Recent history suggests Mario Cristobal and the 16th-ranked Ducks still have an opportunity to deliver the memorable season they were envisioning throughout fall camp.
Five years ago, Oregon overcame an October home loss to unranked Arizona en route to the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game.
Despite the wincing after the bitter 27-21 loss to Auburn, which climbed to No. 10 in this week’s Associated Press poll, Cristobal remains confident that all was not lost in Arlington, Texas.
“We feel strongly that we have a real good football team with our goals still sitting in front of us,” Cristobal said. “So certainly looking forward to getting back to Autzen Stadium in front of our fans, our home crowd, and get back to playing this Saturday.”
Oregon will try to get on the winning track against Nevada on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (4:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Eight years ago, Chip Kelly’s talented squad also suffered a season-opening loss to an SEC opponent at AT&T Stadium (a 40-27 defeat to then-No. 4 LSU) before trouncing the Wolf Pack 69-20 in the home opener.
Oregon finished the 2011 season 12-2 and won the Rose Bowl for the first tine in 95 years.
Junior safety Brady Breeze, an Oregonian and lifelong fan of the Ducks, went even further back in program history to paint a rosy picture this week.
“If you look back at the 1994 Rose Bowl team, they lost to Hawaii, and I think they lost another game (early) that season,” Breeze noted. “You can bounce back. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish the season.
“If we keep getting this thing rolling, roll against Nevada and then Montana and then roll into the Pac-12, I think we can be a team that’s pretty special.”
Rich Brooks’ final Oregon team followed a loss in Honolulu with a loss to Utah in Eugene. The Ducks also lost a conference game at Washington State.
But the memories of Kenny Wheaton’s pick against Washington, the “Gang Green” defense and the Pac-10-clinching win at Oregon State still give fans goose bumps.
Oregon, led by potential NFL franchise quarterback Justin Herbert, appears to have a balanced team capable of making a run at the Pac-12 title.
The Ducks were in control of Auburn before letting a 21-6 lead evaporate down the stretch.
“They were a good team, but we know that we should have beat them. We had it in the bag,” Breeze said. “Our defense was playing physical and it was kind of a bummer because we could have called ourselves Gang Green 2.0.
“We just came up short, but I feel like our defense is going to be really good this year. We’re starting to bond together. You can see it in practice where guys are just flying around and we kind of have a little chip on our shoulder now.”
The Wolf Pack (1-0) are coming off a dramatic 34-31 win over Purdue. Freshman placekicker Brandon Talton was awarded a scholarship after hitting the game-winning 56-yard field goal as time expired.
Nevada’s win over a Big Ten opponent was part of a strong start for the Mountain West, which also has wins over the ACC (Boise State defeated Florida State), SEC (Wyoming defeated Missouri) and the Pac-12 (Hawaii defeated Arizona).
“The crowd is right on you and it can be loud at times. But when you’re a competitor you look forward to that," Nevada coach Jay Norvell, a former Arizona State and UCLA assistant, said of the challenges of playing at Autzen. “Probably over the years, my favorite games have been environments like that. Especially when you’re on the road, because it’s you against the world. All you can do is count on your teammates.
“It’s exciting to be able to play in a stadium like that and have success because you can quiet the crowd and that’s our challenge this week."
Autzen’s roar has not been interrupted in openers since a 30-24 loss to Indiana in 2004.
Oregon has won 14 consecutive home openers and averaged 57.1 points during the streak while outscoring the opposition 800-285.
The Ducks have also won their last 23 nonconference home games dating back to a 37-32 loss to Boise State in 2008.
Herbert was 28-for-37 for 242 yards and a touchdown last week, but most of the attempts were short passes.
Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said he would have taken more deep shots if given another crack at Auburn’s stifling defense, which held the Ducks to 90 yards rushing.
“That's the nature of the beast,” said Arroyo, whose unit was shut out over the final 24 minutes, 37 seconds by the Tigers. “It’s an immediate shift. As soon as you get home, wake up that night, it's boom, it's over, put it to bed and move forward.
“Nevada is a really good team, they're really well coached.”
Oregon wide receiver Juwan Johnson and tight end Cam McCormick both missed the opener and will be game-time decisions Saturday.
Two other key targets, receivers Brenden Schooler and Mycah Pittman, are out with injuries.
Redshirt freshman tight end Spencer Webb caught Herbert’s touchdown pass playing wide receiver, and true freshman tight end Patrick Herbert may get an opportunity to play with his older brother at Autzen.
“It was a coach's decision presented to me, and I said whatever to help the team and I just did what I had to do,” Webb said of moving to the flanker position. “It's been great. The wide receivers welcomed me in, and it's been awesome.”
Oregon’s defense came up with two interceptions and held up physically against Auburn for three quarters. Then true freshman quarterback Bo Nix converted a fourth down on the final drive by the nose of the ball and tossed the game-winning touchdown pass with nine seconds left.
Troy Dye led the Ducks with a career-high 15 tackles. The senior linebacker’s 328 career tackles are the most among active Power 5 players.
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound redshirt freshman, completed 30 of 51 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns against Purdue.
The Wolf Pack trailed 24-7 and 31-17 before rallying in the fourth quarter.
“A lot of positive energy,” safety Jevon Holland, who had an interception and 131 yards in punt returns against Auburn, said of Oregon’s response in practice this week. “We really attacked the ball, we had good plays, but it’s hard to focus on the good things when the bad things are so keen in your sights.
“Really, it’s all about correcting for Nevada.”
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email podcast mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.