COLUMBUS, Ohio--- When Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux encouraged Ducks fans to fly United to Columbus, he wasn't referencing Oregon playing as a united team. However, the 12th ranked Ducks may have looked more united than they have ever been in the Mario Cristobal era. On Saturday, Oregon stunned No. 3 Ohio State in a 35-28 victory that alters the landscape of the College Football Playoff conversation.
"I think it is a testament to process," said head coach Mario Cristobal. "Because all we kept talking about was the stuff that you guys kill me for because it's boring. But the practice preparation eventually became the game reality."
Oregon came into its matchup with the Buckeyes as a 14-point underdog. The fact that Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Flowe would not play likely had something to do with that. Also, the fact that Oregon had never beaten Ohio State in their nine-game history likely played into it.
"Kayvon Thibodeaux is a great player for us. He was not going to be present and Justin Flowe's injury was a surprise to all of us. No one knew until Tuesday," said Cristobal.
Either way, Oregon didn't seem to care about all of that. Oregon took the first lead of the game off a 14-yard touchdown scamper by CJ Verdell with 14:27 left in the 2nd quarter.
While Ohio State would tie it on a broken play that led to a 27-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson, the Ducks never fell behind in the game.
CJ Verdell continued his opening half dominance with a 14-yard touchdown reception with 4:51 left on the first half clock.
Oregon had the opportunity to make it a two-score game near halftime. Oregon was driving late in the 2nd quarter. Terrance Ferguson was called for holding, though the replay told a different story. The Ducks were backed out of field goal range. Ultimately, it was 14-7 at halftime.
It only took CJ Verdell two 3rd quarter plays to grow a little too bored in the backfield. On the third play of the half, Verdell erupted for a 77-yard touchdown run. The run propelled Oregon to a 21-7 lead, but also gave the traveling Ducks fans a reason to feel like their team could really pull it off.
After that, Oregon went back-and-forth with the Buckeyes.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud found Jackson Smith-Njigba for a 26-yard touchdown pass at the 10:25 mark in the 3rd.
Oregon running back Travis Dye flew around the left side for a five-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive. At the 7:38 mark of the 3rd, Oregon had a 28-14 lead.
The start of the 4th is where the true fight came out of Ohio State. Afterall, championship teams don't go away easy. TreVeyon Henderson helped Ohio State back in it with a two-yard touchdown to start the quarter.
Oregon responded again. This time, Brown found Moliki Matavao from 14 yards out. That would be the final Oregon touchdown of the game. It would prove to be all the Ducks needed.
Smith Njigba helped Ohio State get within a score. His 15-yard touchdown reception with 7:55 left in the game made it 35-28.
From then on, Ohio State saw a couple chances to find the endzone for the tying score, but Oregon's defense went into lockdown and finally got pressure on Stroud.
With 2:50 left in the game, Stroud was chased by the Ducks' defensive line until he let it go on a 3rd and 18. Stroud overthrew the receiver. The ball landed in the hands of Oregon defensive back Verone McKinley III.
Oregon would eventually punt again. However, it pinned Ohio State too deep in its own territory to make a run at the endzone. With that, Oregon secured what is arguably the most important win of the Cristobal era. It is a win that can set up Oregon for a run at the College Football Playoff.
"You put so much work into a program, so much of your time and effort. Just to see it unfold, it is everything. It is what you come here to do. It's what you play football for," said Dye.
CJ Verdell was the anchor of the Oregon offense. Verdell rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He also registered a receiving touchdown in the first half.
Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown looked much more confident than he did when Oregon played Fresno State in Week One. Brown threw two touchdowns while completing 17 of his 35 attempts. Brown finished with 236 passing yards. He also rushed for 65 yards on 10 carries.
Oregon held the Ohio State rushing game down. In fact, it seemed like Ohio State's run was non-existent through most of the game. The Buckeyes ran for 151 yards and one touchdown as a team.
However, Ohio State was extremely successful passing the ball. C.J. Stroud went 35-54 for 484 yards and three touchdowns. The big blemish on that stat line is the key interception thrown in the 4th quarter.
Oregon did not turn the ball over for the entire contest. Turnovers are always a key in matchups like this one.
Oregon vs Ohio State was one of the most anticipated games in the entire league during the offseason. Now, Oregon can head back to the west coast with a much better shot at reaching the College Football Playoff.
Up next, Oregon will host Stony Brook at Autzen Stadium. That game will be on Saturday, September 18, at 4:30 p.m. It will be Oregon's final non-conference game of the 2021 season.