Mario Cristobal calls his team resilient, always pushing, putting pressure on its opponent, and that was no more evident as Oregon came up with some big plays down the stretch to hold on and hand Wisconsin a 28-27 loss in the 106th Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day in front of a crowd of 90,462.
The Ducks controlled the ball and clock, securing the victory on its final drive, picking up key first downs, watching the Badgers use all their time outs, to finally secure the victory.
“I’m incredibly proud of this football team,”said Cristobal.“They’re resilient and continue to just press on, move forward and ended up, not only Pac-12 champions but Rose Bowl champions.”
The Oregon coach paid tribute to Wisconsin, saying: “They are tough, physical, well coached. I have all the respect in the world for them. Our guys knew this was going to be a 15 round fight and rounds 10 through 15 usually decide which heavyweight walks away with the hardware. Our guys found a way to keep swinging, throw one more punch. It’s a testament to what they are, what their DNA is. I really believe these guys are just getting started. We know we have a good football team, and we know we’ve done all the things in regards to becoming physical, disciplined, tough, execute at a high level, with so much room to grow. We’re still getting better and better.”
On the other side, Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst said, “Obviously, I’m disappointed in the outcome. Give Oregon credit. Our guy put it out there. We did some things that made it harder to win. We didn’t overcome that but I appreciate this team a ton. We would have obviously like to finish this one differently.”
The Badgers had three turnovers, nine penalties, and key mistakes on special teams, which proved to be somewhat uncharacteristic of how they played most of the season.
“When you have those things happen in a game, it definitely hurts you,” said Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers’ top running back, who finished the night with 21 carries for 94 yards. “Possibly a slim chance you could win, but definitely put you in a tough position when you have self-inflected penalties, special teams problems, turnovers.
“When you’re playing an elite team like Oregon, a great team like that, they’ll capitalize on those mistakes,” he continued. “I think that was the biggest part on us, is understanding we should have had to clean things up. You can’t expect a win against a team like Oregon with turnovers, penalties, special teams issues. I think that played a factor with everything, not playing clean Wisconsin football.”
With the win, Oregon improved to 12-2 overall, while the Badgers ended their season with a 10-4 mark.
Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert, who finished the night hitting on 14 of 20 for 138 yards, one interception and scoring three times on the ground, was the offensive player of the game while his Duck teammate Brady Breeze, who came up with some big plays, including a 31-yard fumble return for a touchdown, was the defensive player of the game.
Herbert’s counterpart, Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan was 23 for 35 for 186 yards and one interception.
Oregon scored seven points in every quarter for its 28 points while Wisconsin picked up 10 in the first, seven in the second, seven more in the third and three in the fourth, coming up short in this one.
Herbert directed the Ducks on a 12-play, 75-yard opening drive in the first quarter, going the final four yards for a touchdown, giving Oregon an early 7-0 lead at the 9:53 mark.
But the Badgers quickly responded as Aron Cruickshank took the kickoff and raced down the right sideline for 95 yards, pulling the game even at 14 apiece with 9:41 to go in the period. It marked Cruickshank’s second kickoff return of that distance this season.
Wisconsin got the ball right back after Herbert, from his own 25, threw a pass that was picked off by Jack Sanborn. With just over eight minutes in the period, Zach Hintze connected on a 44-yard field goal and with 8:05 gone in the first quarter, the Badgers climbed out to a 10-7 advantage.
After the Ducks effectively moved the ball the first time it had it, Wisconsin forced an interception and back-to-back punts before going on its next scoring drive starting near the end of the first quarter, but it ended when Colin Larsh missed a 47-yard field goal with 10:52 left in the second quarter
With 8:37 left in the second quarter, the Ducks took over at the Wisconsin 36 after a Jonathan Taylor fumble. On fourth and one at the 27, C.J. Verdell went nowhere, Wisconsin taking over on downs as Oregon missed a key opportunity to put points on the board.
The Ducks got the ball back with just under three minutes left in the second quarter after Thomas Graham Jr. picked off a Jack Coan pass at the Wisconsin 33. Three plays later, after only 47 seconds, Herbert ran around the left side for the final five yards of the drive, putting Oregon in front 14-10.
Cruickshank returned the kick off 47 yards, and an interference call against the Ducks put the ball at the Oregon 18, setting up an 11-yard scoring pass from Coan to Quintez Cephus with 11 seconds to go before the half, giving Wisconsin a 17-14 lead. It took Wisconsin eight plays to go 53 yards for the TD.
“It was good to get [the touchdown], but we have to do a better job of playing better football all around,” said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst about the score just before the half. “Two turnovers and some of the penalties are getting us in trouble, but I like the way the guys are playing and competing, and there’s still a lot of football left. You say you want to build off of that, and every point matters, so to be able to get some points there, that’s good. But when you get the ball, you have to do things with it.”
Neither team could break loose on the ground in the first half, Wisconsin rushing for 88 yards while Oregon was held to only 21. In the passing game Herbert was 9 of 14 for 81 yards while Coan was 15 of 18 for 88 yards, each throwing an interception.
A fumbled snap on a Wisconsin punt early in third quarter was picked up by Breeze, who ran it in from the Badgers’ 31, putting Oregon back in front 21-17.
The next time they got the ball, Wisconsin moved it down to the Ducks’ two, setting up a 4th down play, when, after calling a time out, the Badgers’ Mason Stockke carried it over on the right side, giving the lead back to Wisconsin, 24-21. It took the Badgers 11 plays to go 65 yards while eating up nearly seven minutes on the third quarter clock. The big play came when Taylor went 34 yards, dragging three Duck players with him down the right side.
The Badgers increased their lead to 27-21 with 12:09 to go in the fourth quarter after Coan directed a 51-yard drive in 11 plays, consuming 5:53 off the clock, down to the Oregon 17 before settling for a Larsh 27-yard field goal.
An eight-yard loss on third and two at the Wisconsin 40, Herbert getting sacked with just under 10 minutes to go in the game, didn’t help Oregon’s chances, forcing the Ducks to punt. Wisconsin took over from the Oregon four. Taylor busted loose on an 18-yard gain and suddenly the Badgers were rolling, that is until the Ducks recovered a Wisconsin fumble, caused by Breeze, at the Badger 30. One play late, Herbert took off out of the pocket, darting away from trouble, finding the end zone down the right side, galloping 30 yards, and giving Oregon a one point, 28-27 lead with 7:41 remaining in the contest.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” said Herbert of the wide-open space he saw between himself and the end zone. “It’s something I haven’t experience too often. But it was great.”
Oregon held on down the stretch. With time running out on Wisconsin, 4:01 showing on the 4th quarter clock, at their own 26, Coan opened the drive with an pass went incomplete. On second down, Taylor picked up four yards. On third and six from their own 28, Coan completed a pass to Jake Peterson, but an offensive interference penalty against the Badgers made it third and 20 at the 14. His pass was ruled incomplete, and on 4th down Wisconsin punted back to Oregon, where the Ducks started from their own 42 with 2:38 left.
On second down, Herbert hit Mycah Pitman for a 12-yard gain for a first down with 1:26 to go. Verdell picked up six yards with1:13 now on the clock. The ball went back to Verdell for one yard on second down, and after Wisconsin took its final timeout with 1:10 remaining on third and three Herbert connected with Andrew Johnson Jr. for 28 yards, putting the ball at the Badger 9. From there Herbert took a knee knowing the Badgers couldn’t stop the clock and the one-point victory was sealed.
A smiling Cristobal at the end of the night called his Rose Bowl experience in Pasadena a good one, telling the assembled media: “I’d like to thank everyone with the Rose Bowl for doing just an unbelievable job of making us feel at home. The pageantry, the tradition, the enthusiasm, the way this place lit up makes it just the most incredible event.”