Oregon QB Bo Nix’s record-setting day leads Ducks to Fiesta Bowl win over Liberty
Jan 1, 2024, 5:11 PM
(Arizona Sports Photo/Felisa Cardenas)
GLENDALE — The No. 8 Oregon Ducks, led by quarterback Bo Nix in his 61st and final college game, made the most of their Fiesta Bowl experience with a 45-6 victory over No. 17 Liberty at State Farm Stadium on Monday.
The 39-point difference was the highest in 53 renditions of the event, which drew an announced attendance of 47,769 on New Year’s Day.
Nix tied a Fiesta Bowl record with five touchdown passes and threw for 363 yards. By completing 28-of-35 throws, he walked off the field with the NCAA record for single-season completion percentage at 77.4%.
“It was hard not to think about it because you’re so close to something that you worked so hard for and that the season has led up to,” Nix said postgame. “I think the completion percentage is important because it speaks to a lot of people. It doesn’t just speak to one person. Everybody whom the ball is thrown to, they’ve got to catch it, and then you’ve got to protect it to throw it.”
— Arizona Sports (@AZSports) January 1, 2024
The fifth-year quarterback also set Oregon single-season records for passing yards (4,508) and touchdowns (45). Wide receiver Tez Johnson also made program history with his 82nd reception, a Ducks record.
Oregon scored touchdowns on six straight possessions after trailing 6-3, shutting out Liberty after its opening-drive touchdown.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning and Johnson mentioned postgame coming into Monday with a feeling of “unfinished business.”
The Ducks entered the matchup off a Pac-12 Championship Game loss to Washington that eliminated their College Football Playoff hopes. Liberty, meanwhile, won Conference USA with a 13-0 record and played its first New Year’s Six bowl game since joining FBS in 2018. The matchup involved two of the top five scoring offenses in FBS this season, but Oregon kept Liberty under 300 total yards.
“They had an elite season and hopefully this doesn’t overshadow the season that they had, but I know how I wanted to come out at the end of this thing,” Lanning said. “Fortunate enough for us, our players went out and performed.”
Liberty showed some juice early, taking the opening kick off and marching down the field for six points in only six plays. A 33-yard run by Aaron Bedgood set up the game’s first score on a Kaidon Salter 17-yard touchdown pass.
The Flames continued to stand up to their Power 5 opponent by holding Oregon to a field goal and a punt on its first two offensive possessions to take a lead into the second quarter.
Then the Ducks scored 28 unanswered points before halftime.
Ducks are flying high 🦆
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) January 1, 2024
Nix completed 19-of-25 passes in the first half — with a pair of drops at that — for 257 yards and four touchdowns.
Liberty ended the half with four straight punts and an interception.
The turnover gave Oregon 1:12 to work with, plenty of time for another touchdown drive to go up 31-6. Oregon got the ball out of halftime and didn’t relent, scoring another touchdown on a pass from Nix to Johnson on a double reverse flea flicker.
Nix earned the Fiesta Bowl’s Offensive Player of the Game award, while linebacker Jeffrey Bassa won the defensive hardware after leading the team with eight tackles.
“Reflecting on the first drive, going to the sideline and keeping our poise, we were going to execute at a high level from there on,” Bassa said.
Why did Bo Nix play in the Fiesta Bowl?
Nix was a Heisman Trophy finalist this season and finished third behind winner Jayden Daniels of LSU.
Daniels was among many players around the country to forgo their bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft or to transfer.
Nix said deciding to play was an easy decision, especially after losing the Pac-12 title game.
“My decision was simple: I wanted to go out and compete one more time,” Nix said. “I wanted to go out and play another game, I don’t think you are promised many opportunities to play the game of football. And with the year that we had, it would have been a shame if I didn’t go out there and finish with the guys who made it all possible.
“I never had a question if I was playing in it. … There wasn’t much of a decision. For some guys, that’s different. It’s all you know situationally based, but I just couldn’t wait to get back on the field with these guys after what happened on Dec. 1, and I couldn’t wait to go back out there and compete one more time.”
Nix heads to the next level, and Oregon moves onto the Big Ten next season with incoming Oklahoma transfer Dillon Gabriel.
Fiesta Bowl attendance and meaning
The Fiesta Bowl’s crowd size saw a significant drop-off from 71,723 fans last year for Michigan-TCU in the CFP. Monday’s attendance was the lowest for a Fiesta Bowl game with the exception of the 2020 season, according to Sports Reference.
The event will host playoff games going forward with the field expanding to 12 teams.
Even without the added playoff stakes, getting the chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl meant something to Nix and Lanning, who recalled memories from past versions of the game in the Valley.
“I grew up watching the Fiesta Bowl, I grew up watching bowl games on New Year’s Day, dreaming and going outside after and playing like I was in that position,” Nix said. “Pregame I was out there warming up and I thought back to 2010, the National Championship was here and I was able to come to it and (it was a) full circle moment coming back in my fifth year, in the last game ever back in this stadium.”
“Certainly a unique experience to be a part of a New Year’s Six, I think every one of our players realized how special moments like that, how special this game is,” Lanning added. “I remember being in college watching the Fiesta Bowl with Oklahoma and Boise State.”
Oregon’s Bo Nix and Dan Lanning on the Fiesta Bowl experience after defeating Liberty.
“Getting to be a part of it is really, really special.” pic.twitter.com/3zI42sFX7w
— Arizona Sports (@AZSports) January 1, 2024
Liberty had the opportunity play on a New Year’s Six stage after raising its conference trophy, a new benchmark in the eyes of head coach Jamey Chadwell. He said the program is shooting for the expanding CFP and believes this season shows recruits a thing or two.
The Flames were one of four 13-0 teams entering bowl season in Chadwell’s first year in charge.
“Today is a great motivator because it tells us how far we are, and we’re far away right now,” Chadwell said. “But we will be back on that, and I hope future recruits and people know that we’re heading in a great direction.”