January 02, 2012
Rose Bowl: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38.
When the dust cleared, this was the highest-scoring Rose Bowl in the 98-year history of the game, so you know you're going to get hit with a few numbers. But for a little context on Oregon's offensive explosion, let's start with two simple ones: Eight and six.
That's where Wisconsin's defense ranked at the start of the day: Eighth nationally in total defense (293 yards/game) and sixth in scoring (17.0 points/game). Exceptional numbers that, by the end of the day, were rendered utterly meaningless by an attack staking its latest and arguably most impressive claim as the most dynamic offense in college football.
Under the circumstances, "hitting on all cylinders" doesn't quite do the Ducks justice. Playing a few miles from his hometown, true freshman De'Anthony Thomas broke the longest run in Rose Bowl history from 91 yards out, scored again from 64 yards out and tied a Rose Bowl record for all-purpose yards (315) as a rusher, receiver and return man, all on a dozen touches. Playing in probably his last game as a Duck, LaMichael James went for 159 yards on the ground, a hair above his best-in-the-nation average for the season. Even with an interception, three touchdown passes left quarterback Darron Thomas with the highest pass efficiency rating of his career (206.5) against a defense from a "Big Six" BCS conference. As a team, the Ducks averaged 9.7 yards per play and struck for nine plays covering at least 20 yards.
Before this afternoon, no starter on the Wisconsin defense had been part of a unit that allowed 500 yards or 40 points in a game. Today, they were gashed for 621 and 45, respectively — a bloodletting even by Oregon standards. Only one team has ever given up more here, Illinois in 2008, the victim of a lopsided mismatch against USC.
Of course, this was a long way from a mismatch: The first three quarters played out as an extended volley between two equally potent offenses determined to hold serve. Wisconsin mounted extended touchdown drives on three of its first four possessions, and mounted another one in the second half. It wasn't until late in the third quarter, down 38-35, that the Duck defense began to clamp down, beginning with an interception by linebacker Kiko Alonso. That set up a short, go-ahead touchdown drive, followed by Oregon's first three-and-out of the night and finally, on the heels of a Duck field goal, a critical fumble at the end of a long Wisconsin pass that effectively put the game on ice.
That was all the breathing room the offense needed: Three stops with the game on the line for Oregon's first Rose Bowl win since 1917, ending the longest drought in the conference after 94 years. With both Darron and De'Anthony Thomas on their way back next year along with 15 other starters who have come up entirely in Kelly's program, it's a good bet the next one isn't going to take nearly so long.
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