Oregon’s Football Success Boils Down to a Single Play?

Jordan Ingram Editorials 55 Comments

What if the Ducks’ success boiled down to a single play? Let me take you back to a moment that changed the trajectory of Oregon football.

It was the fourth quarter. No. 6 Oregon trailed No. 8 Wisconsin 27-21 in the Rose Bowl game. Quarterback Justin Herbert already had two first-half rushing touchdowns but struggled to find his passing rhythm.

The Ducks had just recovered a fumble after forcing the ball loose from Badgers’ receiver Danny Davis and were positioned on Wisconsin’s 30-yard line. Herbert hiked the ball to setup a running play, with CJ Verdell heading left. But Herbert faked the handoff and ran right, avoiding a diving defender and before heading toward the sideline.

“QUARTERBACK IN THE CLEAR!”  Chris Fowler of ESPN shouted, as Herbert raced toward the corner of the end-zone. TOUCHDOWN!

My goodness! I remember the play like it was yesterday, and it still gives me chills. The Ducks struggled the entire game to establish a passing game. Even though the Badger’s had controlled the time of possession (Wisconsin, 38:03 and Oregon, 20:57) and led in total yards (322 to 209), Oregon’s defense had forced four turnovers, three of which led to scoring opportunities.

It was a huge win for Mario Cristobal‘s program on the national stage. And it changed EVERYTHING.

All of a sudden, boasting a Pac-12 Championship victory over Utah and a hard-fought Rose Bowl win, Oregon became (and still is) the hottest team in the West. The Ducks finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in both the AP and Coaches polls.

And even a global pandemic banning in-person contact couldn’t stop Oregon’s recruiting success. In June, the Ducks snagged commitments from Troy Franklin and Kyron Ware-Hudson, two top-rated, all-American wide receivers.

Plus, a chuck-wagon full of four-star recruits, including offensive tackles Jackson Light and Bram Walden, tight end Moliki Matavao, running back Seven McGee and linebacker Keith Brown. And that’s not mentioning five-star linebackers Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell.

Eugene Johnson

Quarterback Justin Herbert finds his way to the end zone during the Rose Bowl game.

Do all of those high-profile recruits come to Eugene if Oregon had lost the Rose Bowl? If Herbert hadn’t scored three rushing touchdowns, (including the game-winner) is Cristobal on the hot seat? Is the program still projected to win the Pac-12 again? Does Penei Sewell win the Outland Trophy? Does offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead replace Marcus Arroyo? Or does Arroyo stay another season to pad his resume?

Following his Rose Bowl performance, Herbert transformed into a quarterback who appeared ready for the NFL. Herbert continued his momentum with a stellar week in the Senior Bowl, bumping his NFL draft stock into the top ten. But does Herbert go No. 6 overall to the Los Angeles Chargers without that momentum?

It could be argued that much of Oregon’s off-season success on the recruiting trail rests upon that Rose Bowl trophy—a game that was sealed with one play. A seemingly endless stream of momentum has vaulted the Ducks into the national conversation, with a level of excitement not experienced since the Chip Kelly era.

Where does Oregon go from here? Nothing is certain, but it sure feels they are headed in the right direction!

Jordan Ingram
San Diego, California
Top photo credit: Eugene Johnson

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BigDucksFan

You are right Jordan, the Ducks are headed in the right direction. Even without the Rosebowl win I feel Marcus Arroyo was on his way out. We may not have gotten Joe Moorhead without the Rosebowl win and I am sure we would not be doing so good in the recruiting without it.

I’m not sure Justins touchdown at that time was the cause of the win as we’ll never know if the touchdown could have been made one of several other ways, but we’ll take the touchdown and the win at that moment in time, along with all the spoils that go with it.

One thing I do know is that without the Oregon’s defense having forced four turnovers the games outcome would have been much different. The 2019 Rosebowl win was a defensive win as were many other wins that season.

Last edited 2 months ago by BigDucksFan
Jordan Ingram

I agree, BDF. Thanks for reading. The defense was probably the biggest difference maker in the game. That’s interesting about Moorhead, and it really makes me wonder which direction we could have gone without him.

Drake

The Ducks Passing offense certainly had issues in that game. Brady Breeze pummeling Danny Davis on that sweep which created the fumble could arguably be the play of the game as well.

However, I agree that winning the Rose Bowl has definitely helped this team gain/maintain momentum with recruiting.

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading Drake! I think Breeze was such a critical piece in that game. And one heckuva of an exciting player to watch!

BigDucksFan

The big question is, if the Ducks had gone to the national playoffs and lost would that have helped in recruiting as much, or more, then winning the Rosebowl ??

Last edited 2 months ago by BigDucksFan
Jordan Ingram

This is a good question! I think honestly a Rose Bowl won was better than a playoff loss. But I could be wrong. I’m actually kind of torn about this!

Jon Joseph

Easy answer in my POV, better to battle and lose a meaningful game than to win an exhibition game.

I 100% believe that Mario shares this same belief.

Would Dana Altman prefer to win the NIT or make it to the NCAA tourney?

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading, Jon! Perhaps it’s better to lose a title or playoff game than win the Rose Bowl and finish on the outside of the top four teams. It’s tough though. That Rose Bowl won was so satisfying and exciting for fans, players and the program. Good stuff!

BigDucksFan

Yea, its a tough call. I really think in 2019 the Rose bowl was the better game for us in our progression. ln 2020, I’m thinking the national playoffs should be more of our progression. Kind of like always reaching for the next height.

BigDucksFan

I think I’m slowly coming around to that belief.

Charles Fischer

So many times a game has come down to a play, and seasons/NCs hinged on it. I love the pondering on this one, and another aspect of the Rose Bowl I will always love is the pictures from the first half when the sun is shining on the crowd and the vivid colors pop out behind the players. Incredible… (Click on the photo to blow it up!)

Thanks Jordan!

Herbert reading a backside defender out of the Shotgun in RB_Eugene Johnson.jpg
Last edited 2 months ago by Charles Fischer
Jordan Ingram

Thanks Charles! This truly was fun to write and think about! So many “what ifs!” All good stuff. Can’t wait for the next big play!!!

Mike West

What a feature! You can post a picture, click on it and it blows up to billboard size. A M A Z I N G. Am I in grade school again? lol

UtahDuck

No way is Cristobal on the hot seat if he loses to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Getting there in your second season as a head coach is a feat in itself and Add in that Paul Christ has not lost a bowl game since coaching at Wisconsin(until the rose bowl) is wildly impressive.

I do agree though that Winning begets winning, Clemson, Bama, tOSU all have gotten to their elite recruiting status by winning games. I mean they place a lot of emphasis on recruiting as well but Clemson is interesting as you can view the recruiting classes and they became more consistent after they made their first National Championship.

I do want to point to things, Currently going on in pac 12 football recruiting. I think this stems from both Cristobal being an Oline coach/Player at heart and Sewell’s Outland trophy award but literally no one in the pac is recruiting oline at the same rate as oregon. Per 247 national rating, USC’s highest is 448th, Washington – unranked, UCLA – 383, CAL – 604, AZ – unranked, Wash St – unranked, ASU – unranked, OSU – unranked, Utah – 830, Stan – None, and Col – unranked.

In contrast oregon’s Oline is 87th, 266th and 296th. Not including Kingsley(59) who had an interview putting oregon well above all of his other offers. If you believe that football starts in the trenches then I think Cristobal has his priorities straight here.

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading, UtahDuck! I believe Cristobal’s ability to build the offensive line. And he has so much more to offer that we are only just beginning to see and realize. I think he is the next hall of fame Oregon coach. It might be premature, but the trajectory certainly indicates great things!

Jon Joseph

Great take. But I would add that Bama, Clemson and tOSU are Elite because they won playoff games and championships.

Chryst may not have lost a bowl game prior to 1/1/20, but he has lost more meaningful Big 10 title games.

BigDucksFan

Interesting Utah, thats the first time I’ve seen the OLine ratings. Nice stat to keep track of. Not sure I understand the meaning of the numbers though, unless its the addition of the individual players rating, maybe ??

Last edited 2 months ago by BigDucksFan
UtahDuck

The rating is just their national rating so Bram Walden OT oregon commit is the 87th overall player in the nation Jackson Light is the 296th player in the nation. 247(I only used them because it is easier to see their national rating) only gives a national composite rating to the top 1000 players in the nation so as an example ASU got their first Oline commit on yesterday and he is unranked in the national composite on 247 he is the 1559th player(Another way to look at him is how many offers he has, He has 2 power 5 offers from ASU and AZ and 4 other offers) compared to Jackson Light who has 6 power 5 offers or bram walden who has 24 power 5 offers.

Jordan Ingram

I definitely learned something new as well! Thanks for the insight, Utah!

BigDucksFan

Very interesting, I just learned something new. Thanks for the education Utah.

ICamel

And a great big “THANK YOU” to Willie T for “doing something”……………..actually at least two things. 1) Hiring Mario Cristobal & 2) Taking the FSU job.

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading ICamel! Agreed, the best thing to come from Taggart was Cristobal, unless I’m overlooking something. Truly a program changing coach.

BigDucksFan

ha, ha, love it.

Charles Fischer

My FishDuck Friends,

I have received a ton of backlash in emails concerning yesterday’s article; one side was annoyed at the topic, and the other side was annoyed that we did not go far enough. And many were annoyed because of the blatant violation of a primary rule at FishDuck of “No Politics.”

Yesterday was an affirmation that no matter what the intent is….breaking credibility with people has consequences too. I really feel that the information in yesterday’s article should be shared, but it did break my own major rule that is meant to avoid discord. It was a reminder that no matter how strong my thoughts are–there is another half of the readership that is offended.

This was a pretty stark example to me of “why” we should not ever have politics on the site, including my own. It was my only violation in over two years since we began the rule, although the readers have certainly broke the rule hundreds of times in the past that were deleted.

We are returning to the rules today as stated and implemented in the past, and I promise to follow them too.

The month of June has left me with an un-easy vibe about the nation, and my sense is with an election coming up–it will get worse no matter who is elected. Pondering all this has reinforced the need to have a GREEN REFUGE where we can escape the realities of life, the horrors of the past and be in a safe space for a little bit of the day.

We return to permanently pondering Our Beloved Ducks.

Mr. FishDuck

Autzen Experience_Kevin Cline.jpg
Jon Sousa

Sorry you suffered with the Emails. I didn’t think it was a blatant violation of the rule. The article did talk about political history in Oregon, but no current political decisions, personalities or parties were ever mentioned – in the article or in the comments. The decision to rename the CW was not made by politicians; it was made by the two schools involved. While the decision was made in the environment of the current political upheaval, that upheaval was hardly mentioned.

What the article did do is give us vital background information that no doubt affected the decision to change the name… and THAT is relevant to discussing Ducks sports, because what we call the sports series between the two in-state rivals is/has been important to the fan base.

I appreciated the article and have shared a lot of its information with my family. So, thank you, Charles, for sticking your neck out there once again. And, once again, Sorry that you suffered some attacks.

Quackanadian

I agree here Jon. Giving and sharing information that is real should be shared. Too bad the current “older than 40” crown world wide (yes, this isn’t just an Oregon or an American problem) is too afraid to speak anything that may be taken as offside by any righteous retro-shaming younger types. People need to know their history, if not more importantly to be certain to not repeat it – see modern day Germany.

Cheers and Go Ducks!

Jon Joseph

Thanks brother.

NJDuck

Yes, I agree. Was not aware of Oregon’s political history either. It surprised me.

Last edited 2 months ago by NJDuck
Jon Joseph

Good call Coach.

David’s article was very good and pointed out historic facts every Oregon fan should know. But no writer on this site can adequately cover the topic in the space allotted.

Let us focus on the football and nothing ancillary.

BTW, did you hear the one about the …?

Jon Joseph

Thanks Jordan, I believe Penei was awarded his trophy prior to 1/1/20?

Every year the Rose Bowl is not in the playoff rota, expect it to be the top ‘exhibition game’ in the post season. Even when it features teams with a combined 5 defeats.

It would be fascinating to gauge how much the Rose Bowl W had to do with the 2021 recruits preliminary decision to play for the Ducks? Was this late 1 point victory over the 3rd best team in the B1G the deciding factor and not Mario’s relentless pursuit of talent? If the Ohio State game is played, I think the outcome of this game will likely have more impact on whether a recruit signs on with Oregon. Same for the entire 2020 season compared to win on January 1st.

Take in an L in the Rose Bowl, no way Mario’s seat is warm, let alone hot.

It was a very good win in the progression toward making the final 4 and then competing for a title and then hopefully winning a title. But I would hope the coaching staff took more from the L at ASU than from the RB victory.

Today, you cannot lose games that should be easily won and play in the Rose Bowl; at least, when it truly matters.

Jordan Ingram

Ah yes, thanks for the clarification, Jon re: Outland Trophy. I agree Cristobal’s seat doesn’t even begin to get warm but would fans start rumbling about not being able to win big games? I don’t know but I suspect Oregon is pretty invested in Cristobal after winning the conference championship, Rose Bowl victory or not.

Jon Sousa

Jon, you know a lot more about football than I do, so I always feel like I’m opening up myself to be embarrassed whenever I question your wisdom. That said, why do keep saying that Wisconsin is the third best team in the BIG? OSU was the best team, and then there were 3 teams that had a 7-2 record in conference. Penn State lost to Minnesota which lost to Wisconsin, and those are the top 3 after tOSU. You mentioned there were three losses, but two of them were to the best team in the conference, the second one in the championship game. Minnesota didn’t have the opportunity to lose to tOSU even once, and Wisconsin beat them by 3 touchdowns. Normally the best team in the BIG goes to the Rose Bowl, but since they went to the playoffs, the second best team goes to the Rose Bowl. All the big boys that make the decision decided that Wisconsin was the second best team in the conference over Penn and Minn. In the final AP standings, Minnesota was one spot ahead of Wisconsin because of the Wisconsin bowl loss and Minnesota’s bowl win. Would Minnesota have beaten the Ducks if they switched places?

The reason I bring this up is that you are continually diminishing the value of the Rose Bowl win, a game that the vast majority of football fans across the nation watched. It is a lot more than an exhibition game.

Who got more buzz during the week after the Rose Bowl? The Ducks or Oklahoma? Who ended up higher in the standings?

Jon Joseph

Penn State with 2Ls was ranked higher in the final committee bowl, won the Cotton Bowl and finished higher in the final AP Poll than did Wisconsin. In fairness, PSU did not have to play tOSU, twice. On the other hand, PSU did not lose to Illinois.

I think the B1G, if it is close, will always prefer to send its B1G W champ over a B1G E runner-up.

BigDucksFan

Is a Rosebowl win more valuable than a National playoff loss ?? I keep asking this question as I’m having trouble deciding. I sapose who you play in each has a factor on the answer, or viewpoint.

Jordan Ingram

I’ve been asking myself the same question, BDF. When we lost to Ohio State with Mariota, it almost seemed like we got punished more in the national media for losing. Although, we got beat fair and square by a pretty great Buckeyes team that year. Still, it almost felt worse to go to the big dance and lose. This Rose Bowl win feels special this time. Maybe it’s because of a couple of hard years with Helfrich and then Taggart and seemingly no direction for the program.

Mike West

That’s a tough question to answer. I like the RB win, but I wanted to see how far we have come against the elite.

How long would it take us in a game to adjust to an elite level of intensity and talent level?

It’s one of the reasons I am glad we actually scheduled Ohio State and Georgia. The Auburn loss stung. But the guys Knew they belonged. Now they know they can step it up in a tight game against very tough opponents.

Step by step. Was that the plan? Let’s hope so.

Jon Sousa

I have no clue which is more valuable. Like 30Duck indicates below, it depends on a lot of circumstances and nuances. I was just rebelling a bit at the intimation that the Rose Bowl was a meaningless sideshow — an exhibition game against the “third best team” in the B1G.

Jon Joseph

I do know that making the final 4 = close to a month long recruiting infomercial.

30Duck

I think the reason the answer is proving to be elusive is because it’s not binary. You can go with it always being better to play in the championship. But I feel it’s more nuanced than that. It’s certainly difficult to say that the Rose Bowl win didn’t help the Ducks: recruiting, reloading their brand.

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading, 30Duck! It’s definitely a complicated question with a lot of emotions mixed in as well. I was thinking about the national championship game against OSU where we got whooped by OSU, and asking myself, was that good for the program? Better than a win in the Rose Bowl? Maybe not the best comparison but I felt like losing to the Buckeyes was almost worse. I don’t know haha I could wring my hands all month about this stuff! Go Ducks!

BigDucksFan

To go along with your statement Today, you cannot lose games that should be easily won and play in the Rose Bowl” you can add “you can’t play down to your competition” and also “you have to dominate in those games you should”.

Jon Joseph

Sorry, I meant again to thank you for these observations.

Jordan Ingram

No worries! I appreciate your insight. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts about our beloved Ducks!

Haywarduck

I think it is accurate to point out one single player on offense won that game. The defense wasn’t going to give the game away and dominated to give Oregon the chance to win. It was Herbert who wouldn’t be denied with repeated clutch plays throughout the game.

On the play in question Herbert definitely showed what he is made of. From the reading of the play all the way to the execution he put the team on his back. One item to notice is after the play he had been fouled and he jumped up to react. His reaction wasn’t to retaliate, but to control his team and keep the momentum. These little things are what made Justin special.

Two third down plays were also clutch. The pass to Juwan was bold and Justin put it right on the money. There was also a third down play where he hit Pittman, with a soft touch, that also led to a gutsy 1st down. Justin wasn’t going to be denied the whole game.

We all wanted Justin to live up to expectations we had since his freshman year. He did build each year and became the leader we all knew he would become in that beautiful Rose Bowl game.

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful response. I agree the game showed Herbert’s true colors as a leader, future hall of famer, and a NFL caliber quarterback. So much fun to see our hometown guy have the game of his life after a couple really hard years.

Charles Fischer

Well…there are plays that go the other way. I was quite worried at the time at whether the drop by the tight end late in the 4th quarter on a key third down, (and being wide open) would be “the” play of the game.

Thankfully it was not.

David Marsh

Outside of a single play it feel that Oregon’s new culture under MC won that game. Yes… Allowing Herbert to run the ball was gigantic and wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t run it…

But Oregon took on a big10 heavyweight that wants to just pound their opponents in submission… And then kept their leading rusher under 100 yards??? That is some determination right there to match the physicality.

Then winning by one point is just sure grit.

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading, David! Agree with you on the grit and resolve demonstrated by those players to limit a tough Wisconsin run game and force some game changing turnovers. And then to capitalize on those turnovers? That’s just good football.

30Duck

Yours are the same feelings I had after the game. I simply couldn’t believe that the Ducks would lose. The TOP, 39 to 21, harkened back to the Chip years. But of course Oregon’s play was a 180 from those games. The win was the by- product of the 3 elements, offense, defense & special teams all stepping up. Against Auburn & ASU they didn’t.
The culture that MC has built is going to sustain and become even stronger as it is being built from a foundation. Yes, WT did break the glass ceiling over recruiting to Oregon. But Cristobal and his staff have taken it to even a higher level and it looks to be the new normal. The rest of the conference hated it when Chip’s teams raced them off the field; they countered by calling it gimmicky and that Oregon was a finesse team, Neither will fly this time.

Jordan Ingram

Well said, 30 Duck!!

Santa Rosa Duck

What a game! Thanks Jordan, I was hoping Herbert would take this game under control and was expecting it through the air but he was unleashed and look at the result.

For Jon Joseph, this new take on CFB conference realignment shows up in my Google Feed. Ignore the fact that it came from a Huskie blog.
https://www.si.com/college/washington/football/a-post-pandemic-realignment-made-for-college-football

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading, SRDuck!

Duck82

Jordan, great article that got me thinking about another play. A non-call in the Pac-12 championship is my candidate for the most important play of the season. Late in the first quarter or early in the second quarter Brady Breeze appeared to target Hundley and a flag was thrown. After review the flag was picked up and the game proceeded. First, I almost had a heart attack. Since 1978 when I became a diehard Duck fan it has been rare to see the Ducks treated so well by the officials. Second, think about Brady’s impact on the rest of that game and in the Rose Bowl. If the call had stood he would have missed the rest of the Pac-12 championship and the first half of the Rose Bowl. Just one player and we all know how well the entire defense played but his impact in both games is hard to deny.

Jordan Ingram

Thanks for reading, Duck82! I almost keeled over after Breeze was flagged for a potential targeting call. Haha Wow! And he went on to have an incredible game. You’re absolutely right. That’s one play that could have changed the outcome of that game, 100%.

Duck82

I should have said rare to see the Ducks treated so well by the officials, except for the Oklahoma game at Autzen!