COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The signs were everywhere. No. 12 Oregon was not only back but back in your face. In those heady, wonderful, giddy moments following the Ducks' 35-28 win over No. 5 Ohio State, coach Mario Cristobal ordered his left tackle Dawson Jaramillo to roll up his left sleeve as the hulking 300-pound sophomore headed to the bus.
On the kid's bicep was the logo for the 80s hair band Poison. Inside Jaramillo's forearm was one of the everlasting lyrics of this or any age. "It's only rock and roll, but I like it."
All mullet and sweat, Jaramillo smiled.
"That's what development gets you," Cristobal said.
He wasn't talking MTV trivia, the Oregon coach was talking the heavy metal his Ducks brought to The Shoe for the most significant result of the young 2021 college football season. You see, these Ducklings might have wound up beaten Saturday -- they were two-touchdown underdogs -- but they weren't going to be beaten up.
Jamarillo was part of a two-tackle rotation on that side of the ball that helped set the tone all day. If it wasn't Jamarillo jamming Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison, it was senior Greg Moore sealing Tyreke Smith. Wheel routes, runs, it was all there. At least when the Ducks needed it most.
Cristobal knows a little something about offensive line play. He won two national championships playing for the position at Miami. He helped build the enduring dynasty at Alabama as an assistant coach who recruited some of the best offensive linemen -- and overall talent -- in the country.
"We're not live, are we?" asked Dennis Lavelle, who was residing in the first row behind Ohio Stadium's North end zone. Lavell, Cristobal's high school coach at Miami Columbus, was celebrating with the rest of the Ducks. Through the hugs, smiles and backslaps, a question was muscled through: What kind of high school player was Cristobal?
"He was a bad ass," Lavelle said. "This is his biggest win, signature win. … He said a million times he wanted to go to the West Coach and change the culture, which means hit you in the mouth, run the ball. And I think he proved that. They won because they ran the ball."
Yes, they did.
Oregon running back C.J. Verdell rushed for 161 yards and two scores, part of a 269-yard day on the ground by the Ducks. On their first possession, the offense went 99 yards in 10 plays for the game's first score. Three plays into the second half, Verdell broke loose for a 77-yard scoring run that sucker punched the Buckeyes and their fans, who had waited 20 months to experience a full Shoe again.
Three different times, Oregon had a two-touchdown lead. It finally locked things down when cornerback Jerome McKinley II picked off Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud with 2:50 left.
"Some of those muddy yards that are 3- and 4-yard shots, those are like body blows," Crisotbal said of the run game. "Identity showed up. Resiliency showed up. All the things that you hammer home. Why we practice like we practice, it's validated when you come out and do something like this."
It carried over to game.
Let's talk about that development. Not only did the left side of the Oregon offensive line own the game, it had no choice otherwise. The defense coached by veteran Tim DeRuyter was decimated before and during the game. Superstar defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux came out in street clothes after suffering a sprained ankle last week. Two other starters and five members of the two-deep were knocked out during this game of attrition.
The D got so worn down, tight end D.J. Johnson played a few snaps across the line of crimmage.
A freshman (Bradyn Swinson) opened at Thibodeaux's edge spot. Another freshman (Keith Brown) started in place of freshman linebacker Justin Flowe, who himself had been starting in place of Dru Mathis. Count third-year freshman Trikweze Bridges -- yes, third year because of a redshirt and COVID-19 season -- and that was three freshmen at one point in the starting defensive lineup.
"It was almost time for the coaches to suit up and start playing," Cristobal remarked.
That's development, too. So is traveling 108 players to Columbus, 75 of whom are underclassmen. So is that left-handed offensive strategy that Cristobal said was a matter of "angles and leverage." In other words, he wasn't going tell anyone how the Ducks gouged the Bucks.
The result was one of those head-turning moments for a football season, a program and a conference.
Oregon -- and the Pac-12 -- are now part of the national conversation for the first time in a while. The Ducks walked into Ohio Stadium and handed the Buckeyes their first home loss since 2017 when Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield tried to plant that OU flag into artificial turf. The Sooners won 31-16 that night. The flag didn't make into the ground.
However, there is something more permanent about Saturday. Maybe it was Oregon QB Anthony Brown playing the biggest game of his life. The Boston College transfer didn't turn it over while throwing for 236 yards and two scores. Maybe it was LB Noah Sewell walking off the field a week after Pro Football Focus named him the best run stopper of Week 1.
"It kind of feels unreal right now," Sewell said. "We knew it was kind of a big stadium. Crowd kind of gets in your head a little bit. Tune all the noise out and just do you."
And so when the noise finally was turned down on a full Shoe for the first time in 20 months, Oregon earned its biggest win since the first College Football Playoff semifinal seven years ago against Florida State. That was the last time Pac-12 could be this proud, too. (It also broke a 0-9 winless mark against Ohio State).
Oregon emerged Saturday as a legitimate playoff contender. Eyes must shift to the West Coast. Its Oct. 23 showdown with No. 16 UCLA in the Rose Bowl could be one of the games of the year.
"That's for you guys to decide," said Cristobal, referencing the gathered media. "We feel like we've been building like this for a while now. But we're not there yet. But we've taken massive steps. More than that, we've taken massive psychological steps."
Cristobal recalled taking over a shell of a team in 2018 after Willie Taggart's one-and-done adios season. Cristobal got the job in large part because he could recruit his ass off.
Saturday proved he could coach his ass off, too.
Oregon also showed its guts during a middling 31-24 debut at home against Fresno State. The Ducks trailed 24-21 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, got a turnover and saw Brown run 30 yards for a touchdown. Still, there wasn't a good feeling afterward, especially knowing they would have to fly 1,700 miles east into the belly of the beast.
"We looked lost a little bit," Cristobal said of last week's game. "We lost our way. We weren't triggering. We weren't just getting downhill until the fourth quarter when we almost felt like our backs were against the wall. And guys started looking at each other saying, 'Enough is enough.'"
The Ducks stored up that frustration.
"The offensive linemen, we came out shot out of a cannon, pretty much," center Alex Forsyth said.
Symbolism bled across Ohio Stadium. Oregon's fifth touchdown of the afternoon -- the eventual game-winner -- nestled into the hands of freshman tight end Moliki Matavao. It just so happens that Matavao wears No. 8, same as Marcus Mariota, the last Pac-12 quarterback to win a game this big. (Never mind Oregon and Mariota then lost that first CFP title game to Ohio State.)
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has been around for a couple of months. He wasn't going to miss this one for the world. At halftime, he lamented how West Coast talent had migrated east. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud was of those Californians. Stroud told CBS Sports this summer he felt "disrespected" he didn't get more attention from Pac-12 schools.
After two games, Stroud has been the best thing going for the Buckeyes. He threw for three more touchdowns and now has seven for the season. The defense looks like it needs a complete retooling. In 2019, Ohio State's led the country giving up 4.19 yards per play. That number slipped to 5.85, 59th nationally in 2020.
So far this season, the Buckeyes have given up 6.19 yards per play. In its last three games, they have allowed a combined 118 points and 1,534 yards.
"It was a game we never really were in control of," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "They ran the ball. … Because of that, I think they really kind of controlled the game."
Day lost the first regular-season game of his career. The Buckeyes will remember who came to town.
So will Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, for whom this was as soothing as it was enjoyable. Four years ago, he called a magnificent game as Penn State's offensive coordinator. The Nittany Lions led 35-20 going into the fourth quarter before losing 39-38 to the Buckeyes.
"It was eerily similar. [This] was cathartic," Moorhead said.
Back in the North end zone, the back slaps and hugs for Lavelle seemed like they were never ending.
"This is like a dream come true when you teach and coach for a living," he said. "I'm from Ohio, so this is sweet."