PASADENA, Calif. — Mario Cristobal is going to be getting another pay raise after Oregon pulled off a one-point bowl win for the second consecutive season.
Athletic director Rob Mullens, who was celebrating with the Ducks after Wednesday’s 28-27 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, understands winning The Granddaddy of Them All is much more significant than last year’s 7-6 Redbox Bowl over Michigan State.
Since Cristobal took over the program following Willie Taggart’s abrupt departure for Florida State, Oregon is 21-7 with a Pac-12 championship and its fourth-ever Rose Bowl victory.
The Ducks are carrying the banner for the struggling Pac-12 and taking full advantage of USC’s struggles on the recruiting trail. Cristobal and his staff are gradually accruing the talent and depth needed to get back in the College Football Playoff.
So the number one takeaway from the celebratory scene in the postgame locker room: Mullens will be locking Cristobal, whose $2.6 million base salary ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in 2019, up with a new deal in the near future.
Here are four other takeaways from the thrilling 106th Rose Bowl:
2. Andy Avalos was a home-run hire
The program’s first-year defensive coordinator’s unit capped off a spectacular season by limiting Jonathan Taylor — who racked up over 6,000 yards rushing in three seasons — to 94 yards on 21 carries with no touchdowns.
Safety Brady Breeze continued to make game-changing plays with a fumble return for a 31-yard touchdown and another forced fumble that led to Justin Herbert’s game-winning touchdown run.
The secondary will be one of the nation’s best in 2020 with safety Jevon Holland and cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham all expected to return, along with Breeze.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Pac-12 freshman defensive player of the year, is emerging as an unstoppable force up front.
And with an incoming recruiting class that includes five-star inside linebacker prospects Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell, the Ducks are prepared to replace Troy Dye, who led Oregon in tackles in four straight years.
“It’s a good way to finish,” a beaming Avalos said after posing for photos with his players and the Rose Bowl hardware.
3. Marcus Arroyo won’t be missed
At least not by a large chunk of the Oregon fan base, which has questioned the UNLV-bound Arroyo's play-calling for two full seasons.
After the Ducks marched 75 yards in 12 plays on a well-scripted opening drive, which was capped with a 5-yard touchdown run by Herbert, Oregon only mustered 39 yards the rest of the half.
To be fair, Arroyo did come up with a game plan that Utah was not prepared for in the Pac-12 championship game and he continued to call Herbert’s number in the run game as the senior quarterback finished with three touchdowns in the Rose Bowl.
“They're in good hands. They've got the right coaches, they've got the right guys coming up,” Herbert said of what Oregon will look like without him behind center. “And they'll have a really good defense next year and some really explosive offensive players. I'm excited to watch them, for sure.”
Cristobal, as he did by hiring Avalos away from Boise State following the breakup with Jim Leavitt on Valentine’s Day 2019, will try to hit another one out of the park with his offensive coordinator hire.
4. The kickers deserve to celebrate, too
Blake Maimone was an unsung hero all season. The senior averaged 44.8 yards on six punts with a long of 57 yards to keep the field long for Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, his counterpart, Anthony Lotti, lost the fumble that Breeze returned for a 31-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Placekicker Camden Lewis, who experienced the high of making the game-winning field goal against Washington State and the lows of missing several chip shots in big games, technically was the difference in the Rose Bowl.
The true freshman’s extra point after Herbert’s third touchdown made the score 28-27.
Lewis, who had a kickoff returned for a 95-yard touchdown by Wisconsin’s Aron Cruickshank, was at least 4-for-4 on PATs in the Rose Bowl.
“There was still a lot of time left,” Lewis said of what his nerves were like before what proved to be game-winning kick with 7:41 left. “It was an extra point. I was going to make it.”
5. It will be hard to replicate this team’s chemistry
What made the 2019 Ducks special was the combination of senior leadership — the guys that had experienced the 4-8 debacle and the dizzying coaching carousel — and the influx of dynamic young difference-making talent.
Oregon will have to replace Herbert and four senior starters on the offensive line. Nose tackle Jordon Scott could also be leaving for the NFL draft.
The 2020 Ducks might still be the Pac-12 favorites, but there are some big cleats to fill.
“After that 4-8 season with our trajectory, this program could have been lost in the dust,” left guard Shane Lemieux said. “And I think these seniors, including myself, really brought this program back to where it is.
“A Rose Bowl win is a fairytale. This is the best senior year I ever could have imagined.”