The Ducks were booed 11 minutes, 30 seconds into Mario Cristobal’s first home game as head coach.
Oregon was trailing Bowling Green 10-0 and had just called its second timeout when the crowd of 50,112 expressed its displeasure with the sloppy start to the 2018 season.
Two snaps later, Justin Herbert threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Redd on fourth-and-18 to turn everyone’s frowns upside down.
The Ducks, who moved up one spot to No. 23 in this week’s Associated Press poll, scored 37 consecutive points en route to a 58-24 victory.
Overcoming a double-digit deficit against a mediocre Mid-American Conference team qualifies as adversity against a Charmin-soft nonconference slate.
“I think we’re a lot tougher than we thought,” Herbert said when asked what he learned about the team on Saturday night. “We knew adversity was going to strike. We didn’t know it was going to strike that early. It was good the way we rebounded.
“We came together and put up a lot of points in a short amount of time. It was good to see.”
Oregon finished with 504 yards of total offense and is ranked 10th nationally in scoring.
Herbert completed only 47.6 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. But the junior quarterback still had six total touchdowns (five passing, one rushing) and 322 yards of offense (281 passing, 41 rushing).
Marcus Mariota is the only other player in program history to throw five touchdowns in a game while also rushing for a score.
“That’s my quarterback, man,” redshirt freshman running back CJ Verdell said of Herbert. “We expect him to go out there and make plays like that all the time. He’s a great athlete. It wasn’t really surprising to see him make all those plays, but it was good to see it first hand.”
Verdell led the Ducks’ running back committee with 13 carries for 51 yards. Seniors Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin, sophomore Darrian Felix and true freshmen Travis Dye and Cyrus Habibi-Likio also had turns in the backfield.
Eight different Oregon players had at least one reception. The only Herbert passes Redd (two), Griffin (one) and Johnny Johnson (one) caught were for touchdowns. Dillon Mitchell’s 9-yard touchdown reception put Oregon ahead (14-10) for good.
“The thing that you’re always looking for is the resiliency of the team and how their character builds early in the season,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “It’s just so encouraging to see our guys respond after a slow start and come from behind and score 30 (points) in the second quarter. That’s the sign of a good team, a team that is resilient and continues to turn the scoreboard off and keep playing ball.
“I just think that that’s a really good sign for a team that’s just coming together.”
After the Ducks’ powerful counterpunch, Cristobal decided to take Herbert out of the game in the third quarter, only to reinsert the potential Heisman Trophy candidate following a three-and-out with Braxton Burmeister running the offense.
Coaches and players have been raving about Burmeister’s improvement since his struggles last season, when he had a 1-4 record as the starter with two touchdown passes and six interceptions as a true freshman.
The Ducks did not score without Herbert on the field against Bowling Green. Burmeister was 1-for-5 passing for 11 yards.
“He’s just got to keep working. Unfortunately he didn’t get too many reps in last game,” Herbert said. “He was kind of thrown into a tough situation last game as well, coming off the bench and being taken back out after that. …
“He’s doing a great job in the film room and everything. He knows what he’s doing, and I’m sure it will carry over soon.”
Cristobal said he would like to get all three of his scholarship quarterbacks snaps this season. True freshman Tyler Shough did not play in the opener.
“It’s really just kind of like a poise thing,” Griffin said of Burmeister not being able to carry strong practices into games during the early stages of his career. “For some people it just happens faster than others. As he continues to get more comfortable and take more reps he should up his game for sure. He’s definitely had a good fall camp.”
In the 16 games Herbert has started since replacing Dakota Prukop as a true freshman in 2016, the Ducks are averaging 42.3 points.
If Oregon is able to avoid another slow start this Saturday against Portland State, Herbert might be able to take his shower at halftime.
The FCS Vikings have lost 14 consecutive games and are coming off a 72-19 loss at Nevada.
“There’s a lot of good stuff to build on, some things he wanted back,” Arroyo said of Herbert’s overall performance against Bowling Green. “We’re real critical about how we play at that position here, we have been for two years. I think he has done an awesome job of taking critical coaching, and he is very critical of himself.
“There’s some very good plays on tape, and some things I think we’ve got to learn from.”
The touchdown pass on fourth-and-14 that chased the boo birds from Autzen will be a part of Herbert’s highlight reel ahead of a future NFL draft.
“That’s as good of a throw as you’re going to see,” Arroyo said. “He did an awesome job, threaded the needle. We’ve all seen his accuracy is above average, and he will continue to display that. Great read, great ball, great catch.”