Pac-12: Badgers-Ducks 120102

Video: Oregon's Mark Asper

January, 3, 2012

Oregon offensive lineman Mark Asper talks about a crazy week and finally winning the big one.

Video: Oregon's David Paulson

January, 3, 2012

Oregon tight end David Paulson talks about winning the Rose Bowl.

Video: Oregon's Michael Clay

January, 2, 2012

Oregon linebacker Michael Clay talks about the Ducks' defense finding its rhythm in the second half.

Oregon ends 95 years of frustration

January, 2, 2012
Lavasier Tuinei, Darron ThomasGary A. Vasquez/US PresswireOffensive MVP Lavsier Tuinei, left, QB Darron Thomas and the Ducks are Rose Bowl champions.

PASADENA, Calif. -- It takes a lot for a football program to tear up 95 years of frustration and cast it into the trash. It takes spectacular plays, smart plays, clutch plays, unexpected plays and opportunistic plays. It takes stars, supporting players and players you don't see coming.

It's easy to roll one's eyes when players and coaches talk about a "total team effort," but Oregon's 45-38 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin inspired no such eye-rolling, in large part because averted eyes might have missed a big moment.

Take Lavasier Tuinei. The Ducks senior receiver didn't have a 100-yard receiving game all season. Eight times, he caught three or fewer passes. But his season-high eight receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns earned him Offensive MVP honors.

Who had Tuinei in their Offensive MVP pool?

"For a senior, sometimes you get those moments, and he had a signature moment," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said.

Said Tuinei: "For the last week I've been here, I've been having dreams of making plays for this team and helping us win. What do you know: It came true."

Then take linebacker Kiko Alonso. Repeated instances of off-field trouble nearly cost him his career. He was suspended for the opener against LSU. But he earned Defensive MVP honors with 1.5 sacks, five tackles and a critical interception late in the third quarter.

Who had Alonso it their Defensive MVP pool?

"It is special how far Kiko has come," Kelly said.

Oh, the usual suspects showed up, too. Running back LaMichael James rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown, which propelled him to No. 2 all-time on the Pac-12's career rushing list -- 13th in NCAA history -- with 5,082 yards. QB Darron Thomas threw three TD passes to give him 33 for the season, an Oregon record. Super-fast guy freshman De'Anthony Thomas had just two carries, but they became touchdown runs of 91 and 64 yards, thereby averaging a 77.5 per tote.

And let's not forget an offensive line that carved up the Wisconsin defensive front for 345 yards rushing -- 8.6 yards per carry.

But wait: We have more. Safety John Boyett tied a Rose Bowl record with 17 tackles, including 12 solo. Punter Jackson Rice averaged 46 yards on three punts. Freshman cornerback Terrance Mitchell forced a critical fumble with four minutes left that was recovered by linebacker Michael Clay, who had 13 tackles, including two for a loss.

Getting the idea?

"When they had to make a play, they made it," Kelly said. "So many guys contributed to it, and it's truly a total-team win. We're just proud we can say we are Rose Bowl champions."

Rose Bowl champions: Oregon fans know that is not merely a statement of the glorious moment either. It's a statement that ripples through a program whose history isn't terribly impressive until Kenny Wheaton went the other way against Washington during an unlikely Rose Bowl run in 1994.

Yet, as the Ducks started to pile up winning seasons over the past two decades or so, built their program into respectability and, eventually, eclipsed the hated Huskies, there was always that potent tweak: "Yeah, yeah. How many Rose Bowls have you won?" The most effective bit of trash talk that could diminish the Oregon program -- and Kelly's superb tenure -- died in this thriller of a game. A third consecutive conference title didn't advance the program in a meaningful way without this as a confetti-covered capper.

Oregon can't win the big one? Oregon can't beat a top-10 nonconference foe? Oregon's offense gets solved by a highly-rated defense if it gets extra time to prepare?

"It feels good to not have to answer that question any more," said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, whose offense gained 621 yards against a defense that was yielding just 293 per game.

All those tweaks and all the sometimes not-unreasonable criticism is wiped away because so many players showed up and did their jobs well.

"I think this kind of validates what we stand for," Kelly said. "This team is fearless. They're resilient. And they've got faith... They really stick together and believe in the guy to the right of them and to the left of them because they see what they do every day in practice."

And the run isn't over. The Ducks, even if James enters the NFL draft, as expected, will welcome back 32 of the 44 players on their two-deep depth chart, including both Thomases, Alonso, Clay, Mitchell and Boyett. They very likely will begin the 2012 season ranked in -- or at least very near -- the nation's top 5.

So, yeah, this team might be in Miami next January instead of returning to the Rose Bowl, though USC might have something to say about that.

But the present moment, the one that ripples backwards through 95 years in which scattered glory and success fell just short of ultimate satisfaction, is what Oregon is about right now. It should be savored. It should last until next preseason.

And Ducks fans surely should gloat that the rest of the Pac-12 just lost its best bit of trash talking.

Video: Oregon's Lavasier Tuinei

January, 2, 2012

Oregon receiver Lavasier Tuinei, the Rose Bowl MVP, talks about his big game.

Video: Oregon's Terrell Turner

January, 2, 2012

Oregon defensive end Terrell Turner talks about hanging in against a tough Wisconsin offense.

Video: Oregon's Mark Helfrich

January, 2, 2012

Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich talks about 45 points and 621 yards for the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.

Video: Breaking down Oregon's win

January, 2, 2012
PM ET's Brian Bennett, Ted Miller and Gene Wojciechowski break down Oregon's win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Video: Oregon's LaMichael James

January, 2, 2012

Oregon running back LaMichael James talks about the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory.

Video: Oregon Rose Bowl wrap

January, 2, 2012

Gene Wojciechowski and Ted Miller wrap up Oregon's win in the Rose Bowl.

PASADENA, Calif. -- Instant analysis from Rose Bowl Stadium where No. 5 Oregon defeated No. 10 Wisconsin 45-38:

How the game was won: Both teams traded scores and major momentum swings. But Oregon had just a little too much speed at its skill positions for Wisconsin's defense to match. As the Badgers slowed down with just 10 points in the second half, the Ducks were able to eke out a close victory thanks to a couple of key turnovers. Everyone thought this could be a shootout, and we weren't disappointed by one of the most entertaining Rose Bowls ever. Oregon just had a little bit more explosiveness.

Turning point: Wisconsin had the ball with a chance to tie the score, and Russell Wilson completed a 29-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis inside the Oregon 30. But Terrance Mitchell knocked the ball free near the sideline, and the Ducks recovered with 4:04 left. Even though Oregon's quick-strike offense isn't built to bleed the clock, the Ducks picked up a couple of first downs to leave Wisconsin with less than a minute to drive the field. The Badgers had two big second-half turnovers, including Wilson's interception near the end of the third quarter, just his fourth of the season. That was enough in a game where stops were at a premium.

Stat of the game: The two teams combined for 1,130 total yards. Oregon averaged 9.7 yards per play.

Player of the game: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. He didn't get a lot of touches but made the most of them. He had a 91-yard and a 64-yard touchdown run to finish with 155 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Honorable mention to quarterback Darron Thomas (17-of-23 for 269 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception) and running back LaMichael James (25 carries for 159 yards and a score). James moved into second place on the Pac-12's career rushing list.

Unsung hero of the game: Oregon receiver Lavasier Tuinei did not have a great season but came up huge in the Rose Bowl. He finished with eight catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns, with several drive-extending grabs.

Second guessing: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema burned two timeouts early in the third quarter, one to try and challenge a kick return that De'Anthony Thomas almost downed outside of his own end zone. That left the Badgers unable to stop the clock late when they had a chance to tie the score. Wilson spiked the ball at the 25-yard-line after a long completion with two seconds left, but the officials ruled that there was no time left for another play. Bielema was also questioned after taking timeouts before the Hail Mary that Michigan State completed in an earlier loss this season.

What it means: Oregon won its first Rose Bowl since 1917 and proved it could win a BCS game after losing close ones the previous two years. Head coach Chip Kelly will no longer be questioned about winning big games. Bielema could continue to hear that criticism after his team suffered its second straight heartbreaking Rose Bowl loss. Without Wilson and most likely Montee Ball next season, Wisconsin might have missed a window to do something special this season. Oregon should be a top 5 team to start next season even if James goes pro, as both Thomases and Kenjon Barner return to form a strong nucleus

Record performance: The 83 combined points were the most in Rose Bowl history, eclipsing the 80 points combined between Washington and Iowa in 1991. Oregon and Wisconsin also set records for the most points scored in the first quarter (28) and in any half (56) in Rose Bowl history.
PASADENA, Calif. -- If the fourth quarter is anything like the first three here at Rose Bowl Stadium, we could be headed for a finish for the ages.

Wisconsin and Oregon traded punches and turnovers in the third quarter, and it remains anyone's game.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas opened the half by burning Wisconsin for another big play, going 64 yards for a touchdown just three plays and 33 seconds after halftime. When Thomas turns the corner, it's lights out for the defense.

That looked like it might be dispiriting for the Badgers, but Russell Wilson led the team on two scoring drives, throwing a touchdown pass to Nick Toon after picking up two key third downs on the drive. An earlier Wisconsin field goal felt like a win for the Ducks' defense with the way this game has gone.

The Badgers' defense forced a rare three-and-out and came up with their second turnover of the game when Aaron Henry intercepted Darron Thomas on an overthrown third-and-long pass. But Wisconsin gave it right back on a Russell Wilson interception, just his fourth of the season. Oregon's Kiko Alonso came up with the pick.

Wilson was having a tremendous game in his first opportunity to play in a big bowl. That interception could cost him his quest to finish ahead of Baylor's Robert Griffin III for the NCAA single-season passing-efficiency record, though I'm sure all he wants is the win.

Surprisingly, it hasn't really been Oregon's pace that has bothered Wisconsin. It has been Oregon's speed and skill. And Wisconsin's passing game has been better than most people probably expected, though, that interception really hurt.

All the stars have shown up -- Wilson, Montee Ball, Thomas, LaMichael James. If the fourth quarter is anything like the first three, this could go down as one of the best Rose Bowls ever. And that's saying something.

Halftime: Oregon 28, Wisconsin 28

January, 2, 2012
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Quick halftime analysis from Rose Bowl Stadium, where we're tied at 28 after a fast and furious first 30 minutes:

Turning point: With the score tied at 21, Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor came free on a blitz and buckled the arm of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas. Teammate Louis Nzegwu was in the right place to scoop it up, and he rumbled 33 yards for the defensive score. In a game in which the offenses are dominating, any defensive reversal like that looms large.

Stat of the half: Oregon has 28 points on 29 plays, averaging 11.8 yards per play. Wisconsin is averaging an even 7 yards per play. The two teams have combined for 636 total yards.

What Wisconsin needs to do: Keep hanging around. The Badgers are moving the ball nearly at will, but it's going to be tough to keep up with Oregon if the Ducks keep scoring at this pace. If Wisconsin can keep it close in the second half, they can put pressure on the Ducks' offense and hope for another mistake like the Thomas fumble. The Badgers have been very good in the third quarter all season, and also have made excellent second-half adjustments.

What Oregon needs to do: Take away something defensively. Montee Ball has more than 100 yards, and Russell Wilson is carving up the defense on play-action rollouts. That balance is what makes the Badgers so difficult to stop, but Oregon needs to make at least one of those facets more difficult, as it did with a fourth-down sack of Wilson in the second quarter.

Record performances: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas ran 91 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter. That was the longest touchdown run in Rose Bowl history. Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders' FBS scoring record with his 39th touchdown on the season with a 3-yard plunge into the end zone in the second quarter. The two teams combined for a Rose Bowl record 56 points in the first half, 11 more than the previous high.

Final pregame update from Rose Bowl

January, 2, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- Couple of injury notes.

Big Ten Blogger Brian Bennett just reported this: "Wisconsin center Peter Konz worked out with the first team before the game, as he has all week. Konz will start, marking his return from a dislocated ankle against Minnesota."

Also, I tried to watch Oregon cornerback Anthony Gildon during warm-ups. He was running around with the second-team but I couldn't get a clear idea what that meant. Rob Moseley, Ducks beat writer from the Eugene Register-Guard, tweeted: "Anthony Gildon is up with the twos on defense and Avery Patterson is warmup up at safety. Ducks may get more from Gildon that I anticipated."

So Gildon, who's been out several weeks with an undisclosed injury that is believed to be a neck-shoulder issue, might see action, which is good because he's a senior and the Ducks other three corners are freshmen.

It's supposed to get into the 80s here -- it's a 2 p.m. local game -- and while neither team plays in hot weather, that might be a bigger issue for the Badgers if the Ducks are able to establish their up-tempo rhythm on offense.

Good showing by both teams fans in the Rose Bowl Stadium, which is undergoing major renovations. Probably a few more Wisconsin fans, but not by an amount that would provide a noise advantage -- like the Ducks opener against LSU at Cowboys Stadium.

And, yes, Oregon's helmets are outrageous.
PASADENA, Calif. -- Sometimes storylines become so redundant that they feel like cliches. Reporters get just as bored with them as coaches and players do. But redundancy itself implies that something has been there and is there again and hasn't yet gone away.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Chip Kelly
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIREFor Oregon and coach Chip Kelly, a victory against Wisconsin would put to rest questions about their ability to win big games.
When Oregon coach Chip Kelly and the Ducks were asked about what it would "mean" to win a BCS bowl game after losing two in a row, they mostly swatted the question aside. Kelly, for one, repeatedly insisted he's not a believer in legacies.

"We've always been a forward-thinking operation," Kelly said. "I find it humorous when people talk about 19-, 20-, 21-year old kids and what they're legacy is going to be. They're just kids."

Well, not really. Teams that win Rose Bowls become a part of history. Teams and players that win Rose Bowls are remembered. They become the connective tissue of the fan experience, such when a single 25-year-old fan here today 15 years from now will tell his 10-year-old son how he was there when LaMichael James rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin.

No legacy? Balderdash. And as forward-looking as Kelly wants to be, his counterpart Bret Bielema, whose Badgers lost here a year ago, knows that losing the last game of the season on a big and storied stage is something that's doesn't make it easy to avert a backwards glance.

"This is the feeling you'll have in your mouth for the next seven to eight months until we get ready for our opener a year from now," he said.

Winning a Rose Bowl is a gift that keeps on giving. And losing one is a wound that festers. All the forward-thinking in the world won't change that.

So we have a game that both teams want to win even more because both ended their 2010 seasons with such a wound.

Another redundancy: This is a classic Rose Bowl cliche: Big Ten power vs. Pac-12 flash. Oregon is fast. Wisconsin is huge. And both teams are extremely good at what they do.

"It's almost scary how balanced they are," Kelly said. "When you play most teams, you want them to play left-handed, and let's take away their strength. But they have strengths in both facets."

Still, both teams are going to focus on stopping the run first. If one team has consistent success running the ball, it's likely going to win. But it's also possible the defense will step up -- see last year's national title game between the Ducks and Auburn -- and make things difficult for the offenses. It's possible big plays in the passing game will provide a critical difference.

Will the Ducks, a good pass-rushing team, be able to disrupt the timing of the mobile and extremely efficient Russell Wilson, who has been sacked 23 times this sea? Will the Badgers be able to handle dumps to James and De'Anthony Thomas in space?

Those are the Xs and Os questions.

But the ultimate question is this: Which team walks away knowing it won't have to deal with "Can't win the big one" questions next year?