Canzano: Bo Nix and the Oregon Ducks pass a gut check
Win sets up huge rivalry game vs. Oregon State.
EUGENE — I don’t know if you saw Bo Nix play football on Saturday night. The University of Oregon quarterback wasn’t his typical, mobile self. He rushed for -3 yards, in fact.
On one play, UO offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham sent Nix in motion out of the backfield.
The Autzen Stadium crowd watched.
Nix was a decoy. The plan was to snap the ball to a running back. But as the quarterback with an injured foot trotted in motion toward the sideline, Utah’s defenders didn’t move. They turned their heads and watched like the rest of us.
Nix looked like a guy making his way across an icy crosswalk on a cold winter night. I half expected a Boy Scout might run on the field and help him across the formation.
It was Oregon 20, Utah 17 on Saturday night. Nix was gutsy, playing with one bad wheel. He threw for 287 yards, a touchdown and one interception.
“Early in the week, I didn’t know that he would be able to go,” said UO coach Dan Lanning.
“I was proud to be out there with him,” said offensive lineman Ryan Walk.
This was the same Nix who broke his ankle last season at Auburn, then jumped in the transfer portal and fled to the Pac-12. The same QB mocked by SEC fans. That same guy injured his foot late in last week’s loss to Washington and then, answered the call seven days later against Utah. He made juuuuuusst enough plays to help Oregon win its ninth game of the season.
Was Nix done for the season? Were the Ducks cooked without him? Or would Nix jog out of the tunnel and make Saturday night’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff?
There were questions all week, alright. Lanning said, “This is one of those times where Pac-12 after dark was a good thing, it gave us a little bit more time for rehab, all the way up until the game.”
We’ve seen a lot of great things from quarterbacks over the years at the University of Oregon.
Justin Herbert, throwing missiles.
Marcus Mariota, slipping linebackers.
What we hadn’t ever seen was a Ducks quarterback pretty much stand stationary for four quarters, throwing darts around the field. Then, late in the fourth quarter, needing to ice the game, Nix faked a hand off, ran, and dove two yards for a first down.
Said Lanning: “We asked Bo right before that play if we could run the play knowing that the two options were to hand it off or for him to keep it and he said ‘absolutely.’ That guy’s got heart.”
Give Oregon’s coaching staff credit. It came up with a game plan and got the win on Saturday. Also, give the Ducks defense some love today. A week after being pantsed by Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., it held Utah to a season low in points.
Said Lanning: “Sometimes, I think our best shows up when everyone else doubts us.”
It was Nix I went home thinking about. He threw for 189 yards in the first half. Then, managed 98 in the second half. Utah made defensive adjustments. Had the game gone to overtime, I don’t think the Ducks win. But UO taped together a game plan and MacGyver’ed its way to 20 points and a victory on Saturday.
The game formerly known as the Civil War. That’s what I’m calling it until they re-name the thing. Our long-standing state rivalry (Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. at Reser Stadium). Two winning teams and a lot at stake. And the Beavers are especially good at home, where they’ve won 10 of their last 11.
OSU runs the ball well, plays stingy defense and enjoys a good rumble as much as any team in the conference. They won’t be impressed by the quarterback statue the Ducks erected in the backfield against Utah. Oregon must get Nix healthier in the next six days, but I liked what I saw on Saturday night.
We’re all in a struggle against our limitations. That’s life, isn’t it? The Ducks were resilient on Saturday. We watched Oregon stumble around the field, exploring the edges of those limits. Nix’s performance wasn’t smooth and easy. It was gritty and authentic. It was essentially a wince. I suppose that’s why I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
As Oregon was bleeding out the clock in the final minute of the victory, Nix caught the snap and fell forward on the ground. Walk, the lineman, helped his quarterback to his feet and hugged him. On the ensuing snap, Nix took a knee.
The crowd erupted, game over.
I’ve been covering sports in this state for two decades now. I’ve seen some wild things. I watched Oregon’s quarterback wander around the field after Saturday’s win — helmet off, his hair drenched in sweat, eye-black smeared down his cheeks.
In the end, Nix found himself standing near midfield, scanning the herd of Utah players heading toward the tunnel at the opposite end of the stadium.
Then, Bo Nix started running toward those Utes.
More like a jog, really.
He went 10 yards… then 20… then 30… before he finally caught up to the player he was pursuing. It was Utes’ quarterback Cameron Rising, who had a tough night himself. Rising, helmet off, wore a knee brace, and a long face.
Bo Nix reached out, put his hand on Rising’s shoulder pads. The opposing quarterback turned. The two quarterbacks shook hands, and hugged, and talked for a moment.
I’m not sure what was said. But there’s one week of football left in the Pac-12 regular season. One of those two quarterbacks will likely head to Las Vegas for the conference title game against one-loss USC and Lincoln Riley.
I don’t know if you saw Bo Nix play football on Saturday night. I did. And I won’t soon forget it.
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