It took the 10th try, but Oregon smashed Bowling Green 58-24 to notch the program's first win ever over a team from the state of Ohio. For new head coach Mario Cristobal, it was his first win, sweet enough, presumably, to erase the foul taste in his mouth after the sickening defeat suffered to Boise State in December’s Las Vegas Bowl.
The player of the game was quarterback Justin Herbert, who did not have a great completion percentage (10 for 21, 48 percent), but had an excellent touchdown-to-attempt percentage (5 of 21, 24 percent). Herbert threw several lasers that were too much for his receivers -- they dropped the first three passes he threw in the first quarter.
The Duck receivers made a couple of excellent catches, but at other times dropped easy ones and could not shake coverage as you would hope. There is still a great deal of work to be done to get this group competitive for a run at the Northern Division crown.
The play calling, which was a concern going into this game, started out aggressively as Herbert threw deep several times in the first quarter. Unfortunately, several were dropped. The Falcons notched a field goal on their first possession as the Duck defense missed several open-field tackles to allow drives to move forward. As the Oregon offense faltered, Bowling Green scored a touchdown for a 10-0 lead and the crowd of 50,112 stirred uneasily.
Herbert got the offense going thereafter, scoring five straight touchdowns before the Falcons scored right before halftime to make the score 37-17 at the break.
On the first possession of the second half Duck senior safety Ugo Amadi picked off a pass and sprinted 38 yards for another score.
The Duck defense gave up some yards in the air (253) but were stingy against the run (136). It was curious that starting linebacker Troy Dye was still in the game at the very end. It would seem that with a big lead and a bunch of young linebackers waiting in the wings, that it would have been a good opportunity to give them playing time, if only to develop some depth at the position.
Braxton Burmeister, the backup quarterback, was inserted in the fourth quarter and was ineffective, although he did not look like the frightened deer in the headlights that he was last season. For some reason, Herbert came back into the game for Burmeister in the fourth quarter on fourth down in Bowling Green territory and promptly threw an interception. Next series, Herbert was back in and threw another interception. So much for building Herbert’s confidence.
The quarterback who needed to be in the game should have been Burmeister, who was mismanaged by last year’s staff, never getting the reps or positive reinforcement necessary to grow into a mature quarterback. If you don’t believe Burmeister has the talent to be a decent quarterback for the Ducks, check out his sophomore high school highlights on Youtube. Quarterbacks are delicate and need a lot of coaching and experience to reach their potential. It was weird to have Herbert in and Burmeister out with the score overwhelmingly in favor of Oregon, 51-24, with time running out.
Cristobal has his own ideas about how well the offense should operate, however, and the lack of success by the second team convinced him that he should make a statement putting the number one group back in. That is a legitimate point, but in runaway games like this, it seems a better opportunity for getting young players valuable experience for the future.
The Ducks showed a wealth of running backs to run the power offense Cristobal wants to establish. It would be easier with Royce Freeman still around, but frosh running back C.J. Verdell showed some strength (13 rushes for 51 yards) while all the others showed quickness and speed with average physicality. One of the most dramatic plays of the game was Taj Griffin finally getting a chance to show his speed as he spotted several tacklers 10 or more yards and outran all of them on an 83-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Herbert. He flashed an incredible display of the speed that has made him famous since he transferred to Oregon, and he has not had many chances to show it .
The Ducks had three turnovers and forced three out of the Falcons. Penalties were a big issue last year with the Ducks giving up around 100 yards per game via the yellow flag but, on this night, only three penalties were called with two of them late in the game. Kudos to Cristobal for declaring that three was too many, testimony to the no-nonsense approach he has brought to the program.
The defense looked fast, but missed more tackles than Cristobal would accept. The Ducks made seven tackles for loss and three sacks. There were several hurries as the pass rush looked like it will be a factor this season. Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks have been promoted as big-play guys and both showed that in spades; they are formidable setting the edge of the defense and applying pressure from those positions.
The Ducks scored a lot of points in only 22 minutes of possession, a disparity the defense has to work to eliminate. In this game, the defense held Bowling Green to 5 of 19 on third-down conversions, which is good, and 4.4 yards per play, which is also pretty good compared to Oregon’s 7.4 yards per play.
To be honest, Bowling Green is not a very good football team, although it was somewhat competitive for three of the four quarters. Bigger tests loom on the horizon, but not this coming Saturday as Portland State comes to Autzen for an 11 a.m. kickoff.
Cristobal was pleased with the win and the overall effort of the team, which is young compared to others in the Pac-12. With the beginning of a winning streak against teams from Ohio, maybe a matchup with the other team from Ohio (Buckeyes) lies ahead and that would be sweet.
Ken Woody is a former Fox Sports football analyst who played for the University of Oregon (1966-70) and coached college football for 18 years, including stints as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State, and was head coach at Whitman College and Washington University-St. Louis.