C.J. Verdell darted up the middle for a five-yard touchdown run in the bottom of the first overtime period to give No. 17 Oregon a 30-27 win over No. 7 Washington in a game that carries enormous Pac-12 and College Football Playoff ramifications. The win keeps the Ducks right in the thick of the Pac-12 South race, after handing the Huskies their first conference loss of the season.
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert was 18-of-32 passing for 202 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon, and Verdell added 111 yards rushing and two touchdowns — including the game-winner — for the Ducks. Washington quarterback Jake Browning was 15-of-25 passing for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a losing cause.
What did we learn from the thriller at Autzen Stadium?
1. Oregon is back, and should be taken seriously: Make no mistake about it, the Ducks needed this win in a major way. After falling at Stanford in overtime earlier this season in a game in which it controlled from the outset, they had no margin for error in the race for the Pac-12 South title. A second conference loss — including one to presumed front-runner Washington — would have been too much to overcome.
This win changed everything. The Ducks are now tied for first place in the division, cleared the biggest hurdle left on its schedule and is now the team to beat in the North.
It’s even bigger than that, though. Oregon shook up the entire College Football Playoff race on Saturday afternoon. With two losses on the season — including one to lowly Auburn — you can’t invent enough chaos for the Huskies to have a shot. Oregon, on the other hand, doesn’t need too much. Sure, the strength of schedule might hurt Mario Cristobal’s crew a little bit and winning out would likely be the only path for the Ducks — or any team in the Pac-12, for that matter. But if just a few dominoes fall between now and the first week of December, and the Ducks are still standing, they could walk right through the door.
2. Justin Herbert showed how good he is: The superstar quarterback for the Ducks struggled mightily for the majority of the first half, but when he caught fire, he got white hot. His nine-yard touchdown strike to Jaylon Redd with 14 seconds left in the first half tied the game at 17, capped off a 13-play drive and kickstarted a passing game that had been stagnant up to that point.
He went 11-of-16 passing for 112 yards in the second half, and five of his passes moved the chains. He orchestrated a 15-play, 88-yard drive in the third quarter that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown run by Verdell to give the Ducks a 24-17 lead in the third quarter. These are the kind of things that Oregon needs from its star quarterback and make NFL scouts salivate that prospect of calling his name during the 2019 NFL Draft. He showed incredible poise, made clutch plays and didn’t panic when things went bad in the biggest game of the year.
3. Absence of a rushing attack cost Washington: Chris Petersen’s offense is built on working off of play-action, and Browning finding members of his deep and talented receiving corps downfield. Browning didn’t do much of that, and the rushing game is to blame.
Myles Gaskin had just 69 yards and a long of 10. Salvon Ahmed had 61 yards and two touchdowns, but was taken to the injury tent in the second half, and didn’t notch a single carry in the fourth quarter or overtime. That allowed the Ducks defense to play tight on the Huskies receivers and the front seven to tee off on Browning. Browning held strong, thanks to some circus catches from his receivers, but couldn’t do it all.
4. Verdell gets redemption: The redshirt freshman fumbled with under a minute to go on a play against Stanford. On that play, he worked to gain a few extra yards when all he needed to do was go down to ice the game. That fumble led to a swift Stanford drive that resulted in the game-tying field goal as time expired in regulation. The Cardinal notched the win in the extra frame, and dealt what was a major blow at the time to Oregon’s postseason goals. Verdell made amends in a big way in the biggest game of his young career.
Behind an offensive line that owned the line of scrimmage, Verdell got the tough yards. His 111 yards and two touchdowns came on 29 carries (3.8 yards per carry). Those tough yards paid off when the seas parted on the final play of the game and Verdell walked off with a hard-earned win. He personifies the style of the new-look Ducks. Gone are the days of the exotic offenses. Cristobal has instilled a hard-nosed attitude that starts on the ling of scrimmage on both sides, and thrives with skill players who not only do the dirty work, but thrive with the dirty work.