PASADENA, CA – With a six-point lead in the fourth quarter of the 2020 Rose Bowl, Wisconsin’s defense faced a crucial test. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who’d burned the Badgers for two rushing touchdowns through the game’s first three quarters, took the ball under center on a third-and-2 at Wisconsin’s 35-yard line.
Outside linebacker Noah Burks sacked Herbert for a loss of 8 yards, forcing Oregon to punt with just under eight minutes remaining. Cardinal and white confetti showering the Rose Bowl field was in the Badgers’ near future.
That is, until receiver Danny Davis fumbled the football. The Ducks took over deep inside Wisconsin territory and moments later, Herbert scampered 30 yards for his third touchdown of the evening, giving Oregon a 1-point lead.
“I think the [Ducks] offensive line and the defensive line deserve a ton of credit because, again, and I think Wisconsin is an excellent football team,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “They’re physical. They’re tough. They’re well-coached. All the respect in the world for them.”
Wisconsin had their chances, gaining two more possessions during the game’s final seven minutes. But, the first time around they went three-and-out, and their final try – as four minutes remained – ended with an offensive pass interference call forcing another punt.
Wisconsin held Oregon’s high-octane, dynamic offense to 204 yards, the fewest in a Rose Bowl since 1979, but suffered from nine penalties and four costly turnovers.
“I think that was the biggest part on us, is understanding we should have had to clean things up,” junior running back Jonathan Taylor said. “You can’t expect a win, a burst team like Oregon, with turnovers, penalties, special teams issues. I think that played a factor with everything, not playing clean Wisconsin football.”
Oregon prevailed 28-27, as the Badgers fell to 3-7 all-time in Rose Bowls.
The fourth quarter wasn’t the only time in which Wisconsin had opportunities to take control of the Rose Bowl. Inside linebacker Jack Sanborn picked off Herbert midway through the first quarter and set Wisconsin up at Oregon’s 27, but the Badgers were held to a field goal. To start the second quarter, a 12-yard Taylor run that would’ve placed Wisconsin at the Oregon 17-yard line was negated by a 10-yard holding penalty.
Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank returned a Camden Lewis kick 95 yards to the house, tying the score at 7 in the first quarter. Cruickshank’s touchdown was the third kickoff return for a score in Rose Bowl history. He returned four kickoffs for 194 yards, good for the third-most in Rose Bowl history.
Badgers quarterback Jack Coan completed 23 of his 35 passes for 186 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“Obviously, Oregon’s got a good defense,” Chryst said. “Knew that coming in, and you had to earn everything you got. And Jack, I thought, the best part about Jack is that he was himself. He’s tough. He competes. Incredibly selfless. He’ll do anything for this team. And doesn’t mean everything’s always perfect, right? Never is for any player.”
Taylor, who ran for more yards than any player in FBS history through his first three seasons, was held to 94 yards on 21 carries in what could’ve been his last game as a Badger, should he declare for the 2020 NFL Draft.
“Jonathan is – he’s everything that you would want to be in a teammate,” Chryst said. “And I’ve loved seeing his progression as a leader on this team, and unbelievable care for his teammates. That’s where it starts. And unbelievable example of how you approach every day.”
Wisconsin senior linebacker Chris Orr was just as complimentary of Taylor.
“His character, I’ve told people in interviews he’s the humblest person you’ve ever met. If you hadn’t met him, didn’t know his name, you wouldn’t know that he’s the greatest college running back of all time.”
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.