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2011 Rose Bowl Recap

Oregon Ducks vs Wisconsin Badgers - Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38

The Oregon Ducks no longer have to bear an albatross. The Wisconsin Badgers, though, will still carry a monkey on their backs. Such is life when a main-event bowl game played in college football’s most beautiful setting encounters such a clamorous and cluttered conclusion.

Oregon entered the 2012 Rose Bowl with a burden of considerable proportions. The Ducks had lost only six games over the past three seasons, but four of those losses came in situations when opponents had more than two weeks to prepare for coach Chip Kelly’s spread option offense. Oregon lost two season openers – to Boise State in 2009 and to LSU this past season – and then its two January Bowl games, to Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl and to Auburn in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Oregon needed to deliver the goods in a bowl game to increase its standing in the college football world. The Ducks needed to take down Wisconsin, the champion of a not-very-strong Big Ten Conference, in order to feel good about themselves in the offseason. A third straight Pac-12 title certainly added to the stature and luster of the UO program, but another loss in a BCS bowl would have created a very empty feeling this winter and spring in the Willamette Valley.

Now, the Ducks don’t have to worry about that feeling, because they chased it away thanks to a determined performance filled with playmaking brilliance.

The Rose Bowl is college football’s Super Bowl. It is the game played on the most beautifully-decorated field in the sport’s most picturesque setting, the sun-splashed Arroyo Seco in the shadows of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Rose Bowl is the place for the stars to shine, and while Wisconsin’s stars were bright in this game, the Oregon stars were even brighter in the 98th edition of the Granddaddy.

Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson was superb in this game, hitting 19 of 25 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. Wisconsin rolled up 508 total yards and kept pace in a video-game-style shootout for the duration of the contest. Had UW receiver Jared Abbrederis not fumbled deep in Oregon territory inside the final five minutes, this shootout easily could have gone to overtime, thanks to Wilson’s excellence. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball also contributed to UW’s cause. The Heisman finalist rumbled for 164 yards on 32 carries in a high-level performance worthy of his spectacular season. Yet, for all that Wisconsin’s best players brought to this party in Pasadena, California, Oregon’s elite players proved to be just a little bit better.

The best player on the field in this game was Oregon running back DeAnthony Thomas. The young speed merchant needed just two carries to race 155 yards for two touchdowns. His 91-yard dash to paydirt at the end of the first quarter broke the old record for the longest touchdown run in Rose Bowl history, an 88-yard run by Michigan’s Tyrone Wheatley in the 1993 Rose Bowl against Washington. Thomas also caught four passes for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards, thereby eclipsing 300 yards of total offense. Thomas is reason number one why Oregon won this game. He’ll be reason number one why Oregon remains a national title contender in the near future.

Other elite performers answered the call for Oregon in this game as well. Quarterback Darron Thomas played a flawless fourth quarter, slicing and dicing Wisconsin’s secondary when the Badgers cheated near the line of scrimmage to take away the Ducks’ running game. Darron Thomas hit 17 of 23 passes for 268 yards and three scores, doing everything Wilson did, only with more scoring production. Darron Thomas’s favorite target was Lavasier Tuinei, who caught 8 passes for 158 yards, including the go-ahead score on an 11-yard reception with 14:35 left in regulation. Oregon’s defense did the rest, and as a result, the Ducks’ bowl drought is over.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin – the loser of the 2011 Rose Bowl to TCU – has to come to grips with yet another Pasadena stomach punch. Such is the price of playing on college football’s grandest stage.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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