Final Score: Oregon 45 Wisconsin 38
Before the game, Oregon coach Chip Kelly said turnovers would be key to the win in what everyone expected to be the shootout that the Rose Bowl turned out to be. And he was right. It was the reason #5 Oregon didn't lead in the first half, when #10 Wisconsin scored 3:26 before the half on a Darron Thomas fumble.
But turnovers were also what derailed a pair of Badger drives in the second half, and that was all the explosive Duck offense, which turned into a clock eating offense in the 4th quarter, when it mattered, needed, and Oregon, after having back to back BCS bowls the last 2 years, including the Rose Bowl 2 years ago, won their first Rose Bowl since 1917, downing Wisconsin 45-38.
Kiko Alonso's interception late in the third quarter led to Lavasier Tuinei's second touchdown reception seconds into the fourth quarter, putting Oregon ahead for good. And Terrance Mitchell's strip of Jared Abbrederis, which came after a 29 yard completion, which Michael Clay recovered, ended Wisconsin's next to last drive, with over 4 minutes left. There would be only 16 seconds left when the Badgers would get the ball back, and though they still drove deep into Duck territory, time expired as Russell Wilson attempted to spike the ball, and get one last play.
"Momma, what's up?" Da. Thomas asked.
His mom wasn't within earshot in the deafening celebration, so Kelly answered for her, and Oregon fans everywhere.
"It's been 95 years since fans could say ‘Oregon Ducks, Rose Bowl Champs'", Kelly explained.
A squandered time out early in the third quarter, when Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema contested that De'Anthony Thomas was outside the endzone when he kneeled for a touchback. However, replay clearly confirmed what the referee on the goal line had seen, that the ball never came completely out of the end zone. So in addition to turnovers, clock management wound up mattering as well.
Which is not something often said about Oregon games, games, where Kelly's wide open style sacrifices time of possession for points, and usually makes the end of games anti-climatic.
And that was the approach against Wisconsin, where Oregon scored 28 points on 29 plays in the first half, and the Badgers had a 21:20 to 8:40 edge in time of possession, but needed Louis Nzegwu's 33 yard touchdown return of Da. Thomas' fumble to forge a 28-28 tie after the highest scoring first half to a Rose Bowl ever.
Yet when it mattered, in the fourth quarter, Oregon mounted a nearly 7 minute drive for a field goal that took a Wisconsin field goal out of the equation, and held the ball for over 9 minutes. Yes, those Ducks played ball control when they needed to.
Quite the contrast from the 2 play drive capped by De'Anthony Thomas' 91 yard touchdown run up the middle to end the first quarter, after Wisconsin read counter and their linebackers ran themselves slightly out of position. If you guess counter against the Oregon rushing game, you had better be right. The Badgers weren't.
Or the one play drive, a 54 yard touchdown pass to Kenjon Barner, when Oregon got a double isolation down the left side on their next possession. Which came immediately after De. Thomas' 46 yard kickoff return.
Or De. Thomas' 64 yard sweep for a touchdown on the third play of the third quarter, where a downfield block by La Michael James caused the Wisconsin defense to lose the corner. And once you lose the corner against Oregon, you can go ahead and head off the field, as the Oregon band ques the fight song, long before the touchdown is registered, because there's no catching De. Thomas (or Barner, or James) from behind.
It's not as though Wisconsin didn't do plenty to make their case, though.
The Badgers elected to take the ball first after winning the coin toss, and smartly drove the length of the field, with Wilson hitting Abbrederis for a 38 yard touchdown, after freshman Duck corner back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu took a bad angle on a double move, then couldn't catch up.
After Oregon answered with their own 80 yard touchdown drive, capped by James' only touchdown of the day, Wisconsin walked right down the field again, scoring on a 4 yard Wilson run.
Montee Ball did most of the work, first with a 42 yard run, and then with a 30 yard catch. Another error on assignment football by Oregon contributed considerably to the scoring drive.
Wisconsin finally made a couple of errors on their third drive, but Brad Nortman's punt pinned Oregon at their own 5 yard line. A problem De. Thomas negated with his Rose Bowl record 91 yard touchdown run that tied the game 14-14.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Alioti, in response to the earlier problems with containing the faster than you think Wisconsin offense, went to a lot of 3 deep over the top coverage, and Russell responded by eating the Ducks alive, with underneath crossing route completions to Jacob Pederson and Nick Toon. It led to a 21-14 lead after Ball barreled into the end zone.
With the score, Ball tied Barry Sanders' single season NCAA record of 39 touchdowns. Oregon would not let Ball take sole possession of the record, though.
The lead was almost immediately wiped out by De. Thomas' return, and the bomb to Barner.
Wisconsin appeared headed for another go ahead touchdown, after the Rose Bowl natural turf gave way under Avery Patterson's feet, and a 23 yard gain by Abbrederis resulted. But Alonso's sack stopped the drive. Alonso would go on to have possibly the best night by any of the Duck defenders.
Oregon had Josh Huff have to go off, after a hard hit on a ball Da. Thomas threw too high. The play involved helmet to helmet contact, but by a ducking Badger defender. No penalty was called, upsetting many Ducks, due in part to conditioning after seeing similar collisions being incorrectly flagged by Pac-12 officials all season. The ACC crew got this one right.
Wisconsin took the lead on what was ruled a fumble by Da. Thomas, which sparked another heated reaction by Oregon partisans. Da. Thomas' arm was starting to go forward, and the ball went forward after contact by the Badger's Mike Taylor, but the ball was knocked out of his hand from behind. It's a call that will be called an incompletion at least 9 out of 10 times by an NFL crew, but a fumble 99 out of 100 times by a college or high school crew, despite the same rule standard applying. It's one of those differences between the prevailing application of the rules.
The bigger issue as far as Kelly was concerned, however, was Da. Thomas' mis-read of the play, something he immediately addressed before Da. Thomas even reached the sideline.
Da. Thomas finally found David Paulson for the first time 3 minutes before halftime, and it sparked the game tieing drive just before halftime. Tuinei had a couple of catches, including the 3 yard scoring catch in the corner of the end zone 30 seconds before the break. A Bryan Bennett throw back to Da. Thomas also contributed to the drive.
In addition to the aforementioned scoring record, Ball already had 122 yards on 21 carries, James 77 on 8 carries, and the teams had combined for 635 yards by the break.
Huff shook off the effects of the earlier hit and returned for the second half, just in time for De. Thomas' 64 yard touchdown sweep, and Oregon's first lead of the game, as the Ducks went up 35-28.
Abberderis reminded everyone he was also capable of explosion plays, with a 59 yard kickoff return. But despite getting bowled over by a vaulting Ball, Oregon's John Boyett managed to bring Ball down, which turned out to be critical, as the Duck defense stiffened, and forced the Badgers to settle for a 29 yard Phillip Welch field goal. It was one of Boyett's Rose Bowl record 17 tackles.
Which was followed by their burning that second timeout over the touchback call. Wisconsin still got a rare 1-2-3-punt stop, and with James White spelling Ball, drove 62 yards for the go-ahead score, an 18 yard Russell completion to Toon.
Oregon also had 6'4", 321 lb. DT Ricky Hemuli, the largest player on the Duck defense, get knocked out of the game on the drive, with still 8 minutes left in the third quarter.
A play action pass to Tuinei and a 17 yard run by James had Oregon on the march again, but a holding penalty negated a completion that would have had the Ducks in the Badger endzone, and then Thomas sailed a pass that was tipped, and intercepted by Aaron Henry.
Worse than the lost scoring opportunity for Oregon was the loss for the game of Carson York, who injured his knee and or lower leg making the tackle, with still 2:40 to go in the third quarter.
With momentum apparently swinging Wisconsin's way, Alonso cleaned up the mess with an interception. Aliotti implemented a further adjustment after halftime, and it brought the Oregon linebackers much more into the middle of things in the middle of the field.
"It is special how far Kiko has come," Kelly said of Alonso, who was suspended for the season opening game against LSU, for off-field problems.
James then moved past Oregon St.'s Ken Simonton for second place all time, behind only Charles White, on the PCC/Pac-8/10/12 career rushing list as the third quarter ended. James eventually finished with 5,082 yards.
Tuinei's second touchdown catch put the Ducks ahead, but had it not been for De. Thomas, it never would have happened. On the prior play, a third and nine, De. Thomas took a short pass from Da. Thomas well short of the first down, but on sheer speed stepped out of a tackle that would have forced Oregon to have to settle for a field goal that would have tied the game instead, and sprinted for the first down. The total offense for the game totaled 918 yards at that point, with over 13 minutes still to play.
It was then the Oregon defense's turn to turn in a 1-2-3-punt stop, and Kelly became ball control Kelly, satisfied with the 30 yard Alejandro Maldonado field goal after almost 6 minutes were consumed, aided by an 8 yard completion to Tuinei on a 4th. and 6 situation in no-man's land, too close to punt, but too far for a field goal.
With time running short, Wisconsin drove inside the Oregon 30 yard line, on the completion to Abbrederis, but the ball Mitchell stripped stopped inches from the sideline as multiple players flew out of bounds, allowing Clay to make the recovery.
Down to only 1 time out, Wisconsin watched Oregon eat almost 4 minutes before they got the ball back. A 29 yard Russell completion to Abbrederis and another to Toon for 33 against a Duck defense playing the clock and defending mostly only against giving up a score had the Badgers within sight of a game tieing touchdown, but with only 2 seconds left, time expired before Russell could get the ball spiked, and Oregon had ended their BCS bowl bugaboo.
Wilson completed 19 of 25 passes, for 296 yards, and 2 touchdowns, and the 1 interception. Abbrederis caught 9 of the throws, for 119 yards, and then one score, and Toon hauled in 9 balls, for 104 yards, and a score.
Ball battered Oregon for a game high 164 yards and the one touchdown, on 32 carries, and Wisconsin ran for 212 yards, giving them 508 total yards from scrimmage, and 753 total yards, counting returns.
James was only slightly behing Ball, with 159 yards and one score on 25 carries, and with the 155 yards De. Thomas added on just two carries, Oregon ran up 345 rushing yards.
Da. Thomas completed 17 of 23 passes, for 268 yards, and 3 touchdowns. 8 of the completions went to Tuinei, for a game high 158 yards, and the 2 touchdowns. It was also a season high for the senior, who hadn't had a 100 yard receiving game all season.
The Ducks rolled up 621 yards from scrimmage, and 750 total yards, as De. Thomas had 125 yards on 5 kickoff returns.
The closeness of the stats supported the closeness of the score, in a game where there were 83 points, and over 1,100 yards of offense, yet neither team ever opened more than a 7 point lead.
It was an instant classic of a Rose Bowl game, one it was unfortunate that someone had to lose. But in the end, Kelly's fast paced style, interrupted by ball control and clock consumption when, and only when, necessary, prevailed.
Wisconsin (11-3, 6-2) won the first ever 12 team Big 10 (+2) title, and the first ever Big 10 Championship game, avenging an earlier loss to Michigan St. But the Badgers lost the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row, after falling to TCU last year.
Oregon (12-2, 8-1) added their second ever Rose Bowl win to a season that saw them win the first ever Pac-12 Northern Division title, and their third consecutive Conference Championship, after beating UCLA in the first ever Pac-12 Championship Game.
Oregon's win gave the Pac-12 a 2-4 record in bowl games, with Stanford's Fiesta Bowl contest against Oklahoma St. still to go.