Rose Bowl

Some things I learned this year while covering the Rose Bowl

Some things I learned this year while covering the Rose Bowl

PASADENA – The 15 things I learned while at the Rose Bowl this year, not necessarily in order of importance:

  • Whoever wins the battle at the line of scrimmage doesn’t always win a football game. Take Wisconsin, for instance. The Badgers dominated Oregon in every statistical department, including holding Oregon to 204 total yards, yet lost to the Ducks. Three fumbles, an interception, a missed field goal and nine penalties – and they lost by a single point. That had to be painful.
  • Shake Shack has better burgers than In-N-Out. Really.
  • Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst looks nothing like a classic Big Ten football coach. His nickname of “Coach Dad” is quite appropriate. And he seems like a great guy.
  • LA Live is cool. And to think Portland passed up an opportunity to do a similar development in the Rose Quarter.
  • The Rose Bowl experience is as good as it gets for players, coaches, media and fans. First-class treatment, almost always great weather and an iconic venue.
  • A lot of people are still holding onto that gothic, all-black fashion statement in LA.
  • The team that has lost the Pac-12 championship game is 0-9 in bowl games. Wow.
  • Police escorts on media buses to games should be mandatory.
  • Pre-game flyovers should be mandatory, especially from Stealth bombers.
  • It’s a little bit unsettling to see a couple of trucks full of FBI and police people in camo, carrying heavy-duty assault weapons, entering a stadium four hours prior to a game.
  • Mario Cristobal is taller than you’d think.
  • After all these years, the Goodyear Blimp is still cool.
  • The Ducks’ “green” uniforms are very close to being black uniforms. Which is probably the idea.
  • So nice to see a couple of young men from the state of Oregon run away with the offensive and defensive honors in the Rose bowl. It’s a tribute to their families and all the great high-school coaching in the state.
  • When you play a Big Ten team in the Rose Bowl, there’s a very good chance that team is going to bring more fans to the game than you will. At least that’s what history tells me.

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.

UO Coach Mario Cristobal: 'Our guys just found a way to keep swinging'

UO Coach Mario Cristobal: 'Our guys just found a way to keep swinging'

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.”

Relive the Oregon Ducks winning the 106th Rose Bowl

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USATI

Relive the Oregon Ducks winning the 106th Rose Bowl

It was a great day to be a Duck.

The Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks (12-2) defeated the Wisconsin Badgers (10-4) 28-27 to win the 106th Rose Bowl, their first Rose Bowl win since defeating Florida State 59-20 in 2015. 

The program has undergone a lot of transformation since that victory. Then-head coach Mark Helfrich only lasted two more seasons after a disastrous 4-8 season that was also Justin Herbert and Troy Dye's freshman seasons. Then, after one season, Taggart left for his 'dream job' leaving Mario Cristobal to be promoted. In just his second season as head coach of Oregon football, the Ducks are Pac-12 champions and Rose Bowl champions. The senior class completely turned around the program from missing a bowl game to finishing the season ranked inside the top five. 

When the clock hit zero, the Ducks celebrated more than a large victory. The program has been officially returned to national relevance, and they celebrated like it. 

Even the band got into it.

Check back later for updates

Ducks or Badgers? Rose Bowl will be decided up front and the winner is...

Ducks or Badgers? Rose Bowl will be decided up front and the winner is...

PASADENA – Trying to figure out how a football game will go before it’s played is a difficult business. People who think they can figure it out so well that they bet on the outcome have my admiration.

I will try in this space to tell you what I expect from Oregon and Wisconsin Wednesday afternoon in the Rose Bowl, but will do so with the warning that if you are silly enough to make a bet based on my advice, you probably deserve to lose your money.

But that won’t stop me from giving you my opinion and telling you that I’m usually pretty good at this sort of thing.

I expect it to be a real battle in the trenches as two teams attempt to flex their muscles and prove their physicality. Wisconsin has been good at ball control, run defense and wearing down its opponents. Oregon is physical, has a balanced attack, solid defense and is capable of beating teams with the pass.

Two very good football teams.

First, a quick look at Wisconsin:

  • The Badgers had four shutouts this season and rank 10th in the country in scoring defense, eighth in total defense and eighth in rushing defense.
  • Wisconsin lost three games, but two of them were to Ohio State – one of the best teams in the country. You get better by playing, and even losing to, good teams.
  • The Badgers have won five straight bowl games.
  • Wisconsin’s running back Jonathan Taylor is a two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s premier running back. With 1,909 yards this season he’s the only runner in FBS history to top 1,900 yards three years in a row. With 91 yards he can become only the third player to rush for 2,000 yards in multiple seasons. This man is special.

And now a few tidbits about the Ducks:

  • This is the 14th time in the last 15 seasons Oregon has made it to a bowl game. It is 14-18 in bowl games, all time, but has won its last two games at the Rose Bowl, including a 45-38 triumph over Wisconsin in 2012.
  • The Ducks held six teams under 10 points this season, tied for the most in the country.
  • Justin Herbert’s 95 touchdown passes are the most among active FBS players and sixth-most in Pac -12 history.
  • Oregon is ninth in the country in scoring defense and 15th in the country in scoring offense.

So, what does it all mean?

I believe the Ducks are going to have their hands full. Taylor is going to get his yards and if Oregon stacks the line of scrimmage too much to stop him, the Badgers are quite capable of hitting play-action passes for big yardage.

If Oregon struggles with its running game, this game could end up being decided by the arm of Herbert – and his receivers, who haven’t always been dependable. But he will likely have to run for his life part of the game – the Badgers had a school-record 49 sacks this season. I do expect Herbert to throw the ball well in his final collegiate game and it could be the difference.

But the deciding factor in this one is likely going to be at the line of scrimmage. Oregon has been as physical as it has been in years. Wisconsin takes pride in its own brand of physicality.

Is “Pac-12 physical” the equal of “Big Ten physical”? If it is, the Ducks will win.

If not, this one goes the other way.

I have it 24-21, Wisconsin.

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.

Ducks' Mario Cristobal on Wisconsin: 'They are as good as it gets'

Ducks' Mario Cristobal on Wisconsin: 'They are as good as it gets'

PASADENA – Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal was asked during Monday’s Rose Bowl media day if his team had played another team similar to the one the Ducks will face Wednesday in the Rose Bowl, when they meet Wisconsin.

And without actually saying it, the answer was a very definitive, “NO!”

“They’re just the best team in all areas that we’ve faced this year, without a doubt, in all phases and all areas,” Cristobal said. “They’re very well coached. That’s a disciplined, tough football team that’s complemented by great athleticism.”

The Ducks are very proud of their offensive line and Cristobal – an offensive lineman himself in his playing days – knows a good one when he sees it.

 “We haven’t seen a better offensive line,” he said. “They’re cohesive. They play with great effort and great finish, complemented by great tight ends, great running backs and a great quarterback.”

All season, Oregon has talked about its own toughness and physicality. And this game will be a test of that.

“Without question,” Cristobal said. “They’re outstanding. You love to study film and see how guys are coached. Their coaching staff has stood the test of time. They are exceptionally instinctive and that’s due to good coaching. I can’t say enough about them. They are as good as it gets.”

And the coach expects it will take everything his team has to win the game.

“Nothing but our very, very best will be good enough to come out on top,” Cristobal said. “We all know that. The players that they have, the way they’re coached, their scheme, their physicality, their athleticism, there is nothing – NOTHING – In this world but our very best that will be good enough for us to win.

“We know this is the very best football team we’ve had the opportunity to play.”