Danny O’Neil - 1994 - Stanford
The ‘94 Ducks may be best known for their ‘Gang Green’ defense, but in a road trip to Stanford late in the season it was their red-hot offense that led them to their first Rose Bowl since 1958. Quarterback Danny O’Neil had plenty of time to pick apart the Cardinal defense as the Oregon offensive line prevented a sack to set up four passing touchdowns and 261 yards before halftime.
“I had time out there to take a couple of shuffles on a three-step drop, and that’s amazing... I threw the ball 37 times and didn’t get sacked, and that’s amazing. It was an easy day for me because the guys around me played such great football.”
-Danny O’Neil after a walk in the park
O’Neil was the first quarterback in program history to throw six touchdowns, finishing the matchup against Stanford 21 of 37 for 339 yards. The game was also a record breaking night for wideout Cristin McLemore, who caught three touchdown passes to set a new career touchdown reception record at 19. The Ducks still needed a win in the Civil War to solidify their Rose Bowl appearance (a game they would win 17 to 13), but the win over Stanford provided some fireworks for what would end up a historic season for Rich Brooks and the Ducks.
Joey Harrington - 2000 - Arizona State
The Duck quarterback known as captain comeback took advantage of some baffling decisions from ASU head coach Bruce Snyder (the former Oregon fullback) to rally back from a 42-28 deficit with under 3:21 to go with a pair of touchdown passes. A fumble gave Harrington a golden opportunity to tie it with under a minute remaining in regulation, and the Oregon QB found tight end Justin Peelle to send it to overtime, where they would win after a failed two-point conversion attempt from ASU in double overtime. Harrington finished 26 of 43 for 434 yards and was the second Duck in program history to throw six touchdowns. But, of course, Harrington was only warming up for his fantastic senior season...
“I’m just speechless and in total shock right now, we’re going home with an empty tank. We left everything - physically and emotionally - on the field.”
- Joey “Captain Comeback” Harrington
Darron Thomas - 2011 - Nevada
A year after leading the Ducks to their first ever national championship game, Darron Thomas maintained the high standard set by Chip Kelly during his junior season. Oregon lost to #4 LSU in Arlington, Texas in week one, but rebounded with a 69-20 victory over the overmatched Nevada Wolf Pack in week two.
Thomas managed to throw six touchdowns despite completing just 13 of his 19 passes, including two touchdowns to another standout Thomas - De’Anthony Thomas. Perhaps the most underrated quarterback in Oregon history, Thomas not only steered the Ducks toward a natty, he also concluded his Oregon career with a Rose Bowl victory over the Wisconsin Badgers - their first Rose Bowl win in 95 years.
“I thought Darron played outstanding today. He got the ball to the right guys.”
- A somewhat impressed Chip Kelly
Marcus Mariota - 2012- California
Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota had the Oregon offense performing at such a high level that a 59-17 victory over a conference opponent seemed par for the course. The future Heisman winner was 27-of-34 against the Cal Golden Bears and tallied six touchdowns and 377 yards through the air. The following week, a 14-17 overtime loss to #14 Stanford was Oregon’s only blemish in what could have been an undefeated, national championship winning season for the Ducks, but the 2012 season as a whole was a triumph for the program.
“They did a good job of filling the box, that gave us and the passing game more opportunity to do what we can do. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you have such a good running back like Kenjon. Guys fill the box to stop him.”
- A ridiculously humble Marcus Mariota
Vernon Adams Jr. - 2015 - USC
Coach Mark Helfrich needed to find a replacement for the best player in program history. And despite the 2015 season falling short of expectations, grad transfer Vernon Adams Jr. (AKA Big Play VA) managed to shine in the shadow of Marcus Mariota.
When Vernon Adams Jr was healthy, the Ducks looked like a PAC-12 title contender, and when he wasn’t, they were the kind of team to blow a 31-point lead to a backup quarterback. After healing from a broken finger on his throwing hand, Adams led Oregon to six-straight victories to end the 2015 regular season. One of those wins came against USC, a program that the California quarterback rooted for in his youth but showed no interest in recruiting him. Coming off of a thrilling victory against No. 7 Stanford, Big Play VA picked apart the Trojan defense for 407 yards, six touchdowns and just a single interception on 20-of-25 passing to ultimately beat No. 22 USC 48 to 28.
“It is a great feeling, having my son be here. I think I play my best games with my family here. It is awesome having my family get out here and enjoy this experience with me. I’m so excited about being able to tell my son about this later on in life. He was just in shock looking at everybody.”
- Vernon Adams Jr on being the best dad ever
Justin Herbert - 2016 - California
And now we end on a sour note. The only six-touchdown performance to end with a loss took place during Oregon’s worst season since the three-win 1991 team. The 2016 season featured some real lowlights for the Oregon program: an embarrassing loss to Mike Riley’s Nebraska team, a 70-to-21 loss to the Huskies that snapped a 12-game winstreak for the Ducks, and a loss to the Beavers that hammered the final nail in the coffin for head coach Mark Helfrich. But perhaps the brightest spot during a dark season was the discovery of Justin Herbert, who grew up mere miles from Autzen Stadium .
After being thrown into the fire against No. 5 Washington, where his first pass as a starter was intercepted, the freshman gave Duck fans something to believe in the following week. Despite ultimately losing by a score of 49 to 52, Herbert showed promise by rallying his team from a 21-point deficit to force overtime. The young QB finished 22-of-40 for six touchdowns, 258 yards through the air and 66 yards on the ground, but finished with a disastrous interception in double overtime. The following week, he tied Bill Musgrave for most yards thrown in a single game with 489 in a victory over ASU.
Herbert’s career perfectly encapsulates the fall and rise of the Oregon program in recent history, and as his hair grew, so did the aspirations of the Duck faithful.
“I think there was a lot of progress from last week. It’s a step in the right direction, but definitely not the way we wanted it to end.”
- Justin Herbert, the hometown hero