. The 2019 season finale sent off the seniors with the biggest win in their Duck careers.

The 28-27 victory secures Oregon’s fifth 12-win campaign, making Mario Cristobal the third head coach in Oregon history to accomplish that feat. It’s Oregon’s third straight Rose Bowl win in this decade: The Ducks beat Florida State 59-20 in the semifinals of the College Football Playoffs on Jan. 1, 2015 and Wisconsin 45-38 on Jan. 2, 2012.

After filling a top-20 recruiting class in the early signing period and winning the Pac-12 Conference title, this victory acts as a springboard into College Football Playoff relevancy next season.

Here are the top three takeaways from the contest.

1. Electric beginning
Quarterback Justin Herbert executed a balanced game plan and the Ducks beautifully marched down the field to strike first. The 75-yard, 12-play touchdown drive featured a couple striking catches from freshman receiver Mycah Pittman and junior tight end Hunter Kampmoyer. Capping the drive, Herbert kept the ball for a 4-yard touchdown run, only his second of the season.

Then a bad 30 seconds for the Ducks... Wisconsin returned the kickoff 95-yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown allowed by the Ducks since Sept. 30, 2006, against Arizona State. Following the big gain, Herbert threw an interception that turned into a Badgers field goal to make it 10-7, Wisconsin.

2. Inspired defense leads to points

After that well-scripted first drive, Oregon was forced to punt three straight times.

Oregon’s inspired defense came up big, forcing back-to-back Wisconsin turnovers. Troy Dye stripped the ball from Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, the best running back in the nation, and Deommodore Lenoir recovered the ball inside the 40. What could have been a turning point for Oregon netted zero points from the Duck offense.

However, the defense forced another turnover in Wisconsin territory, this time a Thomas Graham Jr. interception. Oregon capitalized with a touchdown from another Herbert rushing touchdown, his second of the game, to take a 14-10 lead. In the fourth quarter, the offense took advantage of Wisconsin fumble with a 30-yard touchdown run for Herbert to take a 28-27 lead. 

It was not only Herbert’s first career game with three rushing touchdowns, but he also became the first quarterback to have three rushing touchdowns in the Rose Bowl since Vince Young in 2006. 

Oregon’s defense held Taylor to 52 rushing yards on 11 attempts in the 1st half. In his 3 seasons as a Badger, Taylor has been held to 100 rushing yards only eight times, reaching 200 rushing yards 12 times.

3. Underrated Brady Breeze

Brady Breeze’s middle name may be, “momentum changer”. Oregon scored again in the third quarter after the Badgers fumbled a punt and the junior safety Breeze housed it to take back a 21-17 lead. The redshirt junior also forced a fumble with 7:51 remaining in the fourth quarter that would be recovered by Oregon's Bryson Young. The turnover led to a Herbert rushing touchdown to take a 28-27 lead. Breeze saved the Ducks, providing drive saving tackles, multiple times on deep passes. 

Fun fact, Breeze’s uncle, Chad Cota, started at safety for Oregon’s Gang Green defense in the 1995 Rose Bowl.

 

In a great New Year’s Day showdown, the Ducks ultimately took advantage of key Wisconsin turnovers to leave the Rose Bowl with the program's largest victory since 2015.

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More to come with quotes and videos from Coach Mario Cristobal and Ducks players.

College football playoff expansion? Mario Cristobal supports adding more teams

College football playoff expansion? Mario Cristobal supports adding more teams

The current College Football Playoff contract expires in 2026 and the desire for an expanded bracket is intensifying by many.

This year, NCAA coaches were polled to see if they were in favor of a larger playoff system. The results showed that 30 of the 62 head coaches that answered (LSU's Ed Orgeron, Alabama's Nick Saban and UCLA's Chip Kelly declined to vote) were in support of an eight-team bracket.

Both No. 6 Oregon and No. 8 Wisconsin likely would have been in an eight-team playoff, vying for the national title. Instead, the Pac-12 Champion Ducks (11-2) and the Badgers (10-3) are battling for the 106th Rose Bowl Title. The 'Granddaddy of Them All' is, of course, is a great bowl game with long standing tradition and an opportunity for both teams to end the decade with a substantial win.

While coaches do not have the power to change the current six-year-old format, here is where Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal and Wisconson Coach Paul Chryst, stood on a new format:

I think there's a lot of teams worthy of playing it out… I think anytime you could include more, right, in that particular – in that party, I think it's a good thing. –Mario Cristobal

You'd love to have obviously a six-year cohort and get all the data and see how it worked out and how it really played out. –Mario Cristobal

I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. So I want to make sure that part is clear. –Mario Cristobal

I think there's a lot that goes into it, and we're fortunate there's a ton of people that care about it. And so I'm going to let them figure it out. And like Mario said, this experience that our players get to be a part of, I think if you asked every one of the players, this is very unique, and I know both teams were grateful for it. –Paul Chryst

But just tell us what the rules are, and we'll work and try to do all we can to be the best team we can be. And if we earn the right for whatever it is, you're grateful for that. –Paul Chryst

In the current 12-year, $7.2 billion contract between ESPN and the CFP, nine of the 12 semifinals have been lopsided games. Most recently, No. 1 LSU steamrolled No. 4 Oklahoma, 63-28 in the Peach Bowl semifinal. Maybe two-loss, Pac-12 champion Oregon would have given the Tigers a better game. Maybe not.

So, whether adding more teams is a good decision based on the eye of the beholder, it appears that Coach Cristobal is in favor of the eight-team expansion.

With a chip on his shoulder, CJ Verdell isn’t done yet

With a chip on his shoulder, CJ Verdell isn’t done yet

PASADENA, CALIF.- Oregon running back CJ Verdell plays football with one motto in mind, something his Dad told him when he was young: Be the hammer, not the nail.

Which would explain the edge the sophomore runs with that caused Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, the nation’s top running back, to say that Verdell “runs like he’s angry.”

Mad or not, Verdell is not done. He’s made that much clear, by saying he is “definitely” returning for his redshirt-junior season. It never crossed Verdell’s mind to test the NFL waters because he feels he has a lot more to give to the Oregon football program. Now, he’s got a Rose Bowl date with No. 8 Wisconsin and their 8th ranked rushing defense.

[RELATED: Bonded as Oregon greats, LaMichael James says CJ Verdell's Pac-12 title performance tops his own]

When facing that nation’s No. 1 rushing defense in Utah, who allowed an average of 56 yards per game, Verdell rushed for 208 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns to become the Pac-12 title MVP.

Junior wide receiver Johnny Johnson III smiled as he shared a story about his teammates relentlessness:

We leaned on him, we knew someone was going to have to make a big play. CJ Verdell came through. He’s never satisfied. Even after he makes a huge play, I’m coming up to him on the sideline, I’m talking to him about it and all he ever says is ‘I’m not done yet… We just started.’ -Johnny Johnson III

Verdell felt like he had something to prove against Utah and he feels the same underdog mentality heading into the “Granddaddy of them all”.

Let the other guys get all the attention. That way when we do make noise, it'll be a big surprise to everybody… I’d gladly take that title of underdog.- CJ Verdell

This season, Verdell became the fifth running back in Oregon history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. His impact on the offense isn't overlooked by quarterback Justin Herbert, who singled him out when asked about how the Duck offense finds success:

That guy sitting right there (points at Verdell) is special, and I know any time we hand him the ball, throw him the ball, he's going to do something really special about it. Especially having an offensive line like we have blocking for him and leading the way for him, it's been a lot of fun, and it's been an honor to play next to him. –Justin Herbert

Herbert, Verdell and the entire Duck football team spent a day at Disneyland as part of their pre-Rose Bowl tour of Southern California. Verdell, the Mater Dei High School graduate, hadn’t been back since his grad night, but identified his favorite ride immediately: The Guardians of the Galaxy (formerly the Tower of Terror). It’s a high-speed elevator attraction with g-forces that will make your voice hoarse the next day. Verdell said “you can’t beat” that butterfly feeling in your stomach.

The combination of the chip on Verdell’s shoulder and his love for adrenaline serve him well on the football field. The downhill runner excels at making defenders miss with great change of direction and can be patient in the hole.

Verdell can do it all, which is what the Ducks are counting on come January 1, in the 106th Rose Bowl.

To stay or to go? Thomas Graham’s insight into his looming NFL decision

To stay or to go? Thomas Graham’s insight into his looming NFL decision

The Pac-12 Conference champion Oregon Ducks (11-2) are prepping for their 2019 season finale and biggest challenge of the season. The Ducks have a chance to win the biggest game of their UO careers against No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) on Jan. 1 at 2 p.m. in the Rose Bowl (ESPN).

For seniors like quarterback Justin Herbert, linebackers Troy Dye and La’Mar Winston, it’s the last 60 minutes in a Duck uniform. There is a chance the ‘Granddaddy of them All’ could be the finale for a few draft eligible Ducks. 

One of those players is cornerback Thomas Graham, Jr. An honorable mention All-Pac-12 Conference selection, Graham requested an NFL evaluation, which tells players if they are projected in the first or second rounds. After testing the waters, Graham’s evaluation came back, suggesting that he should return for his senior season.

Graham has yet to make a decision and won’t announce his plans until after the Rose Bowl, but he has had some important conversations to help his process.

I talked to all the seniors and they just said, play the game, focus on the game, and then after have the discussion with your family. Outside of the NFL evaluation, I’ve told coach Cristobal that I am focused on this game. At the end of the day, that’s the main point, these seniors owe too much and I’m not the type to sit out... Whatever decision I make will be the best decision for me. -Thomas Graham

What is the biggest contributing factor for Graham?

How comfortable I am with my play.  If I don’t feel I am good enough to go play at the next level, or that I need to learn more,  then it would be dumb for me to leave. I have a great coach in coach Donte (Williams) here. -Thomas Graham

The junior, who has made 38 consecutive starts, is tied for seventh among active Pac-12 Conference players in career interceptions with seven.
 He played a major role in one of Oregon’s strongest defenses in history. This year, Oregon’s 15.7 points allowed per game in 2019 is the lowest in school history since 1966, holding 12 of 13 opponents under their season scoring average. 

[READ: Troy Dye is sorry… but not for coming back for his senior season]

If all the draft-eligible Ducks (Jordon Scott, Austin Faoliu, Deommodore Lenoir, Graham Jr.) decided to stay for 2020, Oregon would return all starters on the defense except for one: linebacker Troy Dye. 

The glitz and the glam of the NFL is inviting but should Graham Jr. return, he would be leading a secondary unit full of veterans (Lenoir, Brazy Breeze, Nick Pickett) with added up-and-comers (Verone McKinley III, Mykael Wright) in what could be a dangerous group of ball-hawks for Oregon's 2020 defense. 

Troy Dye bothered by knee, but nothing will stop him from playing in the Rose Bowl

Troy Dye bothered by knee, but nothing will stop him from playing in the Rose Bowl

PASADENA-- There is no stopping Oregon senior linebacker Troy Dye from playing in his Duck finale against No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) in the 106th Rose Bowl.

Yes, Oregon’s leading tackler’s knee is bothering him.

Yes, he wears a cast on his right hand for a broken thumb suffered against Washington.

Yes, he will suit up for his final 60 minutes in a Duck uniform.

My thumb is doing great. My knee was bothering me but that’s just because I’m an old man… It’s just knicks and dings…Nothing major or crazy that is going to stop me from playing in the ‘Granddaddy of Them All,’ that’s for sure. I mean, I played the whole season with a broken thumb and a big club on, so if you think anything is going to stop me, you are crazy.  -Troy Dye

In his final Oregon practice in pads, Dye’s right knee was wrapped for the Ducks’ Rose Bowl practice in Los Angeles on Sunday. His right knee was not wrapped during Saturday’s practice.

For the 15 minutes media is allowed to watch practice, the AP First Team All-Pac-12 selection participated in drills, but did seem to be favoring the wrapped leg.

Yesterday was the last time I’ll have a full padded practice. It was kind of surreal to know that was the last time I put on that white practice jersey with pads underneath it. This whole year has been ‘Last Time Moments’ and I’ve enjoyed every one of them. At six o’clock on January 1, when it’s all said and done and I’m no longer a Duck, it’ll hit me a little bit harder. But once a Duck, always a Duck. –Troy Dye

The “Granddaddy of them All” will be Dye and the rest of the senior class’ finale as members of the Oregon Ducks. It's a chance to earn their most substantial win in green and yellow. A victory over the Big Ten opponent would give the Pac-12 Champion Ducks 12 wins this season and scratch out another bucket list item for Dye’s sensational senior season.

[READ: Troy Dye is sorry… but not for coming back for his senior season]

In 2019, Dye’s senior tour has featured 75 tackles with 9.5 for loss including 2.5 sacks, six pass breakups and two interceptions on one of Oregon’s strongest defenses in history.

As a freshman in 2016, Dye played on a team that finished 4-8 and left out of a bowl game. Now, Dye is leading a 11-2 team and only 12 tackles away from reaching 400 career tackles in front of his home crowd. Before he plays in the 2020 senior bowl, the Ducks are counting on his leadership as they prepare for their biggest challenge of the season.

Oregon wide receiver Johnny Johnson III has caught Wisconsin’s attention

Oregon wide receiver Johnny Johnson III has caught Wisconsin’s attention

Oregon junior wide receiver Johnny Johnson III, quarterback Justin Herbert and linebacker Troy Dye were some of the last Ducks to leave Disneyland, as part of their pre-Rose Bowl tour of Southern California.

It’s fitting that Johnson III’s favorite ride was California Adventure’s The Incredicoaster: a high-speed, thrill ride that chases The Incredibles’ character Jack-Jack through big drops and crazy routes.

In the 106th Rose Bowl, No. 8 Wisconsin’s defense is prepping for a similar mad dash to keep up with Johnson III, who has been on a late-season surge.

Badgers starting cornerback Faion Hicks singled out Johnson III as what makes him most excited for in the “Granddaddy of them All”.

Oregon’s receiver, No. 3, he's a good playmaker. He shows up every game. It's going to be fun going against him. –Faion Hicks

Wednesday will be Johnson III’s last game with Herbert slinging him the ball. The connection between the two has been entertaining to watch, particularly in the past four games where Johnson III has totaled 24 catches for 422 yards and five touchdowns.

When it comes to explosion plays, Johnson III has become Herbert’s go-to. In the last four games, the duo have connected seven times for 25-plus yards, including a 45-yard touchdown reception in Oregon’s Pac-12 Championship victory.

Johnson III is just as consistent as he is exciting. 37 of his 55 receptions in 2019 have gone for first downs. He’s leading the Ducks with 818 yards, nearly quadrupling his total from 2018 (215 yards). What led to his remarkable improvement?

A lot of good habits. A lot of doing the right things and never eliminating doing the little things because that's what keeps you consistent. –Johnny Johnson III

Wisconsin starting safety Eric Burrell was surprised at Oregon’s physicality within the receiving corps.

They aren’t afraid to block. When I look at receivers to game plan, I want to see what their favorite thing is to do. Oregon’s receivers all want to block. That’s good for us. We just have to do a good job at getting off the receivers to make the tackles.  -Eric Burrell

Johnson III takes pride in competing to be the most physical Duck receiver.

We have a knock down list for that week. We always try to get people on the ground. –Johnny Johnson III

No, the list doesn’t compete with Oregon’s exponentially larger offensive line’s knock down list. However right now, Bryan Addison is in the lead with Juwan Johnson and Johnny Johnson III right behind.

Juwan and Johnny have a history of competing and making bets together. In their last game as teammates, they will be vying to get the most touchdowns in the Rose Bowl.

The Rose Bowl is a prime occasion for Herbert to air it out against a Wisconsin secondary that has been inconsistent at times. It’s a substantial opportunity for Johnson III to resume his dominance in the biggest game of his Duck career, where big plays could be the difference maker.

Troy Dye's knee wrapped for Sunday's Oregon Rose Bowl practice

Troy Dye's knee wrapped for Sunday's Oregon Rose Bowl practice

Oregon senior linebacker Troy Dye’s right knee was wrapped for the Ducks’ Rose Bowl practice in Los Angeles on Sunday. His right knee was not wrapped during Saturday’s practice.

For the 15 minutes media is allowed to watch practice, Oregon’s leading tackler participated in drills but did seem to be favoring the wrapped leg. Dye is already wearing a cast on his right hand for his broken thumb, an injury he suffered at Washington.

[READ: Troy Dye is sorry… but not for coming back for his senior season]

No players or coaches have commented. The media has not been able to ask about the latest development because Sunday morning's media availability occurred before practice.

The Southern California-Native has his right hand back in time for the biggest game of his Duck career, the 106th Rose Bowl vs. Wisconsin (10-3) on Jan. 1 at 2 p.m.

The “Granddaddy of them All” will be Dye and the rest of the senior class’ finale as members of the Oregon Ducks. It's a chance to earn their most substantial win in green and yellow. A victory over the Big Ten opponent would give the Pac-12 Champion Ducks 12 wins this season and scratch out another bucket list item for Dye’s sensational senior season.

Man, I'll tell you what, I look back and it was totally worth it coming back for this senior season because there's moments that I've created and there's relationships that I've built over this past 11 months that are unbreakable and there's things that I've done that you can't take back: Undefeated at home, winning the Pac-12 Championship, beating Stanford and Washington on the road, USC on the road, it's great to check those things off the bucket list and just keep moving forward and there's one more to go, try to just finish off strong to a strong beginning. -Troy Dye

In 2019, Dye’s senior tour has featured 75 tackles with 9.5 for loss including 2.5 sacks, six pass breakups and two interceptions on one of Oregon’s strongest defenses in history.

 

Oregon football Rose Bowl jerseys revealed, swagged out in midnight green

Oregon football Rose Bowl jerseys revealed, swagged out in midnight green

The No. 6 Oregon Ducks will be donning ­­­­midnight green uniforms and chrome helmets and nightmare green wings on Wednesday at 2:10 p.m (PT) in the 106th Rose Bowl. The Pac-12 Conference champion Ducks (11-2) have to get past the stingy No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (10-3) to earn the “Granddaddy of them All” crown.

It's a nod to the 2012 Rose Bowl uniforms the Ducks sported vs. Wisconsin.

Is this a winning combination?

Oregon's "Nike Vapor Fusion" uniform is celebrating its 20th anniversary of their partnership with Nike. The chrome winged helmets are back and the jerseys feature large "Mighty Oregon" font resembling last season's "Oregon Football 2.0" uniform with slight differences. The addition of Nightmare Green is the biggest change while notably no black set was released.

[READ: ROSE BOWL NUMBERS TO KNOW]

A DUCK WIN WOULD…

Be Oregon’s third straight Rose Bowl victory. The Ducks beat Florida State 59-20 in the semifinals of the College Football Playoffs on Jan. 1, 2015 and Wisconsin 45-38 on Jan. 2, 2012.

HERBERT’S LAST HURRAH

The Rose Bowl is senior quarterback Justin Herbert’s last Oregon game. Over the last three seasons, the Ducks are 26-8 in his 34 starts. Herbert looks to cap his final season, currently completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 3,333 yards, 32 touchdowns and five interceptions. Herbert has the opportunity for the most substantial victory of his Duck career in his finale, as the NFL Draft awaits.

MORE DUCKS

Troy Dye is sorry… but not for coming back for his senior season

The impact of Mycah Pittman's return for the Rose Bowl

How the Ducks can win the biggest game of their Oregon football careers

Bonded as Oregon greats, LaMichael James says CJ Verdell's Pac-12 title performance tops his own

Bonded as Oregon greats, LaMichael James says CJ Verdell's Pac-12 title performance tops his own

Two 200-yard rushing performances. Two Pac-12 Championship victories. Two Pac-12 Championship MVPs. Two different Ducks in seperate eras, bonded as greats. 

On December 2, 2011, Oregon running back great LaMichael James and the Ducks beat UCLA to win the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game, a game that was played in Autzen Stadium.

James won the Pac-12 Championship Game MVP while rushing for 220 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns. It was the junior’s fourth game of the season with 200 or more yards on the ground.

Remarkable, right?

James still holds the record for most yards in the Pac-12 title game, with CJ Verdell’s clutch 208-yard performance (that earned the 2019 Pac-12 crown and ended Utah’s College Football Playoff dreams) ranking second most.  

Yet, James says Verdell’s three-touchdown feat outdoes his own.

To be honest, CJ’s performance against Utah tops mine… Utah’s defense is remarkable and always has been. This year, they at the top of conference and he went out there and hung 200 on them. –LaMichael James

Against the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense, Verdell made history. The Utes entered the game allowing an average of 56.3 yards per game, with only one team to rush for over 100 yards. Verdell doubled that amount alone with 208 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown, which was the longest run in Pac-12 title game history.

The offensive line opened up some nice holes and the receivers blocked extremely well but CJ ran hard and aggressive. He really wore that defense down, you could tell later in the game. I love the toughness he runs with. He’s a no-nonsense type of running back. He isn’t wasting anytime time hitting the hole. I love it. –LaMichael James

James and Verdell have a lot in common. The two have never met in person, just the occasional message about James’ tasty Killer Burgers over social media. However, they are linked in Oregon football record books.

Verdell also earned the Most Valuable Player trophy for his performance, which was second most all-time rushing in the Pac-12 championship game behind James in 2011. The clutch performance sent Verdell over the edge to surpass 1,000 rushing yards for the second-consecutive season, becoming the fifth Oregon running back to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back years and the third to do it as a freshman and sophomore (joining James and Royce Freeman).

What’s it like for Verdell to join that elite company?

It's great, man. LaMichael James, he was a legend here in Oregon. To be with the likes of him, it's just a blessing. –CJ Verdell

Comparisons have been made between Verdell and James, who both stand at 5-foot-9. It's ironic, considering Verdell models his game after James. What does Verdell try to emulate about James?

How fearless he was when he ran the ball. I try to keep the mentality that even though we are kind of smaller backs, we can still run hard. –CJ Verdell

James knew Verdell, a four-star prospect out of Mater Dei High School in Chula Vista, Calif., was going to be a weapon for Oregon when he watched his high school highlights. After reaching 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season, Verdell has literally steamrolled over James’ expectations.

Individual success can only carry you so far, but I don’t think Oregon’s record would be like this without him. –LaMichael James

Now, the No. 6 Oregon Ducks face their biggest challenge yet of the season: No. 8 Wisconsin in the 106th Rose Bowl. It’s the biggest game of Verdell’s Duck career and the largest opportunity to etch his impact deeper into Oregon football history.

It won’t be Verdell’s last game. The running back intends to return for his redshirt-junior season, which gives the Ducks the leading returning rusher in the Pac-12 and among the leaders in the country. It also provides a major weapon for the 2020 Oregon team to build their ground and pound offense around.

In his 2019 season finale, Verdell faces the No. 8 run defense and No. 10 scoring defense in the Badgers. It’ll be a test but Verdell and Oregon aren’t afraid of lining up against physically imposing teams. Hearing that Utah was the most physical team in the Pac-12, leading up to the championship game, gave Verdell “a chip on his shoulder”.

Eight years ago it was James who ran with a chip on his shoulder. On January 2, 2012, James rushed for 159 yards on 25 carries with one touchdown to help Oregon beat Wisconsin 45–38 in the Rose Bowl. While Verdell may be emulating James on January 2, 2020, James will be cheering for Verdell. James says he will “make it happen” for the two to meet. If it were up to James, maybe even as the assistant running backs coach.

Talk about a legendary situation!