Cristobal: Upset of OSU ‘massive step’ for Ducks

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of Indiana University

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Following No. 12 Oregon’s thrilling 35-28 win against No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday, Ducks coach Mario Cristobal made his way to the end zone to greet the section of green-clad Oregon fans who had made the trip to witness what was one of the biggest wins in program history.

Cristobal fired them up even more with a fist-pump and a few high-fives before turning to hug his players and continue the celebration into the locker room. Four years into his head coaching career at Oregon, Cristobal led the program to its first win against Ohio State.

Ever.

And he did it in Ohio Stadium, without two of his best defensive players — injured defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and freshman linebacker Justin Flowe — before a crowd of 100,482 mainly unforgiving Buckeyes fans. Cristobal said the magnitude of the win was hard to express in words, but “it’s a testament to the process.”

“We’ve been building toward this for a while now, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “I don’t want to in any way shape or form give that impression. We’re not, and our guys know that, too, but we’ve taken massive steps, and I think even more importantly, we’ve taken massive psychological steps, understanding how important that is going to be on Saturdays. … All those things, they just come into play and they just further strengthen the culture and the direction of the program.”

Ohio State’s 23-game home winning streak was snapped, marking their first loss here since Sept. 9, 2017. It was also Oregon’s first road win over a top-five opponent since beating Stanford in 2011. Thibodeau, likely a top NFL draft pick, was sidelined with an ankle injury, and Cristobal said the team found out on Tuesday that Flowe had a foot injury. He wore a boot on his right foot, and Cristobal declined to give further information about it after the game. Without them, Oregon still made three fourth-down stops, and Ohio State was 6-for-15 on third downs.

Oregon tight end DJ Johnson caught an 11-yard reception to convert a third down on the Ducks’ final drive, and then recorded a sack on the last play of the game.

“We didn’t have any bodies,” Cristobal said. “You saw that. You saw DJ Johnson play some defensive end. He’s a great one, he really is. Big game for Oregon, big game for the Pac-12 to come out at a place where I don’t think they’ve lost many games here at home, during a regular season in a long, long time.”

The Ducks won with a powerful running game led by C.J. Verdell, and some clutch defensive plays in the fourth quarter. Ohio State’s defense was porous, allowing 269 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns with an average of 7.1 yards per carry. It was the most rushing yards the Buckeyes had allowed any team on their home field since Nov. 22, 2014 against Indiana. Verdell finished with 161 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, and added a receiving touchdown.

“The play-calling was great. It was excellent,” Cristobal said. “But you got to give an unbelievable amount of credit to the players just coming out with heart with toughness, with the discipline that executed a high level against a great football team, and that’s what it came down to.”

The Ducks’ only other road win against an AP-ranked Big Ten team was in 1989 when they won 44-6 at No. 24 Iowa. Oregon entered Saturday 1-9 all-time when playing a ranked Big Ten team on the road (0-4 at Ohio State).

Oregon scored on five of its first eight possessions, including a 99-yard touchdown drive late in the first quarter.

“I felt like it was a game that we were never in control of,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “It felt like they ran the ball, and we didn’t do a very good job of running the football, and we weren’t able to convert on fourth downs. And because of that, we’re always kind of playing catch up. We must learn from this. You have to grow from this and we still have a lot of football left, and figure out where the execution issues were, and get them fixed.”

It was a vastly different performance from Oregon’s unconvincing 31-24 Week 1 win against Fresno State.

“I think identity showed up,” Cristobal said. “I think resilience showed up. All the things that you hammer home — why we practice like we practice — it’s validated when you come out here and you do something like this. That locker room right now is spent, they’re exhausted, but they’re also realizing that we can be a really good football team, and we’ve just got to continue along the lines of that practice-preparation to make it a real thing on game day.”

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