PASADENA – It didn’t work out quite the way the Oregon Ducks expected it would. But they’ll take it – as well they should.
Oregon didn’t beat the Wisconsin Badgers Wednesday in the Rose Bowl quite as much as the Badgers beat themselves. But that’s football. You fumble the ball three times and lose all three, you throw an interception, miss a field goal and then you get nine penalties for 79 yards, you’re going to lose – no matter what else happens.
“We didn’t overcome ourselves,” chagrined Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst said.
Wisconsin outrushed the Ducks 136 yards to 66. The Badgers outpassed Oregon 186 yards to 138. And they got a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. In all, the Ducks had a season-low 204 yards of total offense – which won’t win you many games. But, oh my, did the Badgers make mistakes.
And Oregon took full advantage of those miscues.
The Ducks opened the game with a 12-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown. They then scored three more TDs after turnovers. The Ducks got an interception at Wisconsin’s 33 and scored three plays later. Wisconsin’s punter fumbled a snap and Brady Breeze returned it 31 yards for a TD. Then the Ducks recovered a fumble at the Badgers’ 30 and Justin Herbert dashed for a score on the next play.
Herbert, who didn’t run the ball very often all season, rushed for three TDs.
It was a monster win for the Ducks. It was their third straight Rose Bowl win. It was the fifth time in school history they’ve won 12 games. And forcing turnovers was not a one-game deal -- Oregon finished the season with a plus-16 turnover margin.
“I think the offensive line and the defensive line deserve a ton of credit,” Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said. “Because, again, and I think Wisconsin is an excellent football team. They are. They’re physical. They’re tough. They’re well-coached. All the respect in the world to them.
“Our guys knew this was going to be a 15-round fight, right? And rounds 10 through 15 usually decide which heavyweight walks away with the hardware. And our guys just found a way to keep swinging, get up one more time. Throw one more punch. And it’s a testament to what they are, what their DNA is. And I really believe that these guys are just getting started.”
This was a victory very important to the Pac-12 Conference, which was in danger of having another sub-.500 season in bowl games. It has been left out of the national playoff three seasons in a row and to see its champ go down in this bowl would have been a big blow, feeding the perception that it’s not a very competitive conference on a national level.
But Cristobal didn’t see it that way.
“The outside noise never really becomes part of our process,” he said. “I mean, to us, anything outside is, with respect to everyone, really irrelevant because it’s not there with us at 5 in the morning when we’re training, it not there late at night when we’re getting extra treatment.
“We know we have a good football team and we know we’ve done all the things in regards to becoming physical, disciplined, tough, to execute at a high level, with so much room to grow.
“But I think Oregon is, all the respect – we’ve warranted any and all respect that we’ve received… if that’s the question we’re asking, if we represented the conference well, I would say that we did.”
And to sum it up, Cristobal talked about the path the Ducks have taken to get to this point.
“We go hard now,” he said. “What we do is not kind and cuddly, and it’s certainly not for everybody. So we all stuck to a blueprint that is as demanding as it gets and that will push you right to the edge until you get a breakthrough. That’s what these guys had.”