COLUMBUS, Ohio — Saturday was a rollercoaster for Oregon fans.
As the day began, worst nightmares and once dismissible injury rumors came true. But, to the amusement of the small, yet mighty, patch of visiting fans, the Ducks, battered as they were, struck first.
Oregon traded blows with Ohio State until the final bell. When the Ducks needed a clutch play, it came. When the Buckeyes found the endzone, the Ducks responded swiftly.
The No. 12 Oregon Ducks defeated the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes 35-28 on Saturday in Columbus.
The Buckeyes hadn’t lost in the Horseshoe — the famed Ohio Stadium — since 2017. For the Ducks to leave victorious was a tall order, let alone without Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Flowe.
“Not having Flowe and not having KT, I mean it’s a big blow,” Oregon safety Verone McKinley III said. “In football, you have to be ready for whatever. It’s a next man up mentality, so we knew that everybody was going to be prepared for this game and that we were going to rotate guys and everybody just needed to be ready to play.”
The 100,000 in attendance roared louder than ever, creating an electrical current that channeled all the way around the stadium. But Oregon’s Anthony Brown appeared unfazed.
Brown led the offense to a tee on Saturday, passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns while adding 65 yards on the ground.
“[Brown] is such a good player,” Oregon running back Travis Dye said. “His heart is ridiculous, it’s what we needed. He stepped up hugely, especially in this game and last game.”
Oregon moved the ball decisively, mixing the run game and air raid in a coalescing, complete iteration of its offensive capabilities. The offense marched up the field, driving the ball up the middle with a series of running plays and quarterback sneaks.
“We established the ground game and kept it going throughout the game,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “Even some of those muddy yards that are three and four-yard shots — those are like body blows.”
Senior running back CJ Verdell did the honors with a 14-yard touchdown, giving Oregon the lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
“We came out shot out of a cannon, just ready to go, trying to throw the first punch and keep throwing them,” Oregon center Alex Forsyth said. “That’s just what we did today.”
The Ohio State sideline looked somewhere between stunned and poised to make a comeback — like a fighter punched in the mouth, dripping blood yet nowhere near a collapse, waiting to strike back.
Oregon’s red zone defense soon showed its first vulnerability of the day, making way for an all-too-easy, wide open 27-yard touchdown to Garrett Wilson that locked the game at seven a piece.
Wilson and Chris Olave — two of the nation’s top receivers — combined for 243 receiving yards on Saturday.
Looking to counter, the Ducks faced fourth and inches on the Ohio State 14-yard line. In eerily similar fashion to the first score, Brown hesitated, head faked the Buckeyes front before he pitched to Verdell, who added yet another 14-yard touchdown.
It appeared Oregon was doing all it needed to do through the first half.
In the opening drive of the third quarter, CJ Verdell drove through the A-gap on second down before burning 77 yards down the field and enhancing the score to 21-7 Oregon.
Verdell led the Ducks in rushing, with 161 yards on the day, but he pointed to the team for his success in Columbus.
“It was nothing individually,” Verdell said. “We came in here as a team. All week we’ve been focused. We knew this was a good opportunity for us to show what we can do out there on the big stage.”
As the crowd went silent in the third, the prize-fighting Ohio State Buckeye stood upright. Scarred, stunned and bruised but not yet buckled.
Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud abandoned the all-but-failed running game and defaulted to his receivers, finding slot receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba in the endzone to stay within reach of the Ducks.
By the end of it, Smith-Njigba added 145 yards to a whopping 484-yard passing total.
But, as had been the trend throughout, the Ducks once again kept the Buckeyes at bay, adding yet another touchdown of their own via a five-yard rush from Dye that brought the Ducks to a 28-14 lead.
The Oregon offense mustered 505 total yards on Saturday, more than half of which came from the ground.
But nothing is more dangerous than a desperate opponent.
Ohio State was relentless, bringing the game within a score once again through a voracious air attack.
The shoe’s crowd noise seemed to backfire, as to motivate a tired Oregon squad into delivering its final strike.
Bradyn Swinson beat around the edge of the Ohio State offensive line before tallying the first sack of the game.
On the next play, the big blow finally came.
Stroud, under duress, took toward the sideline before hurling a last chance throw over the head of his open man and into the waiting arms of McKinley.