Oregon Out-Muscles Ohio State in Stunning Upset Win

By Nick Selbe

As the final seconds ticked away in the young college football season's most impactful result, Oregon players streamed onto the field at Ohio Stadium having pulled off something that, just a week ago, would have seemed nearly impossible. The Ducks did not just beat the Buckeyes, 35–28, in the sold-out Horseshoe. They bullied them, pushing around the Big Ten powerhouse from the opening possession and ushering in a new narrative as the highest-ranked team from the Power Five's least-respected league.

The 2021 campaign is still in its infant stages, but the past two weeks have given the Pac-12 more to thump its chest about than in the previous four years combined.

Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

A look at the box score shows just how much No. 12 Oregon dominated the game in the trenches, following a similar playbook to UCLA's 38-27 win over LSU a week ago. The Ducks more than doubled No. 3 Ohio State's rushing output, averaging 7.1 yards per carry for a 269 to 128 advantage. Oregon consistently gashed the Buckeyes' formidable front seven, ripping off six runs of 10 yards or more—and allowing no sacks. Ohio State, facing a two-touchdown deficit for much of the game, did not have a single run go for more than 10 yards in the second half.

CJ Verdell's 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns led the charge, while Travis Dye added 43 yards and another score. Anthony Brown threw for 238 yards and two touchdowns, adding 65 more yards on the ground with no turnovers.

Oregon was content to allow a trio of Ohio State receivers top the 100-yard mark, and overall the Buckeyes out-gained the Ducks by more than 100 yards. But while Ohio State's stars shined, Oregon—who was without star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and starting linebacker Justin Flowe—used an all-hands-on-deck approach to seize control of the game from the outset. Eleven different Ducks caught a pass from Brown, and seven had at least five tackles. Defensive lineman-turned-tight end DJ Johnson put the finishing touches on the win, hauling in a third-down pass on Oregon's final possession to help run out the clock before notching a sack on the game's final play.

For years under former commissioner Larry Scott, the Pac-12 wore its parity as a badge of honor, and Scott seemed proud of the fact that the conference's top teams had the toughest path to the College Football Playoff—even if that meant the league's eventual champion rarely ever made it that far. Seven years into the CFP era have shown that the conferences that thrive in this format are ones with elite top-end teams that cast long shadows over their conference foes.

Conclusions are not drawn in the middle of September, but wins like Oregon's over Ohio State and UCLA's over LSU are the type of victories needed to overshadow some less than stellar non-conference results—like Washington's loss to Montana or Utah State beating Washington State. If the Pac-12's top-tier teams can deliver in big games, those black marks will read more like overlooked footnotes than punchlines to jokes about how far behind the Pac-12 has lagged behind the rest of the Power Five.

As for Oregon, the Ducks have been the West Coast's headline program for over a decade, and under Mario Cristobal have hung their hat on physicality. Second-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead had an up-and-down debut season in 2020, with inconsistent quarterback play often undoing the Ducks in key moments. Saturday's win over Ohio State was Moorhead's signature game, with Oregon seemingly dialing up the perfect call for each must-have down.

Oregon already entered the season as the favorite to win the Pac-12 North, and the lackluster start from other teams in that division only reaffirmed that assessment. Of course, the Ducks have their sights set on far higher aims, with national title aspirations after winning the Pac-12 each of the past two seasons. Saturday's win serves as proof of concept to the rest of the college football world that, for the first time in years, such an outcome is truly possible.


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