Oregon Ducks

A once-in-a-decade player ignites Oregon's run game

Oregon Ducks

Oregon’s 37-35 drama filled win snapped the Ducks’ four-game losing streak to the Cougars in front of a sellout 59,361 crowd at Autzen Stadium, the tenth highest attended game in history. When freshman kicker Camden Lewis nailed a 26-yard field goal as time expired, the Duck student section flowed over the fences to celebrate with the team that lifted up Lewis.

Meanwhile, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal found running back CJ Verdell to give him a congratulatory hug after the sophomore’s career night that will likely shoot him to the top as the Pac-12 Conference’s leading rusher. His 257 rushing yards ranks tied for fourth most all-time in school history and the most by a Duck in Autzen Stadium history.

There is something eerily similar between Oregon’s comeback victory vs. Washington in Seattle and its gutsy last minute triumph over Washington State at home.

The big plays to the left side.

If Verdell sparked the Ducks’ (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12) offense against Washington State, then left tackle Penei Sewell was the ignition.

Last week against Washington, running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio ran for a career-high 81 yards, all of which came in the second half, and credited Sewell for insane blocking.

Habibi-Likio and his girlfriend thanked Sewell by having him over for a home cooked meal of baked mac-n-cheese and chicken.

This week, Verdell had the hot hand and became the Pac-12 running back with the most yards in a conference game. A stunning highlight came in the first quarter: Oregon’s offensive line blew open a huge hole, wide receiver Juwan Johnson pancaked two defenders and Verdell cut, sprinting untouched to the end zone for a career-high 89-yard touchdown. The crowd lost control at the play that felt very vintage Oregon offense.

 

What’s it like for Verdell to run behind Sewell?

"Who was it that parted the Red Sea? Moses?” Verdell said. “Yeah, when Moses parted the Red Sea, that's how I would describe it."

Following Verdell’s three-touchdown and career-high 257 rushing yards plus 56 receiving yards on four receptions, the running back plans to also take care of lineman Sewell, but in his own way.

“Me and Penei are pretty much brothers,” Verdell said. “He pretty much lives with me. If he wants a home cooked meal then it ain't nothing. I'll make him some ramen noodles or something."

Sewell, the highest-graded offensive lineman in the country by Pro Football Focus, has had major honors roll in this season, earning Pac-12 offensive lineman of the week three times already.

He leads the team with 32 knockdowns and Oregon has a 13-2 record with Sewell as starter. Sometimes, Sewell almost out runs the running back. It’s easy to get lost watching his play during an offensive drive, he’s that impressive.

Oregon senior center Jake Hanson beams with pride when asked about Sewell.

"Penei is a guy that comes along in a program once every decade or couple decades honestly. He's that good,” said Hanson. “And on top of his natural talent he works very hard, he's passionate about the game, he's everything that you would want in a teammate… I love having him as my left tackle."

The win over WSU was another step forward towards Oregon’s first Pac-12 Title since 2014. The Ducks have more challenges ahead, starting with a trip to Los Angeles to play Pac-12 South foe, USC next Saturday. However, with a unique once-in-a-decade player like Sewell, the 2019 season is also beginning to feel very special.