Oregon "Legs" Out A 28-27 Rose Bowl Victory Over Wisconsin

Chris Dufresne

PASADENA, Ca.—The 106th Rose Bowl, as if preordained by writ or court order, did not disappoint. It started sun-sparkled at 66-degrees and ended emotionally with a victory kneel-down near the South end-zone. The baking-ingredient ratio was two-parts drama mixed with one-part kitchen sink.

Final sunset, shining purple off the Seco, ultimately turned green.

It was a jolly good show with jolly good side shows. I’ve never witnessed a Rose Bowl that involved a 95-yard kickoff return by one team followed the other team taking the lead on a scoop-and-score, off a botched punt, by a man named Brady (Breeze).

I’ve never seen a Rose Bowl potentially decided on an offensive interference call, on the same field where a half-naked streaker had earlier been tackled, cuffed and hauled off by five, 10 or 15 of Pasadena’s finest.

The most unusual site of all, though, had to be Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert leading the Ducks…with his legs.

Oregon basically defeated Wisconsin, 28-27, on a 30-yard touchdown RUN by Herbert with 7:41 left.

It was the third of three rushing touchdowns recorded by a prized prospect who will be drafted by the NFL, probably in the first round, maybe by the L.A. Chargers at No. 6, primarily for the future and unconditional use of his throwing arm.

Yet, Herbert was unleashed on Wisconsin like some secret-weapon hatched out of a silo in New Mexico. He had as many rushing touchdowns in Wednesday’s game as he had amassed in his last two regular seasons at Oregon.

Herbert entered the Rose Bowl averaging 0.4 yards per carry, this season, on 49 total carries.

Make no mistake, Herbert is an athletic guy, at 6-foot-6, who maybe should have run more this year for the Ducks. This incarnation of Oregon football, however, led by offensive lineman-turned-coach Mario Cristobal, has taken a much more conventional approach to the position than say, Chip Kelly, with Marcus Mariota.

The thing was: Oregon needed every angular inch of Herbert’s collective talents to shoe-horn yards through a Wisconsin defense that was making ordinary life very difficult.

The Badgers kept Herbert the passer in check by holding him to 138 total yards. He completed only 14 of 20 passes and was sacked twice. Wisconsin also clogged the lanes and limited the Ducks to 66 rushing yards with a (below) average of 2.2 yards per carry.

Oregon’s 204 total yards were the fewest by a team (win or lose) in 41 years!

Run, Justin, Run.

“Crazy Legs” Herbert had scoring jaunts of four, five and 30 yards—of course the last one is the one that will go down in lore.

It came as things turned better after things looked bleak. Wisconsin was sitting on a 27-21 lead, looking to salt it away, when the Badgers fumbled with 7:51 left.

You talk about getting a lifeline. Herbert dropped back on first down and then took off 30 yards straight to the same corner of the Rose Bowl where Texas quarterback Vince Young salted USC away in the 2006 national title game.

No one, including Wisconsin, could have seen Herbert coming.

“Realistically, no,” he admitted afterward.

It was quite a capstone for a kid from Eugene who has now led his home-town team to the Pac 12 and Rose Bowl championship.

“I wish it wasn’t over,” Herbert said.

Wisconsin will look back and reflect on a game it would have won (probably) if not for four turnovers.

"We didn't overcome ourselves," Coach Paul Chryst aptly remarked.

It's hard to win when your punter drops a ball somewhere between his hands and his foot and leaves the ball sitting on the ground for Oregon's Brady Breeze to pick up, with one hand, and run 31 yards to the end zone.

Oregon, as a newborn national power, scours the nation for top recruits, yet this year's Rose Bowl heroes were homegrown. Herbert is from Eugene while Breeze hails from Lake Oswego. They were the game's offensive and defensive most valuable players.

Breeze, as if scoring a touchdown in the Rose Bowl wasn't enough, also forced the fumble that led to the Herbert's game-winning scoring run.

"God has answered all my prayers as a kid," Breeze said. "All I wanted to do was play for Oregon."

You could say things could have only turned out better for Oregon had the Ducks not lost close games to Auburn or Arizona State.

A win in either game would have likely put Oregon in the College Football Playoff.

Ok, though, let’s rethink this.

Oregon would have drawn the No. 4 seed and played LSU.

The school that “took” Oregon’s spot was Oklahoma, which LSU crushed by the final score of 63-28.

There is no doubt, upon further review, that Oregon would have put up a better fight against LSU than Oklahoma did.

But there is no way Oregon would have won that game—no way.

So, really, this was just about the best way this Oregon season could have ended.

The Ducks won the Rose Bowl and finished the year at 12-2. They helped salvage a 4-3 bowl finish for the Pac 12 and will keep West Coast jokes to a minimum after Utah’s blowout loss to Texas in the Alamo.

Oregon will finish the 2019 season somewhere near the top-five while giving the Pac 12 something positive to talk about in the off-season.

Cristobal called Wednesday “the most incredible possible outcome for the guys,” and he wasn’t wrong.

As Cristobal also said "things can have a funny way of working out."

He wasn't wrong there either.

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Chris Dufresne

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