Mario Cristobal understands what his players are seeing on their phones before and after practice.
The Ducks’ season truly begins a week from now when No. 9 Stanford, and perhaps ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” show, roll into Eugene for the Pac-12 opener.
“I think you have to be real about it,” Cristobal said. “Somehow social media took the approach of skipping past this game. That’s the kind of stuff that will always test you.”
No. 20 Oregon is expected to ace its third and final practice test against San Jose State on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The Ducks (2-0) lead the Pac-12 in scoring (60.0 ppg) and total offense (533.0 ypg) after trampling Bowling Green (58-24) and Portland State (62-14).
The Spartans (0-2), coming off a 2-11 season, lost their home opener to UC Davis (44-38) and were shut out at Washington State (31-0) last week.
Cristobal, whose team is favored by 42 points, has added motivational speaker to his list of duties this September as the program feasts on a flavorless nonconference slate.
“I think our guys understand that we have an opponent here, if we don’t play our best football, that can have success against us,” Cristobal said. “We all understand, even more importantly, that we haven’t played our best football yet. We’re trending upwards, and that trend has got to continue.”
Six different players have touchdown receptions and five different players have rushing touchdowns for the Ducks. Senior safety Ugo Amadi has also returned an interception for a touchdown.
The star of the show, Justin Herbert, ranks seventh nationally with a passer efficiency rating of 214.51. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior quarterback has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 531 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
If not for a series of drops by wide receivers, Herbert’s numbers would be even better two weeks ahead of taking the same national stage as 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love.
“When we played (Herbert) in 2016, I was just really impressed,” said Brent Brennan, who was an assistant at Oregon State from 2011-2016 before becoming San Jose State’s head coach in 2017. “I watched him throughout the year on opponent film, and he’s a fantastic player. He deserves all the appreciation and love that he’s getting.”
San Jose State ranks 129th out of 130 FBS teams in passing defense, allowing 433.0 yards per game, and 126th in total defense (566.5 ypg).
“I try not to overlook opponents,” said sophomore receiver Jaylon Redd, who leads Oregon with three touchdown catches. “Because when you overlook opponents that’s when slip-ups come, mental errors, and you won’t be ready for the next game anyway. I’m 100 percent focused on San Jose State.”
Brennan is looking for signs of progress during a difficult rebuilding process. The Spartans only gave up seven points in the second half in Pullman and won the turnover battle with three interceptions.
Montel Aaron was only 13-for-25 passing for 94 yards against the Cougars. Due to five sacks and eight tackles for loss allowed, San Jose State finished with only nine yards rushing.
“How we fought in the second half as a football team, the kids are showing that they want to play,” Brennan said. “I believe in this football team, I love these kids, and they’re giving us everything they’ve got. We’ve got to make sure we’re putting them in the right position to give them a chance to make plays, even in a game like that when we’re having a tough time handling the front and the movement.”
Oregon’s defense continues to make steady progress in Jim Leavitt’s second season as the coordinator.
Jalen Jelks is first among Pac-12 defensive linemen with 15 tackles this season. Nose guard Jordon Scott finished with a career-high seven tackles against Bowling Green, and defensive end Austin Faoliu had a career-high seven tackles against Portland State.
La’Mar Winston has been cleared to rejoin the linebacking corp after missing last week’s game while going through concussion protocol. Amadi has played at an all-Pac-12 level this season while leading a young secondary.
There was one fly in the ointment against Portland State. Tight end Charlie Taumoepeau had five receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Now San Jose State tight end Josh Oliver, a 6-5, 250-pound senior who leads the team with 13 receptions for 137 yards, will be looking for a big day at Autzen.
“In this league, as we continue to go forward, our safeties are going to have to cover more,” said Oregon safeties coach Keith Hayward. “Whether that be versus a good slot receiver or a good tight end like we’re going to see this week. Our coverage skill set is going to be very much needed.”
Oregon leads the all-time series with San Jose State 12-6, including a 58-3 victory in the last meeting Sept. 19, 1998.
With 22 consecutive home wins over nonconference foes, fans are used to the Ducks making it look easy this time of year, which leads to the looking ahead at the Pac-12 race.
Meanwhile, the Spartans are looking forward to their only chance to play at Autzen.
“I’ve been there, coached against those teams. I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like to be in that stadium. It’s an incredible challenge for our team,” Brennan said. “It has had such a rich history in (our players’) lifespan. Oregon has been a sexy, winning brand. …
“It will be more about taking a deep breath and just play this one play.”