Justin Herbert, Oregon show their grit in Rose Bowl win

Just under eight minutes remained in the 2020 Rose Bowl, No. 6 Oregon trailing No. 8 Wisconsin by six points. Wisconsin held the ball – and the game’s momentum – perfectly in hand. 

Until it didn’t. 

Oregon senior safety Brady Breeze smacked Wisconsin receiver Danny Davis in Badger territory, and Davis lost the football. Ducks outside linebacker Bryson Young recovered the loose ball and one play later, senior quarterback Justin Herbert dashed 30 yards down the left sideline for his third rushing touchdown of the afternoon, scoring what would become the 106th Rose Bowl’s game-winning score.

“It’s a rare opportunity,” Herbert said of his fourth quarter touchdown run. “It’s something I haven’t experienced too often. But it was great, and [receivers] Johnny [Johnson III] and Mycah [Pittman] did a great job blocking on the outside.”

2020 Rose Bowl Game
January 1, 2020 © Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline – Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (10) grinds out some yardage on the ground against Wisconsin during the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. Herbert and the Ducks defeated the Badgers, 28-27.

For Herbert and Breeze, natives of Eugene and Lake Oswego, leading Oregon to capture its third straight Rose Bowl, 28-27 over the Badgers, couldn’t have marked sweeter beginnings to the new year. 

“It’s just amazing,” Breeze said. “And it’s cool to see all these people waving at us in the stands and stuff, all these fans, all these little kids, just like I was when I was at the game watching Ohio State play Oregon and watching Florida State play Oregon. I was just a fan, dreaming of playing in these types of games.”

Both Herbert and Breeze were freshmen on the Oregon team that finished 4-8 overall.

“That’s something that all of us have talked about these past couple of weeks,” Herbert said. “And to realize where we were and where we are now, it’s been a great journey. And for us to stick together through those tough times, just a testament to all the guys on the team and all the hard work that we’ve put in.” 

2020 Rose Bowl Game
January 1, 2020 © Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline – Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (10) hands the ball off to running back to Sean Dollars (5) during the Ducks’ 28-27 win against Wisconsin during the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

Herbert was named Rose Bowl Offensive MVP after matching an Oregon bowl record with a career-high three rushing touchdowns, and Breeze was named Rose Bowl Defensive MVP, racking up a career-best 11 tackles. In addition to his fourth quarter forced fumble, Breeze also returned Wisconsin punter Anthony Lotti’s dropped ball 31 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

“I’m thinking to myself, wow, this is just like when Washington scored that touchdown against Florida State,” Breeze said. “And I’m looking – when I scored the touchdown – I went and looked at the section I was sitting when I was at that game as a fan, and now I’m scoring the touchdown in the Rose Bowl.”

Herbert, who threw for over 3,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, couldn’t have predicted that his feet would decide the outcome against a star-studded Wisconsin defense, headed by Butkus Award finalist Zack Baun and All-American Chris Orr. Herbert credited his offensive line for opening up the field, a unit that earned finalist honors for the Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive line in college football.

2020 Rose Bowl Game
January 1, 2020 © Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline – Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (10) on the move against the Wisconsin defense during the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal – now a winner of 21 games in just his first two seasons with the Ducks – said of his offensive line, “Our guys knew this was going to be a 15-round fight, right? And rounds 10 through 15 usually decide which heavyweight walks away with the hardware. And our guys just found a way to keep swinging, get up one more time, throw one more punch. And it’s a testament to what they are, what their DNA is.”

Wisconsin gained 70 more yards rushing than the Ducks, but scored just one touchdown on the ground.

“Yeah, [Herbert] was effective,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said of the quarterback’s rushing success. “And obviously knew he was really talented coming into the game, but he made some big plays, and certainly was a factor in him running the ball.”

Herbert scored on runs of four, five and 30 yards, becoming the first quarterback to rush for three touchdowns in a Rose Bowl since Vince Young in 2006. Oregon improved to 27-8 over Herbert’s last 35 starts, as he moved into 14th in Pac-12 history with 10,541 career passing yards.

“I wish it wasn’t over,” he said of his Oregon career. “It’s been the best four years of my life.”

Cristobal jokingly added, “We can ask for a sixth year.”

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