PASADENA, Calif. — Justin Herbert scored his third rushing touchdown of the 106th Rose Bowl on a thrilling 30-yard run with 7:41 to play Wednesday night, and No. 7 Oregon held off No. 11 Wisconsin 28-27 to win its third straight trip to the Granddaddy of Them All.
Brady Breeze returned a fumble 31 yards for an early touchdown for the Ducks (12-2). Herbert then made his go-ahead rambling run on the next snap after Breeze forced another fumble in yet another frenetic edition of this venerated bowl game.
Oregon held on to cap its Pac-12 championship season with its 12th win in 13 games. The Ducks celebrated on the famous turf amid confetti and cheers after the fourth Rose Bowl victory in school history.
Aron Cruickshank returned an early kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown for the Big Ten runner-up Badgers (10-4), but they lost in their fourth consecutive trip to Pasadena over the last 10 years.
Herbert passed for just 138 yards without a touchdown in his collegiate finale, and Oregon managed just 204 yards of offense. Instead, the Ducks improbably relied on the legs of their 6-foot-6 quarterback to grind out a landmark win for second-year coach Mario Cristobal.
Herbert had only 10 rushing touchdowns in the first 41 starts of his career, but he turned into a big-play machine on the ground. After he scored on runs of 4 and 5 yards in the first half, stiff-arming Wisconsin defenders on both runs, he rambled through the defense for the go-ahead, 30-yard score in what’s sure to be the signature moment of the four-year starter’s career.
Herbert eventually got back to what he normally does best: He made a key 12-yard throw to Mycah Pittman for a first down with 1:51 to play, and his 28-yard throw to Juwan Johnson with 1:03 left allowed the Ducks to run out the clock.
Eight years after De’Anthony Thomas’ Ducks surged past Russell Wilson’s Badgers to win a 45-38 thriller in the 2012 Rose Bowl, their schools put on another entertaining evening with six lead changes, key special teams mistakes and two stout defenses stretched by inventive offenses.
Jonathan Taylor rushed for 94 yards and Quintez Cephus caught seven passes for 59 yards and a score, but Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan’s offense couldn’t capitalize on its whopping advantages in time of possession (38:03-21:57) and total yards (322-204).
After kickoff in 68-degree temperatures on another postcard-perfect New Year’s Day in Pasadena, the Ducks marched 75 yards on their opening drive. Herbert ran 4 yards for a TD, stiff-arming a defender on the way in.
But Cruickshank took the ensuing kick straight down the Oregon sideline for an electrifying score and a rarity in the Rose Bowl. The kickoff return was just the second for a touchdown in Wisconsin’s lengthy bowl history, but just the third in 106 Rose Bowls — and the first in 17 years.
Herbert then threw his fifth interception in six games after throwing just two in the Ducks’ previous 10 games, and Wisconsin went ahead 10-7 despite having 1 yard of offense.
Both teams traded missed scoring opportunities before Coan’s first interception got Oregon in business. Herbert ran 5 yards for his second score, again stiff-arming a Wisconsin defender to the ground.
Wisconsin replied with a gritty drive right before halftime, with Cephus making an 11-yard TD catch with 11 seconds left to put the Badgers up 17-14.
Oregon got a break right after the half when Wisconsin punter Anthony Lotti caught the snap but dropped the ball on the ground instead of kicking it under pressure. Breeze alertly picked it up and sprinted for the go-ahead score.
The Badgers responded with a drive capped by Mason Stokke’s 2-yard scoring run, and they went up 27-21 on a field goal with 12:09 to play.
But Breeze forced another fumble by Wisconsin’s Danny Davis with a big hit, and Herbert took the next snap on his 30-yard TD run.
Wisconsin: The Badgers will kick themselves for years after every missed opportunity in this game. The offense couldn’t finish enough drives, while the defense appeared ready for everything except Herbert’s elusiveness. They can build on this resilient season, but their Rose Bowl drought will stretch beyond 20 years.
Oregon: Herbert could be sorely missed next season, both for his all-around skill set and his incredible poise under pressure. But the Ducks are once again ascendant, with this victory punctuating a two-year rise under Cristobal that puts them back on top of the West Coast and beyond.
Wisconsin: After starting next season with a visit from up-and-coming Indiana, Southern Illinois and Appalachian State will visit Camp Randall.
Oregon: With a new starting quarterback, the Pac-12 title defense season starts Sept. 5 with a doozy: A visit from North Dakota State, the FCS powerhouse currently 15-0 on its way to the national title game. A week later, the Ducks host Ohio State.