3 takeaways from Bo Nix's final game, Oregon's Fiesta Bowl beatdown of Liberty
Oregon captured its 12th win of the season on Monday with a 45-6 win over No. 23 Liberty in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl.
After the Flames struck first on their opening possession of the football game and Oregon settled for a field goal, it looked like we might get an interesting back-and-forth. But when the Oregon offense took over with 1:17 on the clock in the first quarter trailing 6-3, it proceeded to score touchdowns on each of its next six possessions and completely shut down the Liberty offense on the other side.
Bo Nix was outstanding. The defense settled in. And the Ducks ended their season exactly as they’d hoped to — the right way.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Bo Nix goes out on the highest of high notes
No, it wasn’t a College Football Playoff game. But Bo Nix’s final game as a college football quarterback was meaningful and exceptional.
This year’s bowl season was largely disappointing. A potentially elite matchup between Georgia and Florida State turned into a “turn off after the first quarter” kind of day because of opt-outs. The Heisman Trophy winner sat out. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner sat out. Big-name quarterbacks everywhere stood on the sidelines in street clothes while backups took the field.
And then there was Nix, who chose to play in a game most expected to be a blowout. Nix couldn’t help his NFL Draft stock, only hurt it. Nix couldn’t win any awards by playing. Nix could break some records — which he did — but that hasn’t been the motivation for him at any point in his final year with the Ducks.
Nix played because he loves college football, he loves Oregon, and he loves this team.
Please don’t think that’s an attempt to disparage players who didn’t play. They made decisions for themselves. We’ve seen plenty of players get hurt in bowl games and suffer for it.
But when you’ve got a guy like Nix, you’ve got to celebrate him.
In the fourth quarter, Oregon coach Dan Lanning sent Nix out onto the field in a 45-6 game for one reason: a curtain call. He handed off to Bucky Irving, then subbed out to a roaring ovation from Oregon fans. The ESPN camera crew cut to Nix’s family in the stands and showed Nix’s father — an Auburn alum — wiping tears from his eyes.
Bo Nix curtain call. Oregon legend. pic.twitter.com/phqgwQCpkt
— Zachary Neel (@zacharycneel) January 1, 2024
This was a celebration of Nix’s career. In the first half, he broke Marcus Mariota’s single-season program record for passing touchdowns (45). In the second half, he broke Mariota’s single-season program record for passing yardage (4,508) and slipped ahead of Mac Jones for the single-season NCAA completion percentage record (77.45%).
He made his 61st career start — an all-time NCAA record. He’s the only FBS player ever to produce at least 55 touchdowns for two different schools. He ended his day with 363 yards and five touchdowns through the air while completing 28 of his 35 passes.
In two seasons with the Ducks, Nix helped the Ducks to consecutive 10-win seasons and took the team to the Pac-12 title game this season. Oregon fans didn’t like three losses to Washington in two years, but sometimes you just run into an elite team. Nix had the Ducks right there. It stings, but three-point losses weren’t a result of Nix’s play.
He transferred from Auburn with questions about his ability to be a winning quarterback. He’ll leave Oregon after completely silencing critics. He was outstanding. He wasn’t a “check-down merchant” but a smart quarterback that made winning play after winning play after winning play.
Throw to the open man. Make plays with your legs. Make plays with your arms. Rally a team. Lead a team. Coordinate an offense. Nix did everything asked of him.
The expectation is that Oklahoma transfer Dillon Gabriel will be able to step right in next season and keep all this humming. Maybe he can! But assuming he will somewhat cheapens what Nix was able to do in a Ducks uniform.
He was one of the best to ever wear it.
And I’m going to miss watching him.
Defense comes out shakey, but settles in and dominates
Liberty just waltzed down the field on its opening possession. Behind Kaidon Salter and the nation’s most productive rushing attack (309.9 yards a game), the Flames needed only six plays to go 75 yards for six points.
There was a 33-yard run with 15 added to it because of an unnecessary roughness penalty. Then a 17-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive.
Oregon had a serious talent advantage. It had a major size advantage. No, the defense wasn’t full strength, but Liberty wasn’t expected to be able to score at will on the Ducks.
Liberty got eight real possessions after that opening drive. Those drives featured five punts, two three-and-outs, a turnover on downs, and two giveaways.
Oregon got an interception with 72 seconds to play in the first half that set up another touchdown drive for Bo Nix and the offense. And it ended the game with a forced fumble that let the offense run out the final 6:07 of game clock.
Liberty had three second-half possessions as the Ducks shortened the game and gave up nothing.
Jeffrey Bassa had eight tackles. Steve Stephens IV came up with an interception. Nikko Reed had five tackles while filling in for the Ducks’ two absent starters at corner.
Lanning likes to preach about the importance of the middle of the game. Oregon outscored Liberty in the second and third quarters 35-0 and outgained the Flames 432-107.
Took the Ducks a minute to find their footing, but once they did, woah boy.
Tez Johnson offers a glimpse of the future
There was a clear and obvious emphasis to get Tez Johnson the ball early for Oregon. Without Troy Franklin in the lineup (NFL Draft), Nix was down his favorite target but that didn’t seem to matter at all.
Johnson was targeted 13 times. he brought in 11 of those receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown. He had an early drop, but more than made up for it with 134 yards after the catch.
He had catches for 7 yards, 5 yards, and 40 yards on the opening drive. In the third quarter, his 24-yard touchdown on a reverse flea-flicker screen pass (!!!) gave Nix the single-season yardage record at Oregon. Every step of the way this season, Johnson was a significant factor in the Ducks’ success.
In the game, Johnson nudged ahead of Franklin for the single-season receptions record at Oregon (86). He ends the season with 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns.
If he jumps to the NFL Draft, Oregon will miss him. If he decides to return, Johnson needs to be talked about as one of the best returning receivers in the country. Oregon can put him in the slot with an attention-grabbing receiver on the outside and Johnson can produce a 1,000-yard season. Or, as the Ducks showed on Monday, they can feature him as the focal point of a passing attack and dice up a secondary.