PASADENA, Calif. — The Granddaddy of Them All lived up to its billing. Again.
No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 6 Oregon staged yet another thrilling back-and-forth in the 106th Rose Bowl to ring in the new year in style as the Ducks emerged with an improbable 28-27 victory on a picture perfect afternoon turned evening under the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Rather fittingly, it was a pair of Oregonians who proved critical to securing the win. Eugene native Justin Herbert closed his career out in storybook fashion, capping off a campaign with a Pac-12 championship and a rose held high in the air after a memorable final start. Though the future NFL draft pick was far from his sharpest throwing the ball (14-of-20, 138 yards, 1 INT), it was the lanky signal-caller’s legs that proved to be the difference in the game as he surprisingly rushed for 29 yards and a trio of memorable touchdowns off the edge.
While he didn’t grow up next to Autzen Stadium like Herbert, fellow in-stater Brady Breeze likewise had an oversized impact on the final result. The safety was all over the field and found the end zone himself, taking advantage of a fumbled punt snap by one-handing the ball off the turf and returning it 31 yards to the house in the third quarter. He also forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that setup up the QB’s go-ahead scamper.
The duo’s MVP-caliber performances helped make up for a fairly mediocre effort overall for the Ducks offense. They took just three snaps in the third quarter (thanks in part to Breeze’s score) and were held to just 204 yards of total offense by the Badgers’ swarming unit on the other side.
Wisconsin will look back on this and marvel that they came up just short on the scoreboard — for a fourth straight Rose Bowl — as a result of that. They can only blame themselves however (though fans may have a bone to pick with the officiating) as they committed nine penalties in the game and turned the ball over four times. QB Jack Coan tossed one of those off an interception but was otherwise solid in throwing for 186 yards and a touchdown against a pretty stout group across the line.
Tailback Jonathan Taylor likely ended his time in Madison in disappointing fashion, as the junior wound up rushing for just 94 yards. Though he topped 2,000 yards for the second straight year, he also contributed a key fumble and failed to find the end zone on one of the sport’s biggest stages. His struggles as part of a ground game that was limited (3.7 yards per carry) were only part of the story for the Badgers on Wednesday evening but a familiar one in many of their four losses on the year.
While the disappointment was palpable for those in red, the elation after the clock hit zeros were very apparent on the joyous celebration on the Oregon sidelines. The senior class had been through three different head coaches before finally settling on Mario Cristobal, who concludes his second season with a conference title and a Rose Bowl. It’s hard to script things any better than that, especially for some of the locals on the roster who powered the program back to the top amid the green and yellow confetti falling at the home of college football’s most memorable venue.