Oregon football fans were given a peek at what Duck football will look like without Justin Herbert, rushing for 392 yards and passing for only 118 (109 in the first half) in destroying a helpless Oregon State team that is several years away from being the competitive squad first-year coach Jonathan Smith is hoping to develop.
Ducks coach Mario Cristobal did a through job of preparing his team, both mentally and physically, for a Civil War game that was more of an exercise than a “war.” Herbert was a no-show for the second half after he incurred an undisclosed injury that looked to be similar to his collarbone injury last year against California. Tyler Shough ran out the clock in the second quarter and fellow backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister took the second half, driving the Oregon running attack successfully to victory.
For the Ducks, two freshman running backs shined. Travis Dye ran for 199 yards and CJ Verdell added 196 and five touchdowns as Oregon State revealed the defense that made it the poorest tackling team in the Pac-12.
The Beavers tried to slant their defensive line to offset the physical advantage Oregon enjoyed on the running game. However, too many of the defensive linemen were going sideways with their shoulders aimed at the sidelines, which made stopping cutbacks by Verdell and Dye difficult behind the consistently strong blocking from the boys up front.
The Ducks owned a field position advantage throughout the game and, as the rain pummeled the offensive players, it was an extra disadvantage for OSU to make much headway against a defense that did not let up, even as the score mounted in their favor.
Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., had an interesting day. He was targeted by Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton many times and allowed several sideline and hook completions to a variety of Beaver receivers, and one long post pattern in the second half. However, he made a great interception and ran it back 38 yards for a touchdown and then added another pick in the fourth quarter; a testament to his resolve and not getting down when things were going against him on the field in the first half.
The Duck defense did a nice job of demonstrating good tackling to their Beaver foes, and forced five turnovers during the game, of which the grateful green and yellow turned into points.
Smith and the Beavers had themselves to blame for the game not being close in the first half. There were a couple of ill-timed trick plays that didn’t work.
The Ducks were all over OSU’s trickery throughout the game. You could tell the advanced maturity of Oregon as compared to the youthful miscues that plagued the black and orange. You had to admire Smith’s calm demeanor as his team was demolished -- he has steeled himself for this difficult year and didn’t show a lot of emotion at the blunders by his Beavers. Inside, it must be eating him up.
Oregon’s offensive line dominated the leaky Beavers from the start, scoring on the first possession, a 67-yard march that was the beginning, it seemed, of opening up the floodgates. The Ducks were able to score three times in the first half, and it looked like OSU was in for a long afternoon.
Cristobal’s run-oriented offensive attack was accompanied by a low-risk passing game as Herbert was 9-of-12 for 109 efficient yards. For some reason, unexplained, his favorite target, Dillon Mitchell, did not play in the first quarter. (Later, it was reported that Mitchell was benched for the opening quarter because he missed a meeting.) When he came in first thing in the second, Herbert threw a poor deep pass to a streaking, and wide open, Mitchell. The ball came down out of bounds, as have many deep balls Herbert has launched to the right side of the field.
Oregon’s rush defense looked well prepared, swarming freshman sensation running back Jeron Jefferson. The Ducks held Jefferson, one of the Pac-12’s premier running backs, to 64 yards on 21 carries. The Beavers had some success passing the ball, seemingly aiming at Graham, several times for key passes.
Oregon State, 15-point underdogs, made too many mistakes that prevented the Beavers from being closer at the half. OSU missed two field goals and had a short pass intercepted by Nick Pickett in the Ducks’ end zone. The passer tried a Tim Tebow-style running jump pass, which was a good call, but he threw it too early to a tight end who was going to be wide open.
The Beavers were able to sack Herbert twice, and the Duck defense was tagged for three major penalties that allowed OSU drives to penetrate Oregon’s red zone. Smith had to be frustrated with the execution of his offense, as it was able to generate yards but not points. With less than a minute to go in the first half, the Beavers notched a field goal which might have given OSU fans second thoughts about leaving eaarly.
Third-down conversions were a big difference at halftime. The Ducks were 4-of-6 and the Beavers only 2-of-8. That and three pointless trips to the red zone kept this game from being close at halftime; that’s been a problem for Smith and his Beavers the whole season. OSU’s poor tackling and missed offensive opportunities have kept them from being more competitive, in addition to their youth and lack of depth.
The topic on everybody’s mind going into the second half was, would Oregon’s offense come back for the third quarter or would they hang up their game in the locker room?
Backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister started the second half, was 1-for-2 passing and handed off the rest of the game. Cristobal had made the decision to run the ball going into the second half. Given that Herbert was injured and out of the game and the game was mostly in a monsoon, it was the right decision.
The Beavers collapsed, giving up 34 points, answering the question of whether the Ducks would stand back offensively. On the other side of the ball, Oregon’s defense once again lived up to the reputation they have been building: they don’t get a lot of credit, giving up lots of yards, but not so many points.
Anthony Newman, a great Duck defender who went on to the NFL, once said the job of the defense is to defend the goal line. You might give up a 40-yard gain, but you don’t defend yards or plays, you defend your goal line. The Duck defense, despite its personnel limitations and injuries, has done a fabulous job in that area. The Beavers were only 3-of-6 in scoring drives that penetrated Oregon’s 40-yard line, which helped the Ducks a bunch, and brought a pall of gloom to the Beavers' sideline and the players’ hearts.
The Ducks, injured and not, will now have some time off to catch up on their CliffsNotes and their health. This is especially important for Herbert who, when his injury happened, looked like he did last year when he was injured against California. He moved his left hand and rubbed the area of his right collarbone, which was where last year’s injury was inflicted.
Cristobal and his staff can take a lot of satisfaction in what they accomplished this year with their record and the manner in which his players competed. There are still serious issues going forward regarding the offensive philosophy and the use of key personnel, especially a Heisman trophy candidate, but overall the campaign was a success.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.