Oregon’s Holiday Bowl win takes sting out of late-season stumbles

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When the bowl matchups were announced earlier this month, many were fixated on the Holiday Bowl featuring No. 15 Oregon facing ACC Coastal Champ North Carolina. The West Coast postseason game not only returned after a two-year, COVID-induced absence, but offered the potential for plenty of offensive fireworks between a pair of top-25 offenses.

While the score wasn’t lit up as much as some had hoped, the game nonetheless featured plenty of explosive plays and late pyrotechnics as the Ducks used a two-minute drive in the final seconds to knock off the Tar Heels in a 28. -27 thriller at Petco Park in San Diego.

[Related: Check out the highlights from the Holiday Bowl]

Quarterback Bo Nix, playing 10 days after announcing he would return for another season in Eugene, saved his best throw of the game for the dying embers, finding slot receiver Chase Cota for a 6-yard touchdown pass yards on the fourth down he just snuck in. the goal line. Kicker Camden Lewis added the extra point to seal the game-winner, even if he gave the crowd in attendance a brief heart-stopping kick by making the throw from the right.

Highlights from No. 15 Oregon vs. North Carolina

Highlights from No. 15 Oregon vs. North Carolina

“We were able to deliver because our defense stopped them,” Nix said after the game. “Everybody did a play, I couldn’t have done it without each and every one of them.

“Ten wins, to send our seniors off like that … I couldn’t be more proud of how these guys battled today. It was a complete team win.”

Nix finished the game 22 of 30 for 205 yards and two touchdowns (one interception). The veteran signal caller only rushed five times for six yards, but looked much healthier in the pocket after suffering a lower leg injury late in the regular season.

The narrow margin was nothing new for the Tar Heels, who played their ninth FBS-highest scoring game this season.

While the 9-5 overall record plus a division title in ACC play will likely be seen as an accomplishment for Mack Brown and company, few in powder blue make the cross-country trip south of California will be happy with the way they left the bowl. The game slips away with missed scoring opportunities and suspects that the defense is in the stretch. In many ways, it was somewhat emblematic of the season itself for UNC, which started 9-1 and threatened to make a run at the College Football Playoff before ending the year with four straight losses.

Meanwhile, the Ducks finish their first campaign under Dan Lanning at 10-3 thanks to Wednesday night’s result, somewhat erasing losses to rivals Washington and Oregon State last month.

Oregon running back Bucky Irving had 149 yards and two scores in the first half to help pace the team on the ground, earning Holiday Bowl Offensive Player of the Game honors as a result. Still, it was Nix who might be most remembered by fans after he took over in the fourth quarter and led a pair of touchdown drives to erase a double-digit deficit in the final 10 minutes.

Oregon hoists the Holiday Bowl trophy

Oregon hoists the Holiday Bowl trophy

Here are three other takeaways from the Holiday Bowl:

1. The hype for Drake Maye is about to shoot even more

Even in the age of the transfer portal, waivers and early exits for the NFL, bowl games provide us with the last memories of the season and thus can become a bit of a hype. That will certainly be the case for UNC quarterback Maye, who was already earning plenty of praise for his work as a first-time starter this season, but could be elevated even higher after making some incredible throws in the Holiday Bowl.

The upcoming third-year player finished the game with a respectable 206 yards passing and three touchdowns despite playing without top target Josh Downs. Maye often seemed to carry the team offensively, looking silky smooth with virtually every pullback. His control of the offense was impressive and he certainly looked much bigger than a redshirt freshman with the way he moved through reads and found open receivers.

With a prime-time national audience on FOX, many of whom likely didn’t see much of the caller this season, tuning in for the outing, they got someone who will likely be the face of college football right up front in 2023. season right next to USC’s Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. Sometimes the hype that comes out of bowl games can be a little overwhelming, but in the case of the Tar Heels’ star, it’s probably justified.

Drake Maye passed for 206 yards and ran for 49 more in the Holiday Bowl.

2. Oregon missed Kenny Dillingham

UNC entered the Holiday Bowl ranked 103rd in FBS in scoring defense and 115th in yards per game allowed. In other words, the defense wasn’t great coming in, and faced a number of starters missing for various reasons.

However, Oregon was unable to capitalize on that group in large part because it seemed to miss former offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham (who left to become the head coach at Arizona State). The Ducks had essentially an entire month to come up with a game plan, but it seemed like once the initial script was finished, the playmaking combination of WR coach Junior Adams and TE coach Drew Mehringer didn’t have much . creative answers about what to do next.

The early success on the ground (9.8 YPC in the first half) dried up as the yardage piled up in the second half, and the downfield passing element that was ever-present under Dillingham never arrived (only two passes of 15+ yards on the night). ).

Lanning has hit the ground running as a rookie head coach this season by winning 10 games, but finding a veteran OC to help keep Nix and the offense humming will be a big offseason priority in the coming weeks.

Oregon’s Bo Nix hits Chase Cota for a 6-yard TD

Oregon's Bo Nix hits Chase Cota for a 6-yard TD

3. Time to stop bowling at baseball parks

There are four bowls taking place in baseball stadiums this season, and a common theme that seems to be developing in 2022 is that it’s becoming more of a novelty and more of a health and safety issue to play in these places

In Tuesday’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl, plenty of players from Wisconsin and Oklahoma State looked like they were in a slip and slide given the state of the turf at Chase Field, and it was much the same case Wednesday night at Petco Park.

While the grounds crew did their best to make the temporary patches of turf look ready for a couple of hundred pounds of football players pushing, pulling and running, it was mostly to no avail. There were divots that would make a PGA Tour pro shudder and a fairly uneven surface that had sand seeping through in spots. A good number of defenders faded to allow scores, while a handful of third-down conversions came shortly after the turf monster contributed a tackle. In other words, not the best way to play a college football game.

Fortunately, it didn’t look like anyone tore a knee ligament, but it might be time to limit the number of bowl games that take place outside purpose-built football stadiums so the field itself isn’t a side story to the action between the lines.

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets including NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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