No. 12 Oregon Upsets No. 3 Ohio State Behind CJ Verdell's 3-TD Performance

Adam WellsSeptember 11, 2021

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 11: Running back CJ Verdell #7 of the Oregon Ducks runs with the ball during the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on September 11, 2021. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the first time since 2015, Oregon won a road game against an opponent ranked in the Associated Press Top 10.

The Ducks defeated No. 3 Ohio State 35-28 at the Horseshoe on Saturday. Making the victory even more impressive is that it came without arguably their two best defensive players.

Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (ankle) and linebacker Justin Flowe (foot) did not play. Their absence was certainly felt, as Oregon gave up 612 yards.

Running back CJ Verdell carried the Ducks with 161 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts, though. He also caught three passes for 34 yards and a score.

Ohio State's receiving trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba went off. They each had more than 115 yards and combined for 27 catches and three touchdowns. 

Head coach Mario Cristobal's Ducks got a scare in last week's season opener against Fresno State. Oregon scored 10 points in the fourth quarter in a 31-24 comeback victory.

This week, the Ducks did most of their damage in the middle portion of the game with 14 points each in the second and third quarters to steal a win over Ohio State for the first time in 10 meetings between the programs. 

Notable Game Stats

  • CJ Verdell (ORE): 20 carries, 161 yards, 2 TD; 3 catches, 34 yards, TD
  • Anthony Brown (ORE): 17-of-35, 236 yards, 2 TD; 10 carries, 65 yards
  • Travis Dye (ORE): 8 carries, 43 yards, TD
  • C.J. Stroud (OSU): 35-of-54, 484 yards, 3 TD, INT
  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba (OSU): 7 receptions, 145 yards, 2 TD
  • Chris Olave (OSU): 12 receptions, 126 yards
  • Garrett Wilson (OSU): 8 receptions, 117 yards, TD

Verdell, Big Plays Spark Ducks' Upset Win

The numbers suggest Oregon didn't win the game so much as Ohio State lost it.

For example, the Buckeyes had three drives end in turnovers on downs and another that ended when they ran out of time before halftime. The offense was moving the ball up and down the field, averaging 7.2 yards per play.

But the Ducks deserve far more credit for what they did in a hostile environment. Their first touchdown came on a 99-yard drive that Verdell capped with a 14-yard scamper into the end zone.

After Oregon took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, the defense made a huge play when Noah Sewell—brother of Detroit Lions rookie Penei Sewell—stopped running back Miyan Williams on 4th-and-2 in Ducks territory:

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

What a stop by <a href="https://twitter.com/B1essah?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@B1essah</a> 😤<a href="https://twitter.com/oregonfootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@oregonfootball</a> forces Ohio State into their second turnover on downs in the first half <a href="https://t.co/D46Sp9aZ7f">pic.twitter.com/D46Sp9aZ7f</a>

Early in the second half, it looked as if Oregon was about to take control of the game. Verdell's 77-yard touchdown run on the third play from scrimmage helped give the team a 21-7 lead.

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

THERE GOES THAT MAN, <a href="https://twitter.com/Cjverdell_?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Cjverdell_</a> 🤯<br><br>The <a href="https://twitter.com/oregonfootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@oregonfootball</a> star breaks free for his 3rd TD run of the game! <a href="https://t.co/8iJrK4pa4V">pic.twitter.com/8iJrK4pa4V</a>

At that point, Verdell had 126 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. He had also scored from 14 yards out on a 4th-and-1 toss play late in the second quarter.

Ry @JustRyCole

CJ Verdell Heisman campaign kicks off.

Stewart Mandel @slmandel

Wow. CJ Verdell 14-yard TD around end on a 4th and 1 to put Oregon back up.<br><br>The outside of the field has been there for Oregon all day so far. OSU's band of four- and five-stars on defense look ... slow.

While Verdell was the biggest story of the game, the entire offense had tremendous success generating big plays against the Buckeyes defense. 

The Ducks had 10 plays go for at least 15 yards. This was a vast improvement over last week against Fresno State, when the offense had 358 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per rush on 49 attempts.

Oregon needed that production, because its defense wasn't much better than Ohio State's. But it did make three key stops on five fourth downs. 

If the Ducks want to remain in the College Football Playoff picture for the rest of the season, they will likely need Anthony Brown to do more in the passing game. The senior quarterback completed only 17 of his 35 attempts. 

There will be time for Brown, Cristobal and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to get the passing game back on track.

For now, though, the Ducks are in prime position to challenge for a playoff spot after a huge win in arguably the highest-profile game of the weekend.

Leaky Defense Continues to Haunt Buckeyes

Lost in the thrill of last week's 35-point second half against Minnesota was the performance by the Buckeyes defense. It gave up 408 yards in that game, including 203 on the ground.

It's certainly much easier to overlook a flaw after a win, but now head coach Ryan Day and defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs have a big problem.

Run defense, in particular, remains a significant issue for Ohio State. Oregon had over 200 rushing yards by the third quarter.

Adam Kramer @KegsnEggs

<a href="https://t.co/mbmiHloUNS">pic.twitter.com/mbmiHloUNS</a>

Ben Stevens @BenScottStevens

Ohio State's defense <a href="https://t.co/oBYa3rn7ab">pic.twitter.com/oBYa3rn7ab</a>

Joey Kaufman of the Columbus Dispatch noted that last week the Buckeyes used a number of defenders:

"The Buckeyes used a deep rotation on defense Minnesota, putting 24 players in the game. It gave the coaching staff an opportunity to size up a lot of inexperienced position groups — more than half of Ohio State’s scholarship players on defense are first- and second-year freshmen."

Regardless of Coombs' adjustments and rotation against Oregon, nothing worked. 

Land-Grant Holy Land @Landgrant33

Oregon is doing literally WHATEVER they want on offense, and the OSU defense is so passive, that it looks like they are comfortable just giving it to them.

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

Oregon vs Ohio State 😅⬅️ <a href="https://t.co/FWzGViIiJU">pic.twitter.com/FWzGViIiJU</a>

All five touchdown drives by Oregon were at least 65 yards, but none of them took four minutes off the clock.

Ohio State certainly had execution issues on the offensive side of the ball too, especially on its three failed fourth-down attempts, but C.J. Stroud did everything in his power to keep his team in the game.

RJ Young @RJ_Young

CJ Stroud has hit 27 of 39 for 367 with two TDs. Yeah, he's missed some throws. He's also made some THROOOWS.

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

👀😎 <a href="https://twitter.com/jaxon_smith1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@jaxon_smith1</a> with the BIG catch in traffic for <a href="https://twitter.com/OhioStateFB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OhioStateFB</a>! <a href="https://t.co/74Ltzhzhwu">pic.twitter.com/74Ltzhzhwu</a>

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

On 4th down <a href="https://twitter.com/jaxon_smith1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@jaxon_smith1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/CJ7STROUD?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CJ7Stroud</a> come up with a HUGE touchdown for <a href="https://twitter.com/OhioStateFB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OhioStateFB</a> 💪 <br><br>We have a one score game in Columbus 👀 <a href="https://t.co/apj6fkCA8x">pic.twitter.com/apj6fkCA8x</a>

The defense did make two critical stands late in the fourth quarter when Oregon was clinging to a 35-28 lead.

It was the offense that failed to execute with opportunities to tie the game. The first drive stalled after Stroud's 12-yard run on 3rd-and-10 was negated by a holding penalty.

After getting the ball back with 4:37 remaining, the Buckeyes picked up two first downs in three plays. But facing a 3rd-and-18 on the sixth play of the drive, Stroud was picked off by Verone McKinley III.

PFF College @PFF_College

#11 Oregon snapping streaks vs #3 Ohio State<br><br>💥1st win ever vs OSU<br> <br>💥Ryan Day's 1st regular season loss at OSU (22-1) <a href="https://t.co/zQOgUlcbfr">pic.twitter.com/zQOgUlcbfr</a>

It would be a surprise if they don't challenge for the conference title yet again, but their path to the playoff looks much different now with one loss on their resume and a porous defense that has yet to find any answers.   

What's Next?

Oregon will return home to play FCS program Stony Brook next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Ohio State will host Tulsa on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.