Well, the nonconference season, thank goodness, is finally over and coach Mario Cristobal’s Oregon Ducks are now going to have some giants on their hands after three wins over football midgets.
Saturday's 35-22 drubbing of San Jose State may, or may not, have been as close as the score indicated.
The Duck defense yielded its first rushing touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter after the Spartans hit two consecutive pass completions for 33 and 31 yards to the Oregon 1-yard line.
Overall, the San Jose State front linemen on both offense and defense stood chin-to-chin with the Ducks, who presumably were supposed to be an overwhelming physical favorite over the Spartans. San Jose State played much better, and tougher, than last week when they were shut out by Washington State. The Ducks could average only 2.7 yards per rush and a total of only 134 yards for the game, much fewer than their expectations.
Cristobal’s mighty physical powerhouse line has yet to impress in the first three games. There is discipline among the linemen, although they did have their first false start penalty (it was on a receiver, which is inexcusable, but he’s still counting as a lineman if he lines up on the line of scrimmage). There also was the first offsides penalty for the season, which was also called on a lineman. The offensive line is not as physical or effective, as advertised, hoped or expected.
Cristobal stressed that the Ducks must learn from this frustration; the struggle was mostly in the run game and the offensive line allowed too much penetration on slants and stunts. Better this lesson against San Jose State than Stanford, however.
Cristobal said the pass protection for Justin Herbert was more efficient, allowing the Oregon quarterback to get the ball off in most cases, even when the Spartans brought the blitz. Herbert actually got his game in rhythm when he calmed down and began completing the ball to his running backs, which he did seven times this game.
At halftime, Mike Jorgenson, the expert play-by-play radio commentator for KUGN-AM, expressed exasperation at the offensive ineptitude of Oregon’s first-half performance against an inspired, but outgunned San Jose State defense. He was concerned with Herbert’s performance as he forced passes into coverage, missed open receivers and, for the third-straight game, had to put up with drops by his wide receivers.
At the half, Herbert was 8-for-20 passing with an interception for 204 yards and two touchdowns; totally un-Herbert-like and surely an un-Heisman-like performance. The second half was not a lot better, as Herbert continually threw the ball too high and wide for his receivers. For the game, he gained 309 yards passing but made several poor decisions in his target choices, completing only 16 of 36 and having two picks by underneath defenders.
The play calling was conservative, unimaginative and never provided the momentum the Ducks were able to get going in their first two games, both victories.
Defensively, defensive end Justin Hollins was a player of the game with eight total tackles, two for loss, one sack, a forced fumble, a pass break up and an interception. His buddy inside, Jalen Jelks, had five tackles, a sack, 1 1/2 tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Together, along with the inside pressure in the middle, Hollins and Jelks provide a fierce pass rush.
Defensive back Ugo Amadi was all over the field: eight tackles, 1/2 tackle for loss and two pass breakups. He also was an effective blitzer off the edge and created some chaos in the Spartan backfield. His contribution went even further on the offensive side, returning three punts for 100 yards, the longest 57 yards. Amadi really showed his experience in the secondary and is a steadying influence on the youngsters who are attempting to gain valuable experience as fast as they can.
Right now, it appears the Ducks’ biggest deficiency on defense may be the speed of the corners. Both starters were beat several times by San Jose State receivers who were faster than the Oregon corners trying to cover them. Stanford will have as good, or better, or faster receivers; the secondary will have a lot to say about Oregon’s chances to win that one.
Oregon’s kicking game was a bright spot. The Ducks totaled 100 yards on punt returns and 90 yards on kickoff returns, allowed only three yards on punt returns. But, they gave up a 96-yard kickoff return to their 4-yard line. The defense bulled their necks, allowing only one yard before forcing a field goal by San Jose State, a fine accomplishment. You never know when another situation like that will occur and it’s good to have a little history of success.
A big, nasty Stanford Cardinal team will visit Autzen next Saturday at 5 p.m., a game that will be the featured on College Game Day on television. If the Ducks play like they did against San Jose State they will be embarrassed; they desperately need Herbert to start fast and efficient, the pass receivers need to catch from the very start of the game and the defense must keep the Cardinal’s quarterback from having a big day.
Bryce Love, Stanford’s Heisman running back candidate, cannot beat the Ducks on his own. He may get over 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but it won’t be enough if defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt can put together a game plan that will limit the Cardinal pass offense.
This is the biggest game of the year. If Oregon can win, it becomes a factor in games with a lot of other teams and could win against anybody. Lose it, and Cristobal’s staff faces a schedule with no “sure things.” Those days are gone, as of today.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.