It's a very real win for Oregon over Oregon State as the Ducks punch their tickets for Vegas
It was a special day for Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown Jr. and coach Mario Cristobal, who both found their own moments in the 125th meeting between the two teams.
EUGENE — There was fighting near the end.
Helmets were ripped off, a few half-hearted punches were thrown and the Oregon student section responded accordingly with a four-letter chorus that only grew stronger as the seconds ticked off.
Oregon would win 38-29 over Oregon State. It was a win that clinched the Pac-12 North, that booked Oregon’s ticket to the Pac-12 title game and reasserted dominance over an in-state rival who had reached bowl-eligibility for the first time in eight years. Washington State ended Oregon State’s conference-title hopes Friday night. Saturday, the Ducks doused the Beavers’ heat check to avenge OSU’s 2020 win in Corvallis.
The aggression was understandable.
“It’s tough losing like that for a team in that situation,” Oregon safety Verone McKinley III said. “Frustration, I’m sure. But who cares? We’re on to the next week.”
Next week for the Ducks is a rematch with Utah in the Pac-12 title game, the team that ended Oregon’s College Football Playoff chances in embarrassment a week ago in Salt Lake City. It was one of the worst losses of Mario Cristobal’s Oregon career. It was also the game that served as catalyst for Oregon’s redemption.
“It was a rough plane ride back last week,” Cristobal said. “And when you go through something like that, you have to look in the mirror. You have to dig deep and regroup quickly.”
In the first UO/OSU game featuring two teams with winning records since 2013, the Ducks scored on their first four drives to build a 24-3 cushion that withstood key defensive injuries to linebacker Noah Sewell and cornerback Mykael Wright. Travis Dye rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the 26th player in Oregon history to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season. Devon Williams posted the first 100-yard receiving game of Oregon’s year. Kris Hutson caught a pair of touchdown passes.
And Anthony Brown Jr. played one of the best games of his career.
The quarterback went 23-of-28 for 275 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 83 yards and a score on the ground. He appeared with his mom and dad in Oregon’s pre-game senior celebration, a day after penning a note to fans saying his often-criticized season didn’t exactly go as he had dreamed.
“I will say, the road that I had here in Oregon wasn’t the smoothest path, which is fine,” Brown said after the win. “But like I also said, I wouldn’t change it because it also led me to this point. It made me a better person. It made me a better teammate and made me a better friend to others.
“And just today with senior day, it was special going out the way I did — especially against Oregon State at home.”
In a year where Brown’s been booed more than any Oregon player in years, he ended his Autzen Stadium career with a 6-0 record. Next week, the former Boston College QB will start in the postseason for the first time.
“Coach Cristobal has kept me from a lot of things,” Brown reflected. “Leaving. Being down on myself and just a lot of things. I appreciate him for that. He’s a big part of why I’m still going on right now.”
Cristobal is just about done with his fourth season at Oregon, a span that’s unquestionably been one of the most successful in program history. Despite last week’s disappointment, the Ducks will be playing for their third conference title in as many years. A return trip to the Rose Bowl is still a very real possibility, and Oregon’s current top-10 recruiting class for 2022 only keeps the window for success wide open.
Because of that, Cristobal’s name has appeared a lot lately for different jobs. Miami is open. USC is open. So too are LSU and Florida. Two weeks ago, Mel Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million extension with Michigan State. Even though it’s been nine years since Chip Kelly left for the NFL and four years since Willie Taggart ditched for Tallahassee, there’s still a faction of the Oregon fanbase that’s mentally preparing to be deserted.
Miami’s his home, they’ll argue. It’s his alma mater, where he won a national championship and started his coaching career as a graduate assistant. And while most Oregon fans will celebrate deep into this November night, Cristobal said he’ll be taking a redeye to Florida.
“I have to very quickly hop on a plane and see my mom,” he said. “Keep her in your prayers. She got sick pretty quickly.”
He’ll be back around 4 p.m. Sunday.
Cristobal talks about family a lot, but not often his direct family. The football version is what the Ducks preach on the recruiting trail. They’ve brought in kids from all corners of the country and made them feel at home in this upper-left corner of the U.S. with team paintball outings, hiking trips, dinners at coaches’ houses and a whole lot of winning.
“We’re just really real about things,” he’ll often say.
And while he still had his team to break down and a press conference to attend and then a plane to catch, Cristobal had a very real moment in the minutes after the win. He had beaten his rival. He had advanced to another conference championship game. And all he really wanted to do was throw the ball around with his boys.
He grabbed one out of the west end zone and started barking out instructions. The former offensive lineman threw a couple fades, then extended his sons out for 25-yard bombs that softly fell into their outstretched arms. Around them, players continued on with their celebrations before filing out of the tunnel. Cristobal and his boys lingered.
“You want to enjoy it with everybody, but the boys — the family hadn’t had a chance to be on the field all year,” he said. “You don’t get to see them much, so I really appreciate the opportunity to just go throw a couple deep passes out there at Autzen.”
— Tyson Alger