SANTA CLARA, Calif.- The Oregon Ducks ended 2018 with a 7-6 victory over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl. The win wasn’t pretty; UO had more punts (11) than points, but the triumph and ensuing celebration felt significant to the future of the Oregon football program.
"You take a victory whether it be one point, two points or 50 points," UO coach Mario Cristobal said. “The culture has changed this program and we feel like we are just getting started.”
One look at the jubilant Ducks (9-4) and you would have thought Oregon won its first national title. Ironic, considering Alabama and Clemson will fight on that same field at Levi’s Stadium on Monday in the College Football Playoff Championship game.
The entire scene was something to behold and left an endearing impression of what this win meant to this group.
Cristobal, soaked with Gatorade, led a search party on the grass for his wedding ring; only to remember that he left it in the locker room for safe-keeping.
In their last hurrah of 2018, and with the programs third head coach in as many seasons, Oregon's seniors and team captains, Justin Hollins, Jalen Jelks, Ugo Amadi and Kaulana Apelu rejoiced at winning their first bowl game since the 2014 Rose Bowl victory.
Coaches kissed their spouses and hugged their children after achieving the program's most wins since 2016 with rival victories over Oregon State and Washington.
Junior Troy Dye hoisted his defensive MVP trophy in the air as fans congratulated Oregon’s leading tackler for three-straight seasons on possibly his last victory in a Ducks uniform.
Strength and conditioning coach Aaron Feld sought out and gave Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens’ a strong handshake and congratulations through a handlebar mustache grin.
Ducks fans chanted Justin Herbert’s name, after he etched his name in the UO record books by surpassing 3,000 passing yards in a single-season, becoming the fifth Oregon player to reach 7,000 career passing yards and extending his streak of games with a touchdown pass to 28, the longest active streak in the nation.
After setting a new program single-season receiving record with 1,184 yards (breaking Josh Huff’s 1,140 record set in 2013), wide receiver Dillon Mitchell was awarded offensive MVP during the on stage trophy presentation, which he gave to his dad in the stands.
Lastly, at the postgame press conference, draft-eligible juniors Mitchell and Dye deflected NFL questions as the deadline to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft (Jan. 15) draws near.
No, it wasn’t a national title, not even close, but it was a meaningful postseason victory over a big-ten opponent with the best rushing defense in the nation. Who knows what 2019 holds, certainly a lot of work remains for Oregon to contend, but with a its star quarterback returning, stability in the coaching staff and a young, talented roster… the Oregon program is trending upwards.