13-1 , 8-0
12-2 , 8-1
Game Recap: Football | | Rob Moseley
Bo Nix capped a prolific career by leading the No. 8 Oregon football team to a win over Liberty on Monday.
Nix capped the most prolific season ever by a UO quarterback and Johnson broke a weeks-old school record for receptions in helping the No. 8 Ducks beat Liberty on Monday in the Fiesta Bowl, 45-6. Oregon finished the 2023 season at 12-2, the sixth 12-win season in school history — all since 2010.
“This game was about unfinished business,” said second-year UO coach Dan Lanning, who is 22-5 with two bowl wins at Oregon. “We said we’re writing the last chapter to our book, and we had the pen. And I thought our guys wrote a phenomenal chapter.”
Nix broke multiple records set by Marcus Mariota in the latter’s Heisman Trophy season of 2014. He also set a UO bowl record with five touchdown passes and completed 18 of his last 19 attempts to finish the season with a completion rate of 77.45 percent — beating the previous NCAA record of 77.36 set by Mac Jones of Alabama in 2020.
Liberty, the previously unbeaten champions of Conference USA, scored the game’s first points by driving to a touchdown on the opening possession. After kicking a field goal in the first quarter, the Ducks saw Nix throw four touchdown passes in the second quarter to break the game open.
Nix finished the game 28-of-35 for 363 yards and five touchdowns. He finished the season with 4,508 yards and 45 passing touchdowns, breaking Mariota’s records of 4,454 and 42, respectively.
“Every time I went out there, it slowed down more and more,” said Nix, who enjoyed two prolific years at Oregon after playing three seasons at Auburn.
“By the end of it, I just had a really comfortable feel and I think this year with what we were doing offensively, schematically, we just were very efficient. And part of that is because of what we did offensively, and then the players we have on our side of the ball. It’s been a great career.”
Nix’s fifth touchdown came in the third quarter, and the 24-yard scoring pass to Johnson was the play that gave Nix the UO single-season passing yardage record. Johnson caught 11 passes for 172 yards on the day, giving him 86 receptions on the year — five more than the 81 that Troy Franklin had through the Pac-12 Championship Game, which had broken the previous UO record of 77.
Bucky Irving scored Oregon’s final touchdown of the day, in the fourth quarter. Irving, who has announced that he will enter the 2024 NFL Draft, capped his career with 14 rushes for 117 yards and a score.
Defensively, the Ducks bounced back from allowing 130 yards in the opening quarter to allow just 164 yards the rest of the way. Liberty entered the game leading the country in rushing yards per game at 302.9, and rushed for a season-low 168 on Monday.
“Reflecting on that first drive, (it was about) going to the sideline and keeping our poise,” said UO linebacker Jeffrey Bassa, who led the Ducks with eight tackles. “And then we were going to execute at a high level from then on.”
Oregon’s 584 yards of offense were third-most in UO bowl history, behind 639 against Florida State and 621 against Wisconsin in the 2015 and 2012 Rose Bowls, respectively.
Nix’s five touchdown passes were to five different receivers. Scoring throws to Gary Bryant Jr., Terrance Ferguson and Kenyon Sadiq gave Nix the UO record for touchdown passes in a single season, and gave Oregon a 24-6 lead late in the second quarter.
Liberty then mounted one of its better drives of the day, but UO senior defensive back Steve Stephens IV came up with an interception to regain possession for Oregon with 1:12 left in the first half. Nix’s fourth touchdown pass of the second quarter, to Traeshon Holden, made it 31-6 at the break.
Nix then added his touchdown pass to Johnson in the third and directed the drive in the fourth quarter that ended in Irving’s rushing touchdown. After Oregon regained possession with 10:52 left in the game, Nix came out for the next drive but soon after was subbed out for Austin Novosad, earning roars from the fans in attendance and adulation on the sideline from his teammates.
“I grew up watching the Fiesta Bowl, I grew up watching bowl games on New Year’s Day, and dreaming and going outside after and playing like I was in that position,” Nix said. “Even though maybe you could say it didn’t go how we wanted it to this year, I think it ended exactly how we could have controlled it. I think we did everything we could with the opportunity that presented itself.”