Typically, a third cupcake is not a good idea.
No. 20 Oregon played like a kid coming down from a sugar high while finishing nonconference play with a listless 35-22 victory over San Jose State on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks (3-0), despite the uneven performance, still performed well enough over the first three weeks of the season to attract a visit from ESPN’s “College GameDay” for next week’s Pac-12 opener against No. 9 Stanford.
Is Mario Cristobal’s program ready for primetime?
“I think it’s time to go find out. That’s what I think,” Oregon’s first-year head coach said. “We’ve done all the right things from January all the way up until this point. Our players, they can’t do more than what we’ve asked them to do. They’ve done all the right things, they’ve worked extremely hard.
“And now we go into conference play with enough momentum to go and play Oregon football. It’s something that we’re ready and eager to attack.”
After averaging 60 points during lopsided wins over Bowling Green and Portland State, the Ducks had a tough time running the ball against the Spartans (0-3).
Oregon averaged 2.7 yards per carry and was 7-for-18 on third-down conversion attempts.
“We’re definitely very excited that (ESPN) decided to come here,” center Jake Hanson said. “I think at this point we’re not really worried about anything going on outside of what we have to do here. We intend to learn from this game.”
Justin Herbert struggled by his lofty standards for most of the day against a San Jose State defense that ranked 129th out of 130 FBS teams in passing defense (433.0 ypg) coming in.
The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior quarterback was 16-for-34 passing for 309 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“They did a great job of playing defense, and unfortunately we didn’t move the ball as well as we would have liked,” Herbert said. “We didn’t play the type of football that we wanted today, but we’ll learn from it and get after it this week.”
Herbert connected with Johnny Johnson for two touchdowns, including a 22-yard score to give Oregon a 35-12 cushion with 14 minutes, 49 seconds remaining.
San Jose State’s Thai Cottrell returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards before being pushed out of bounds by Verone McKinley at the 4-yard line. Oregon’s defense held the Spartans to a field goal.
“We just always try to stay poised no matter what the circumstances are,” defensive end Jalen Jelks said of the key goal-line stand.
Tony Brooks-James exploded for what the roaring crowd of 50,049 thought was a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but the score was wiped out by a holding penalty called on Nick Pickett.
Oregon was flagged six times for 59 yards, including a roughing-the-quarterback penalty that negated an interception by Jevon Holland.
“Certainly today we played some inconsistent football,” Cristobal lamented.
Herbert was intercepted in the end zone wth seven seconds left in the first half and by linebacker Jesse Osuna in the fourth quarter, but San Jose State didn't score any points off the turnovers.
The Spartans, coming off a 31-0 loss at Washington State and were 42-point underdogs, outscored the Ducks 16-14 in the second half.
Malik Roberson’s 1-yard touchdown with 4:03 remaining cut San Jose State’s deficit to 13 points and was the first rushing touchdown of the season allowed by Jim Leavitt’s defense.
“We’ll take any win that we can get,” Herbert said. “It’s tough winning college football games.”
Willie Taggart agrees. Oregon’s one-and-done coach is off to a 1-2 start at Florida State.
The Ducks weren’t in a celebratory mood after extending their home nonconference winning streak to 23.
“It’s a mood where, hey man, we learned a lesson,” Cristobal said. “We have to be much more consistent. At the same time, when things don’t go our way, our responses have to be better.”
Ugochukwu Amadi continued a spectacular start to his senior season. The safety finished tied for the team lead with eight tackles and returned a punt 57 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Cyrus Habibi-Likio, which gave Oregon a 28-6 lead.
“His improvement has been tremendous,” Jelks said of Amadi. “Every time I was in the backfield, he was in the backfield. He was in the backfield more than I was, which is crazy.”
Justin Hollins was also dominant, finishing with eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception.
San Jose State quarterback Josh Love was 15-for-31 passing for 238 yards with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Oliver.
Bryce Love and the Cardinal will present a much greater challenge. The cupcakes are all gone.
“So many good things happened today,” Leavitt tweeted. “Focus on the positive and work on the rest. PAC 12 starts Saturday."