“For Real”-Finally, Cristobal Unleashes Herbert in the Red Rose Zone

Coach Ken Woody Coach Woody's Analysis

Justin Herbert looked like a legitimate Heisman candidate in leading Oregon to a nail biting 28-27 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. In a season that at times seemed disappointing, the stars aligned and Herbert was allowed to show his stuff. Along with a courageous, tenacious defense, Herbert was the difference in the Ducks hard-fought victory.

There were many instances during the regular season when there were complaints that coach Mario Cristobal was not using the immense talents of the Sheldon High School grad, but in this game, he elected (was forced?) to let his stallion loose out of the paddock when it most counted.

The result was three touchdowns in which he was hardly touched and you could reflect that the Ducks might have had an unbeaten season if Cristobal’s run first offense had been complete with a quarterback who could run and take the pressure off Oregon’s lightweight running backs.

Going against tendencies they spent the whole season establishing with predictable play calling, offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo calls a tight end delay (the first of the year) to the Ducks’ mainly blocking tight end, Hunter Kampmoyer (No. 48 above). Kampmoyer stays in on the snap to block and gets lost by Badger underneath coverage. The timing is perfect as the defenders leave the middle open, dropping to cover, giving Herbert plenty of room to find his tight end.

Dallas Warmack (No. 75), right guard, blocks his man, although he’s being pushed back into Herbert. The protection on this play was not always this good later in the game against a nationally-ranked defense that allowed the Ducks only 204 yards total offense.

To the delight of Duck fans, Cristobal has Justin Herbert (No. 10 above) run the ball in a goal-line situation. The left side of the offensive line caves in the Wisconsin defense and Herbert is able to outrun the safety into the end zone and an early lead their first drive of the game. Although CJ Verdell (No. 7) makes a half-hearted fake, Badger defenders run themselves out of position thinking he was going to get the ball.

The Ducks stunned the Badgers with their opening drive and had only minutes to savor it as the Wisconsin kick return team totally dominated Oregon’s coverage team, (above) blocking nearly every Duck for Aron Cruickshank’s 95-yard touchdown. It was perfect blocking by the Badgers and terrible coverage by every single Oregon player, who either put himself out of position or couldn’t get off a block because they were too focused on the returner and not enough on the player blocking them.

Javon Holland (No. 8) gets kicked out of his lane, Jamal Hill (No. 18) leaves his lane and gets trapped inside, Verone McKinley (No. 23) goes out of his lane outside, leaving a big gap down the side line. Dru Mathis (No. 54) goes out of his lane trying to beat his blocker to the inside, Brady Breeze (No. 25) is blocked inside, Sampson Niu (No. 55) is blocked inside, Nick Pickett (No. 16) gets blocked and the last man, Steve Stephens IV (No. 10), is double teamed off the field. To complete the total collapse, kicker Camden Lewis (No. 49), is loafing and too late to hustle, takes a bad angle and misses even touching the return man.

It took two kickoffs to learn their lesson as the next return by the Badgers was returned 47 yards by Cruickshank to set up Wisconsin’s go-ahead touchdown with eleven seconds left in the first half. Over the season, the kickoff coverage was excellent and afforded consistently good field position for the grateful defense, but the first two in the Rose Bowl were horrendous.

Wisconsin’s All America back Jonathon Taylor coughs up the ball (above) after a short gain as Troy Dye (No. 35), rips the ball out of his hand and it is scooped up by Deommodore Lenoir (No. 6), who was on a corner blitz from the opposite side of the play. He gets excellent return yardage flanked by team mates making a quick transition from defending to attacking.

The Ducks tackled exceptionally well throughout the game. In this instance, there are eight defenders around the ball carrier. Oregon’s defense allowed one 18-yard run by Taylor, but he was held to only 91 yards on 24 carries.

Duck defensive coordinator Andy Avalos did an outstanding job of matching his play-makers up with offensive mismatches. In this case (above) he has defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5) line up as a nose man against Wisconsin’s All American center. Thibodeaux easily beats his block and pressures the quarterback to throw an errant pass that is intercepted by Thomas Graham (No. 4).

Brady Breeze, named the game’s Most Valuable defensive player, quickly reacts and throws a block for Graham, whose pick set up Oregon’s second score.

Herbert takes off on an option run, (above) although it looks as if it was predetermined by his quick reaction. Oregon’s motion has the Badgers out of position when Herbert takes off, faking out the linebacker (No. 56), the safety (No. 21) and does a Heisman stiff arm on the corner back (No. 5) to make scoring his second touchdown look easy.

Wisconsin’s punt protection collapses at just the right time for the Ducks who just happened to have a rush called. The Badger’s three-man (above) shield blocks no one and the punter bobbles the snap, allowing Haki Woods (No. 14) to knock the ball away from the punter and set up Brady Breeze to one-hand the loose ball and score.

Breeze has a knack for being around the ball and making things happen. This score allowed the Ducks to regain the lead 21-17, and shocked the Badgers, who owned the ball the entire third quarter as Oregon’s inept offense was limited to only three plays and seven yards.

Perhaps offering Cristobal an idea for his own fourth down play calling, the Badgers (above) take advantage of Oregon’s defense jamming the box with nine defenders looking for the line plunge, and fool the Ducks with Taylor (No. 23) releasing out of the backfield up the sideline.

The corner to that side is blitzing and realizes too late that it is an unanticipated pass play. Wisconsin’s tight end to that side releases inside and creates a traffic jam for two Ducks attempting to help in coverage. The fourth-down conversion helped the Badgers go ahead 24-17.

Wisconsin had good gains with receivers running fly sweeps, but on this one, Brady Breeze (above) beats his blocker and hits the ball carrier low with his shoulder and knocks the ball out of his grasp. Teammate Bryson Young (No. 56) makes the recovery that sets up the Ducks’ winning touchdown.

The play was a disappointment for the Badgers as they had three blockers on three defenders when the ball carrier was given the ball—another example of well-executed defensive fundamentals by Oregon.

Justin Herbert scores his third touchdown, the game’s winner above, on a 30-yard dash on the same play he scored the first two. Wisconsin’s outside defenders (No. 56) and (No. 2) are so sure CJ Verdell is getting the ball that they over run the play and can’t contain Herbert, who is quicker and faster than he looks. The outside linebacker (No. 56) is responsible for covering the quarterback, but Herbert makes him miss and heads for the end zone with outstanding blocking by wide receivers Johnny Johnson III (No. 3) and Mycah Pittman (No. 4).

This is the play (above) Wisconsin fans and coaches hotly disputed. (above) Badger quarterback Jack Coan completes a third-down pass to Jake Ferguson, but fellow receiver Danny Davis is called for offensive pass interference. The fans may not like it but the rule in the NCAA football rule book states:

b. Offensive pass interference is contact by a Team A player beyond the
neutral zone that interferes with a Team B player during a legal forward
pass play in which the forward pass crosses the neutral zone. It is the
responsibility of the offensive player to avoid the opponents

You can make your own judgment. It may have been a ticky-tack call if you’re a Badger or the correct call, if you’re a Duck fan who is used to wacky calls by Pac-12 referees. The referees in this game were from the SEC conference.

These moments are rare and Mario Cristobal is there in only two years!

It was a delight to watch Cristobal and his Ducks romp and stomp as the game ended. Despite any criticism directed at play calling or Herbert’s role in the offense, the head man directed one of the greatest years ever in Oregon football lore.

As the coach shouted and embraced his players and they the same, you could see and feel how much fun Oregon football is right now for the players who labor in pursuit of the Rose Bowl prize. It’s hard not to already feel excited about the future of the program and the outstanding young men who have stepped up to make it happen, as Cristobal says, “for real.”

Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                   Top Photo by Eugene Johnson

Want to learn from Coach Woody in person? He will be analyzing the Rose Bowl Game at the 6th Street Grill in Eugene on Wednesday, January 8 (today!) from 6:00 to 7:30 PM with video analysis and opening it up for questions. Join him and learn more football!  Charles Fischer


Spencer Thomas, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches football at Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, GA.


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Ken Woody is a former Fox Sports football commentator who played defensive back, receiver and kicker for Oregon from 1966 to 1970. He coached college football for 18 years, including stints as an assistant coach at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State, and was head coach at Whitman College and Washington University-St. Louis. He writes x’s and o’s, a weekly column in the Register-Guard, RG online coverage of Duck football and is the author of “After Further Review—an inside look at what’s really happening on the football field.” Woody is on KUGN (590 am) 2:45 before kickoff and 30 minutes after each game with coaching and game analysis.

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