The Washington Post Sunday

Ducks’ victory over Buckeyes is one for the West and parity



columbus, ohio — College football, a so-called national sport that spent recent years lapsing toward some sort of paritystar­ved coma, spent Saturday afternoon getting a green-and-gold transfusio­n. It looked as if somebody found the old plug on the floor, stuck it back into the socket and lit up both the Pacific Northwest and the whole nascent season.

Implausibl­e scenes followed when No. 12 Oregon represente­d the beleaguere­d football West with a 35-28 upset of No. 3 Ohio State. Oregon players posed merrily around midfield with their cheeky Duck mascot, about a dozen of them lining up in two neat rows with the waterfowl up front. Quarterbac­k Anthony Brown,

such a leader in the din, leaped into two-man celebratio­ns here and there. Oregon players ran to a corner of Ohio Stadium to celebrate with their smallish blob of fans while the vast Ohio State decks emptied out, whereupon an Oregon player mocked, “Where’s all the energy,” and an Oregon staffer said, “It’s quiet!”

Oregon safety Bennett Williams, reaching up to slap hands with a gaggle of Ducks fans hanging from the front row, echoed a fan proclaimin­g, “The Real O!” Whoa, man! Implausibl­e football scenes had preceded all that, and they all involved a team from a Pac-12 that seldom makes the College Football Playoff or any national noise, even a team without injured defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, perhaps the best player in the country.

The Ducks (2-0) conducted scoring drives of fine geometry covering 99, 65, 84, 75 and 74 yards. They mastered the left side of the ruckus at scrimmage, sending backs running alone to the left pylon for touchdown runs of 14 yards by CJ Verdell, 14 yards again by Verdell on a fourth and one and five yards by Travis Dye. They had rushed for 184 yards by the third offensive play of the third quarter, on which Verdell went 77 yards up the gut and then off to the right and off to the end zone. They had thrown passes to 11 receivers, including Brown’s sweet 14-yard touchdown pass to Moliki Matavao off a sweet fake for a 35-21 lead with 10 minutes left, Brown seeming as if he wished maybe the 100,482 mostly hostile fans had been 200,000.

“This is an unbelievab­le venue, right?” fourth-season Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “A historic place. You even get an opportunit­y to play in a place like this, you’re grateful. And to go out there and play the way that we did . . .”

It brought a hilt for Cristobal, that old Miami Hurricane lineman, and for offensive coordinato­r Joe Moorhead, that old Fordham X-and-O whiz and Mississipp­i State castoff. It reduced Ohio State Coach Ryan Day’s record to a maudlin 24-3 with a first regular season loss across three seasons. It brought the first Ohio State home loss since Oklahoma surprised it in 2017 and Baker Mayfield planted that flag in the Buckeyes’ turf. It took three stateof-the-art Ohio State wide receivers — Chris Olave (12 catches for 126 yards), Garrett Wilson (eight for 117) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (seven for 145) — and rendered their numbers moot, even as new quarterbac­k C.J. Stroud threw for 484 yards on an oft-desperate 35 for 54.

It brought Oregon back to an old realm and into a new realm, one week after a shaky opener with Fresno State, of which Cristobal said, “We lost our way.”

It had Brown, who threw for 236 yards and ran for 65 more saying, “Honestly, we know what we’re capable of . . . . I’ve just got to say that we are capable of a lot of things when we’re on point.” The fresh chorus kept coming. Dye: “I loved [the atmosphere]. I think we loved it. We thrive under pressure. That’s where we get our money.”

Safety Verone McKinley III: “We were going to block out the noise and just be Oregon.”

Defensive end Bradyn Swinson, who made a huge late sack: “You dream of this moment every day as a kid.”

Offensive lineman Alex Forsyth: “This is one of the hardest places to play in all of college football. Let’s not sugarcoat it.”

It had Cristobal using the word “magnitude” and saying, after three years of recruiting successes: “I think identity showed up. I think resiliency showed up.” He called it “a testament to process” and “the stuff you [media] kill me for because it’s boring.” He said of Brown’s injuries of the past, “It hardens you, right,” and he said, “Anthony was outstandin­g, and I think Anthony and this football team are just scratching the surface,” and cautioned: “We’re not there yet. I don’t want to toggle that impression and those guys know that too, but we’ve taken massive steps.” He spoke of “multiplici­ty of our tight end use” and “angles and leverage” and then named all the offensive lineman, of whom he said, “They knew that that first collision today was going to be different,” as in bigger.

Yet his team had gone 99 yards late in the first quarter and early in the second to open the scoring. His team had pushed around the bigwigs.

“That’s the ultimate, I would say, accomplish­ment as an offense,” Cristobal said of the 99. “And anytime you can go 99 yards, that one stays on your teach chart forever going forward.”

All the conversati­ons had changed all of a sudden.

College football’s hierarchy and hegemony, which has seen four programs (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State) hog 20 of the 28 playoff spots the past seven years, had gone upturned at least for one fresh day. A week of fresh grumbling began in Columbus, which can grumble with the best of them on those rare occasions, and offers to drive a defensive coordinato­r out of town — gratis! — might be underway. Day said, “We have to get things fixed,” especially after yielding 269 rushing yards that followed upon Minnesota’s 203 in the opener.

Oregon, which had Ohio State in the first playoff title game in January 2015, had gotten some Mariota’s Revenge for that outcome and in the process had lifted the Pac-12 and the American West right along with it. It even made the sport seem downright national.

 ?? GAELEN MORSE/GETTY IMAGES ?? CJ Verdell dashes into the end zone in the first half, helping Oregon seize momentum from Ohio State.
GAELEN MORSE/GETTY IMAGES CJ Verdell dashes into the end zone in the first half, helping Oregon seize momentum from Ohio State.

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