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Oregon Shows 'Next Man Up' was More Than Lip Service, It's a Culture

"We have phenomenal players at every position."

When former 5-star signees Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Flowe exited the tunnel onto the field at Ohio Stadium in street clothes on Saturday, what little hope most reasonable Oregon fans had likely dissipated.

The Ducks were 14.5-point underdogs at No. 3 Ohio State and that line was released before the public knew two of Oregon's four best players were out.

However, against all odds, the Ducks exited Ohio Stadium with a 35-28 victory over the nation's third-ranked team in front of 100,482 fans, the fourth-largest crowd in Oregon program history.  

"This is what you come to Oregon for," said Verone McKinley III in reference to the raucous atmosphere. 

The win was the first Ducks' victory over a top-three team since 2011 when Chip Kelly's Ducks routed No. 3 Stanford 53-30 at the Farm in Palo Alto.  

Many players from all over the depth chart stepped up to earn the win on Saturday. All football teams talk about having a "next man up" mentality, but Oregon showed that's the culture in Eugene. 

"Not having Flowe and not having KT, it's a big blow, but in football you have to be ready for whatever," McKinley told reporters in a postgame press conference. 

Due to what could be a long-term injury to Dru Mathis and the transfer of multi-year starter Isaac Slade-Matautia this summer, Oregon started true freshman Keith Brown at inside linebacker and constantly rotated in former walk-on Nate Heaukulani. Both linebackers saw success, combining for three tackles and manning the middle alongside Noah Sewell, who had seven tackles himself. 

"It's a next-man-up mentality so we knew that everybody was going to be prepared for this game. We were going to rotate guys and everyone needs to be ready to play," McKinley said. 

Bradyn Swinson, a second-year freshman who Mario Cristobal raved about on multiple occasions as someone pushing for playing time during fall camp, echoed that sentiment.

"We have phenomenal players at every position," he said. "We always train for next man up in any situation, if anybody go down, everybody should be ready. 

"It don't matter what depth you are on the depth chart. It don't matter if you're a one, two, three, or four, it's always a next-man-up mentality and you gotta be ready for the opportunity when it comes.

"Preparation equals success and once you have the preparation, you're ready for anything that happens," said Swinson, who came up with a key fourth-quarter sack.

For Swinson, the big play, which led to a game-clinching interception the next play, was a dream come true. 

"Leading up to this moment, you just dream of this moment," said Swinson. "Growing up as a kid, you just dream of having that one big play."

Not to be outdone by Swinson, McKinley III's interception was also a dream come true, literally. 



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"I kept having dreams about getting this game-winning pick or something," he said after the win. 

Swinson's eight-yard sack was the first time the Ducks got to C.J. Stroud all afternoon. The only other Oregon sack came from tight end DJ Johnson to end the game. 

Johnson, an edge rusher who converted to tight end in 2020, lined up on both sides of the ball all day with the Ducks defensive depth decimated by injuries.

Johnson wasn't the lone player to change positions either. True freshman Jeffrey Bassa saw limited action at linebacker after playing safety since enrolling at Oregon. 

In total, 25 defensive players recorded at least one tackle Saturday. 

Saturday's historic win showed not only has Cristobal's focus on elite talent acquisition yielded impressive standouts such as Thibodeaux, Sewell and Flowe, but it's given Oregon considerable depth.

Add in every player in that locker room has bought into the culture in Eugene and the sky's the ceiling for the Ducks. 

Just ask Ohio State. 

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