Autzen Stadium erupted with 58,691 screaming fans as redshirt freshman CJ Verdell barreled into the end zone in overtime to score, upsetting rival No. 7 Washington 30-27.
"That's what a rivalry game is supposed to be like, right?” said Oregon coach Mario Cristobal with a smile to open UO’s press conference.
In a game that was tied four times, Oregon (2-1 in Pac-12) improved to its first 5-1 start since 2014 and kept its Pac-12 Conference title hopes alive.
"I've been here for a lot of games,” said quarterback Justin Herbert. “I think that's one of the best experiences that I have been a part of."
Here is how it unfolded. Washington (5-2, 4-1 Pac-12) missed a field goal on the final play of regulation, after Cristobal called two timeouts to ice the Husky kicker.
Oregon’s defense, which was in UW quarterback Jake Browning’s face all day, held the Huskies to a field goal to open overtime.
Then the Ducks put the ball in Verdell’s hands.
Reminder, this is the second time Oregon went to overtime with the No. 7 team in the nation. In their conference opener, Verdell had a key fumble late in the game in Oregon’s loss to Stanford.
Alas, Verdell rushed twice for a gain of nine yards before a holding call put Oregon in a third-and-11 hole. Herbert converted the first down with a 17-yard completion to his go to receiver, Dillon Mitchell. The victory was sealed when Verdell busted through for the touchdown.
"Coach Cristobal just told us we were a downhill team, and we were going to keep running downhill," said Verdell. "I was just glad coaches put the trust in me to run the ball, and we executed it.
He took a breath and then added, "Man, that whole was big."
Cristobal says that if Verdell didn’t get into the end zone on that last play, the plan was to go for it on fourth down for the win. Not a bad plan, considering Oregon was three-for-three in converting fourth downs and leads the conference with a 51 percent third down conversion rate.
Cristobal’s trust in Verdell paid off and so did the team’s faith in Cristobal.
The Oregon football program bought into Cristobal’s physical “Oregon Football 2.0” approach back in January. In October, the dividends showed as the Ducks literally pushed past a rival that embarrassed them, 70-21, just two seasons ago.
It started with gains in the weight room in the offseason, led by strength and conditioning coach Aaron Feld who is so full of energy, his handlebar mustache probably powers the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex’s electricity. The linemen beefed up, Herbert added 20 pounds, and winning the battle in the trenches became priority number one. A team once known for its speed, changed its style of football to be disciplined and physical.
“Player development has taken on a new level,” said Cristobal. “You see knockback, you see physicality, you see guys finishing blocks downfield.”
A perfect example of Oregon Football 2.0 is exemplified in Verdell’s valuable performance against the top defense in the conference.
The offensive line owned the line of scrimmage against a Washington team that led the conference in scoring defense and have not allowed more than 35 points in 51 games. The victory in the trenches allowed Verdell to get the tough yards, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry on a career-high 29 carries, 111 yards and two touchdowns. It marked his fourth game Verdell has rushed for more than 100 yards.
Those hard earned yards paid off when the offensive line parted UW’s defense for Verdell to score the game-winning touchdown. Verdell and fellow running back Travis Dye nicknamed UO’s offensive line “Moses”, because they can part the red sea. Oregon's line aided the Ducks to rush for 177 yards against the Huskies.
They also protected Herbert, holding UW to two tackles for loss, while Oregon’s defense racked up five tackles for loss. Herbert finished the game 18-of-32 for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
It was Herbert’s first win against Washington and after a brief two-year losing streak, Oregon can reclaim the Border War bragging rights. More importantly, the Ducks can rest easy knowing that they were right to put their money where The Cristo-ball is.