Three weeks ago, Oregon running back CJ Verdell could only sit and watch.
With the ball in his hands, he had a chance to help secure Oregon’s win over then-ranked No. 7 Stanford. Instead of leading the Ducks to victory, Verdell fumbled and then watched — watched from the sideline as the Cardinal scored the game-tying touchdown following the fumble, eventually winning in overtime.
As he walked off the field, his head was slumped and his shoulders sagged. His teammate put their arms around him, whispered in his ears with sorrow faces. It didn’t matter though, he knew he let his team down from the all-important victory that was so badly needed.
“I always say things happen for a reason," wide receiver Dillon Mitchell said. "We were just out there sitting with him (Verdell)… I definitely was just looking at him remembering the Stanford game and how bad it was."
Saturday couldn’t have been more different.
The Ducks were trailing hated rival Washington 27-24 in overtime. The Huskies kicked a field goal in their first possession, meaning Oregon needed a touchdown to win or a field goal to tie. A loss would’ve been devastating, leading to questions about the state of the Oregon program.
Verdell would have none of that.
On third-and-goal from the six, with his 29th carry of the game, Verdell broke an arm tackle and scored, becoming an Oregon-legend in the process.
Oregon 30, Washington 27!
This time when Verdell walked off the field, once again his teammates surrounded him, put their arms around him and whispered in his ears. But gone were those sorrow faces, instead replaced with ones of joy and redemption.
"Very redeeming," Verdell said of his touchdown. "I kind of put that Stanford fumble behind me and went back to work — my guys rallied behind me, they told me it's going to be okay.”
He finished the game with 111 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns, becoming the first running back to rush for more than 100 yards this season against Washington’s vaunted defense.
“I was glad that the coaches put the trust in me to run the ball,” Verdell said. “We executed and I got in — thanks to the O-line, that hole was big."
Even though it’s only been three weeks since that fumble, Verdell has continued to go about his business. His 111 yards against Washington is his third consecutive game with 100+ rushing yards, all coming against talented defenses in Stanford, Cal and Washington.
He now has 531 rushing yards and four scores on the season, putting him within reach of 1,000 yards on the season. Not bad for a player considered a backup entering the season.
In a matter of three weeks, Verdell went from devastator to savior — can’t wait to see what he has in store for the rest of the season.