BERKELEY, Calif. — There was atonement and another sin for Oregon’s young running back group.
While senior Tony Brooks-James watched from the sideline with an ankle injury, freshmen CJ Verdell and Travis Dye combined for 221 rushing yards during the 19th-ranked Ducks’ 42-24 victory over No. 24 California on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
Verdell, whose fumble with 51 seconds remaining in regulation opened the door for Stanford’s 38-31 overtime victory, opened the third quarter with a 74-yard run. The redshirt freshman finished with 106 yards and averaged 11.8 yards per attempt against the Bears (3-1, 0-1).
“Very happy for him,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “Quite honestly, I expected it because of the kind of competitor he is. There is no fear in him. We completely trust him, as we do Travis. I know Travis is probably beating himself up a little bit in that locker room. They’re two freshmen, and that’s OK.”
Dye sprinted through the Bears’ defense for a 45-yard touchdown in the first half but lost a fumble in the third quarter to give the home time a little life. He finished with 115 yards and received the bulk of the carries late in the fourth quarter when Verdell was icing a sore knee.
Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who fumbled at the goal line with a chance to give the Ducks a 31-7 lead over the Cardinal, scored a 1-yard touchdown after Verdell’s long run to make the score 35-10. The redshirt freshman had six carries for 12 net yards.
Brooks-James played on the kickoff return unit but did not get a carry.
“Tony Brooks-James was a little bit gimpy and we thought it would be difficult for him to carry the ball on a down-by-down basis,” Cristobal said.
Cal running back Patrick Laird had 92 yards rushing and a touchdown. The Bears’ top two backups, Marcel Dancy and Derrick Clark, did not play.
Defensive line depth
Oregon defensive end Austin Faoliu did not make the trip due to an ankle injury. Gary Baker started in his place and made five tackles, and Drayton Carlberg added a key sack and forced fumble, which La’Mar Winston returned for a touchdown.
Justin Hollins, the only player in the nation to have a full sack in each of the first four games this season, did not have a sack Saturday.
Over the last 18 games dating back to the start of the 2017 season, Hollins and Jalen Jelks have combined for 38.5 tackles for loss.
Starting tight end Jacob Breeland did not play because of injury, but Justin Herbert threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to his replacement, South Florida transfer Kano Dillon, on Oregon’s first drive.
Walk-on Ryan Bay also played a lot of snaps and helped pave the way for the Ducks’ big night running the ball.
A handful of Oregon’s true freshmen played in their fifth game, which means they will not redshirt this season.
The group includes Dye, starting left tackle Penei Sewell, safety Jevon Holland, linebacker Adrian Jackson and punter Tom Snee.
Cal still leads the all-time series 40-39-2, including a 27-17-2 edge in Berkeley. Oregon has won nine of the last 10 meetings. … The Major League Baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers on Fox Sports 1 ran long, so the start of the Cal-Oregon game was pushed to 7:40 p.m. ... Steven Coutts’ 73-yard punt in the second quarter was the seventh-longest in Cal history and the longest the Bears since Bryan Anger had punts of 75 and 76 yards against Stanford in 2008.
“We could hear them, we could feel them,” Cristobal said of the large contingent of Oregon fans who made the trip to Berkeley. “They provided us with a lot of juice, a lot of energy.”