COLUMBUS, Ohio – Mario Cristobal has eliminated his players.
Out of the way! Out of the way!
He separated the seas. Its security service has remained behind.
And there he was, alone, no one within five feet of him, facing thousands of Oregon fans clad in green.
Then he did. He let it go.
He dropped into a crouched position, threw his right arm back and swung it into the air in a celebratory uppercut that would knock down any human in its path.
There was no flag planting this time around. The last time an opponent did this – he waltzed into Ohio Stadium and beat the Buckeyes – Baker Mayfield shoved an Oklahoma banner into the center field logo here in 2017.
On Saturday afternoon, the flag plant was replaced by the upper cup.
Oregon knocked out Ohio State, possibly college football playoffs, possibly top 10 as well. The Ducks (2–0) controlled the entire game. They dominated both lines of scrimmage. They foiled, they dominated and they led Ryan Day’s group in a seven-point victory.
It seemed impossible. The bridge seemed stacked. The chances are too great.
Take, for example, pre-game evidence. On the one hand, red-clad fans rocked Ohio Stadium for the first time in two years as more than 100,000 gathered in the location. No.2, Day had never lost a regular season game since becoming a coach. No.3 Ohio State in nine previous encounters had beaten Oregon every time, and in that game he was a two-touchdown favorite.
Also, don’t forget that the Pac-12 rarely wins a big game early in the season against any of the other Power 5 leagues. And the Ducks were deprived of two of their best defensemen. And what about this: Oregon even had a tight defensive end because of his low bodies. And that set off three time zones, at 9 a.m. their time.
“A big game for Oregon,” Cristobal said afterwards, “and a big game for the Pac-12.”
Everyone knows the misfortunes of this conference in the west. The league hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2016. In top games, its teams typically fail, especially on the road early in the season. It is the runt of Power 5. Assaulted, beaten and bruised.
And yet, here he is, having claimed two of the most impressive wins so far this year: UCLA 37, LSU 28; Oregon 35, Ohio State 28. Oregon’s victory over the Buckeyes (1-1) was the Pac-12’s first non-conference road victory over a top-five team since 1990. And it was the most recent victory. biggest conference since 2009, when USC won on that very ground, then defeating-No. 8 State of Ohio.
Their commissioner was there for both. New league leader George Kliavkoff was at the Rose Bowl last week and Ohio Stadium on Saturday. He personally witnessed his conference finally flexing his muscles in a game that offered a glimpse into what the new so-called Alliance – a pact between the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 conferences – could produce in the years to come. in a non-conference scheduling arrangement between the three.
“Do you like the Alliance, guys?” Kliavkoff joked to reporters as he walked out onto the pitch.
UCLA and Oregon didn’t just win. Both programs controlled the line of scrimmage. They combined for 479 rushing yards against LSU and Ohio State, averaging 5.6 yards per carry in the kind of dominance not often seen in the Pac-12 against the SEC and Big powers. Ten.
On Saturday, CJ Verdell totaled 161 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown, and quarterback Anthony Brown sliced the OSU secondary for 236 yards in the air. In a statistic that speaks to Oregon’s diverse game plan, he made 17 assists to 11 different players.
Joe Moorhead, the Ducks’ offensive coordinator, put on a masterful game against the Ohio State’s Cover 3 defense, baffling the top seven with RPOs. The group even set a never-to-be-beaten record in the second quarter: he collected a 99-yard touchdown.
“It’s an incredible place, a historic place,” said Cristobal. “Go out there and play like we did, find ways to make plays and get rid of and get out of tough situations… 99 yards against a good defense.”
The Oregon defense also shone, getting three saves in fourth and bottling the Buckeyes late in a one-point game. The unit did it without two of its stars. Row rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and linebacker Justin Flowe missed the game with injuries.
The Ducks were down enough that DJ Johnson played both the defensive end and the tight end (he even secured the game late with a catch on the first down).
It made the victory so much sweeter, sparking a wild celebration on the pitch. As Ohio State fans stepped out of the shoe, Oregon players rushed to greet the thousands of jubilant people in the visitors section.
The Buckeyes snuck into the locker room with some serious issues to resolve. Minnesota last week and Oregon this week exposed cracks, maybe even sinkholes in a defensive unit full of four- and five-star talent. New starting quarterback CJ Stroud made an expensive interception late in the game, and Day’s squad didn’t handle the ball very effectively, either.
But the most troubling issue was a defensive unit that never seemed to be able to adapt to what Moorhead and Co. threw at it. He left the receivers wide open and the traffic lanes completely clear.
“We have to work it out,” Day said.
And so, among early season wins, among big road wins, among non-conference affairs, it’s an unlikely league and team with the best of them so far.
The Pac-12 and the Oregon Ducks, making their way to the top of college football.