Mario Cristobal has talked a lot about elevating the standard.
Perhaps the subdued reaction to a 3-0 start is evidence that the message is being received in the Ducks’ locker room.
No. 20 Oregon will obviously have to raise its level of play for the Pac-12 football opener against No. 7 Stanford on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks dropped some more passes, committed several costly turnovers and averaged 2.7 yards per rushing attempt during the 35-22 victory over San Jose State in the nonconference finale.
“Obviously we got away from what our standard was and what we hope to achieve week in and week out. But we’re very confident in our abilities,” center Jake Hanson said. “Most importantly, we just have to learn from the game film and move forward. But we’re very confident that we can handle Stanford.”
Cristobal, who still oversees the offensive line, was pleased with the unit’s pass protection and praised San Jose State’s senior-laden defensive front for playing well and executing a smart game plan.
Justin Herbert finished 16-for-34 passing for 309 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions against a reeling Spartans secondary that had allowed an average of 433.0 yards in the air in losses to UC Davis and Washington State.
“I’m not disappointed with his play at all,” Cristobal said of his star quarterback. “I know he is very critical of himself, and that’s OK. We want our players to have high standards for themselves.”
The Cardinal (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12), which opened the season with quality wins over San Diego State and USC, are coming off their own lackluster performance, a 30-10 home win over UC Davis.
Bryce Love, last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up, sat out but is expected to start against Oregon. K.J. Costello threw two touchdown passes to JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
“It wasn’t perfect, but we played well,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “I told the team we’re not going to act like we lost because we didn’t win by as much as we wanted to. We’re going to act like we won.”
Stanford pummeled Willie Taggart’s Ducks 49-7 last season when Herbert was out due to injury and humiliated Mark Helfrich’s final Oregon team 52-27 during the 2016 meeting at Autzen.
Jim Leavitt’s defense is better equipped to give Cristobal a chance for a breakthrough win over the consistent Cardinal.
“I feel like we have a lot more still in the tank,” defensive end Jalen Jelks said after recording one of the Ducks’ four sacks against the Spartans.
After holding San Jose State to 29 yards rushing on 28 attempts, Oregon ranks fifth in the FBS in yards allowed per carry (1.96).
“We’re just really focused on Stanford and playing a great game,” linebacker Troy Dye said. “Our goal is to take the Pac and win the Pac-12, so we just have to go out there and start off on a great foot and get a win.”
Love rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on only 17 carries against Oregon last season. Braxton Burmeister and Taylor Alie were a combined 5-for-13 passing for 33 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Burmeister is out for two weeks after undergoing a surgical procedure on his knee, which means true freshman Tyler Shough will back up Herbert.
The Ducks must run the ball better to re-balance the offense. Stanford ranks 30th in the FBS in total defense.
“We’ve got to do a better job of making sure we are executing better,” Cristobal said. “The best part about this thing is when you go in the locker room the mood is just not content, not satisfied. You can watch tape and learn from this without having paid the price of not winning a football game.”
Cardinal rise, ESPN returns
Oregon remained at No. 20 in this week's Associated Press poll while Stanford moved up two spots to No. 7.
ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Eugene on Saturday for the Top-20 matchup that kicks off at 5 p.m. The show also was on site for the Ducks and Cardinal in 2010 and 2012.
Oregon dropped to eighth in the country in scoring at 51.7 points per game while moving up to ninth in rush defense by allowing 77.0 yards per game on the ground — although Love's expected return may challenge that statistic.