A new decade began in the annals of the Rose Bowl Game on Wednesday night, and if the old-school, defensive brouhaha staged in Pasadena between Oregon and Wisconsin was any indication, the New Year’s Day tradition of a must-see regional battle should live on into the 2020s.
In front of 90,462 fans, Oregon stole the 106th “Granddaddy of Them All” from Wisconsin, turning three Badgers turnovers into three touchdowns in a 28-27 victory for the Pac-12 champion Ducks, who will finish the season 12-2 and top-five in the final polls.
Opportunistic Oregon hardly touched the ball in the second half, but when the No. 6 Ducks got their hands on it, they made it count.
In the third quarter, trailing 17-14, Oregon’s Brady Breeze palmed a muffed Wisconsin punt snap and took it into the end zone for six. In the fourth quarter, down 27-21, Breeze forced a fumble by Wisconsin’s Danny Davis that was recovered by Oregon’s Bryson Young. Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert promptly faked a handoff and darted 30 yards for his third rushing touchdown of the game.
Herbert, the senior from Eugene, didn’t have a passing day that will impress NFL scouts, completing 14 of 20 passes for 138 yards and an interception. Regardless, the hometown kid made enough plays to lift the Pac-12 to its first New Year’s Six bowl win since USC beat Penn State 52-49 in the 2017 Rose Bowl.
Other than the uncharacteristic four turnovers, Wisconsin played the game exactly according to the usual script of the Big Ten West champions. They controlled the clock for 38 minutes behind 94 tough yards from Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor and the efficient passing of sophomore quarterback Jack Coan, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.
No. 8 Wisconsin, 10-4, had 322 yards to Oregon’s 204.
In the first half, if it weren’t for the speed and savvy of kickoff returner Aron Cruickshank, the Badgers may not have gotten out to their 17-14 lead.
Cruickshank, a sophomore receiver from Brooklyn, N.Y., of all places, answered Oregon’s touchdown on the opening drive with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first in the Rose Bowl since 2003 and just the third all-time.
At the end of the first half, after the Ducks retook the lead 14-10 on Herbert’s second rushing score, Cruickshank returned the kickoff 47 yards, streaking down the right sideline. Wisconsin cashed in with 11 seconds left in the half on an 11-yard pass from Coan to Quintez Cephus.