In a game that newspaper oddsmakers refused to set a point spread, Mario Cristobal’s Oregon Ducks showed up and demonstrated why they’re in the Pac-12 and Portland State is not, running up a 62-14 score before 47,210 sun-baked fans at Autzen Stadium.
Not much out of the ordinary or expected occurred as the Green and Yellow had to punt only three times in thrashing the Vikings. Justin Herbert showed his sharp, pin-point passing, completing 20-of-26 throws for 250 yards and four touchdowns by the end of the third quarter. The Ducks also scored five touchdowns on the ground.
To the relief of many fans, Cristobal allowed second-team quarterback Braxton Burmeister into the game with 1:08 left in the third quarter and a 49-7 lead. Burmeister looked as smooth as you could, mostly handing off, but he completed a key third-down pass to keep a 75-yard touchdown drive going to make it 56-7.
True frosh Tyler Shough also got into the action, coming on with 3:14 left in the game. He too, looked comfortable handing the ball off to CJ Verdell who ran roughshod through an exhausted Portland State defense.
With Burmeister and Shough getting some snaps, it appears that the Oregon coaching staff is waking to the necessity of getting backups some realistic action in case of emergency later in season (like the two past years). You wouldn’t want to run the score up, but it would have been nice to get more passing attempts by the backups.
The Duck defense gave up two scores on pass plays; one on a 71-yarder when a safety was beaten in man coverage. The other score was from the 4-yard line to the same receiver who beat his coverage on an inside slant route, something that should never happen with a defensive back taking an inside cushion on the receiver.
Portland State set up its second touchdown with a double pass when the quarterback threw it laterally to a wide receiver, who then threw it downfield to a completely uncovered receiver who snuck behind a backup secondary that was sprinting to tackle the wide receiver. If the ball had not been underthrown with the receiver slowing down to catch it, the play would have resulted in a touchdown.
Portland State could not run the ball effectively (1.6 yards per rush) as it was not physical enough to stand up to the Duck front seven. To their credit, the Vikings were stubborn and persistent and, as part of their overall game plan, were able to run more time off the clock running than passing. For the game, the Vikings only passed the ball 16 times while running it 40 times.
The Ducks ran a somewhat conservative approach the first half, and Herbert completed 8-of-10 first-down passes for 107 yards and the running backs averaged 8.1 yards per carry. The Viking offense was very conservative, not throwing on first down and only averaged 1.9 per rush.
Still, Viking quarterback Jalani Eason scrambled and hit tight end Charlie Taumoepeau for a 71-yard score on a broken play to tighten, momentarily, the score to 21-7 in the second quarter. Taumoepeau did a fine job of finding an open area and beating Oregon’s safety in man coverage to give Portland State something to cheer about.
Oregon was workmanlike, but not necessarily spectacular in running up a 35-7 halftime lead. There was never a doubt that teh Ducks had the game in hand, running up 19 first downs and 336 yards total offense in 39 plays. Oregon’s offensive line looked disciplined, but did not overpower Portland State’s front seven until the second half.
Herbert, ever the Heisman candidate, threw for four touchdowns in the first half -- he had 18 completions on 24 attempts. He did have one pass dropped, but after that, the Duck receivers caught the ball faultlessly.
In the kicking game, Oregon had its final point-after-touchdown blocked. The Ducks were able to mount a decent return game, averaging 7.0 yards per three punts returned but a paltry 10.0 yards on its one kickoff return.
Portland State, taking advantage of the new NCAA rule that if you fair catch a kickoff inside your 25-yard line, you can get the ball spotted on the 25-yard line, which the Vikings did 10 times. That saved their return team some heavy hitting, which is probably a good idea for PSU because it doesn't have the depth to risk their players on kickoff returns, especially when down a bunch of points.
Coach Cristobal will have something to say about penalties as the Ducks racked up 40 yards on four penalties, with only one on the offense. Still, the consciousness of the team and coaching staff is still on working to be perfect in avoiding penalties, a refreshing change from years past.
The UO running backs sparkled behind solid blocking, which got better as the game wore on — a testament to the depth Cristobal wants to throw at opposing teams while running a fast-paced tempo offense.
Freshman CJ Verdell, who racked up 106 yards, ran with a great load and pad level, and as a result was hard to tackle one-on-one and broke several gang tackles. Another freshman, Travis Dye, is not very big but he’s fast, cuts well and, like his brother Troy the linebacker, is a tough in-your-face football player. He rushed for 58 yards including a 49-yard scoring dash.
Not to be outdone, Tony-Brooks James rushed for 107 yards on 21 carries and like the offensive line seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. In that way, this game was great for the offensive line and running backs. Not only did they get some yards, they were also able to get some consistency and rhythm, the kind that all good running teams want to put on their opponents.
Defensively, the Ducks had a good pass rush, especially off the edge, getting four sacks, seven tackles for loss and three hurries. The PSU quarterback would try to step up in the pocket several times, but the interior three defensive linemen were pushing the offensive linemen right back into the face of the quarterback.
There were no turnovers by either team and the Ducks tackled better than last game. Overall, the discipline and intensity, which can often fall off when you’re knocking the dog out of a team, was maintained throughout the game.
For the first time in a long time, the Oregon defense did not allow a score at the end of the first half or the first part of the second half. This is a good sign and certainly helped the offense initiate and sustain drives and second-half momentum.
Next week, the Ducks take on the San Jose Spartans in the last of their nonconference games. They will be favored and at the least, will be further tested in their discipline and execution.
Chip Kelly used to say every opponent was faceless; they were all the same and it was just up to the Ducks to bring their game, execute and play the way they practice. Cristobal has pretty much the same mindset and right now, it’s all going as planned.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.