At 11:55 p.m. Saturday in the bustling lobby of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, Justin Herbert was still posing for photos with family and friends of the program.
Five minutes later, as Oregon’s star quarterback disappeared from the spotlight into the darkness, the clock struck midnight, signaling the start of Stanford week.
The Ducks (2-1) enter the Pac-12 race with some momentum after bouncing back from their disappointing loss to Auburn by burying two inferior opponents by a combined score 112-9.
So what did Herbert — who has completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 868 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions — learn about his team during nonconference play?
“We’ve got a lot of playmakers,” Herbert said after shredding Montana for 316 passing yards and five touchdowns during Saturday’s 35-3 win at Autzen Stadium. “We kind of slipped up (against Auburn) and things didn’t go exactly the way we wanted them to in an ideal world.
“But we learned some things and we’re going to look at this film and we’re going to get better. That’s the most important thing.”
Oregon finished with 247 net rushing yards, including 101 for sophomore Travis Dye, but the ground attack remains a work in progress.
True freshman Sean Dollars (69 yards) and sophomore Darrian Felix (40 yards) did a lot of the damage once the win over the Grizzlies from the Big Sky Conference was well in hand.
“We are more satisfied with how we’re running the football, but it’s something we need to continue to attack and improve,” said starting right tackle Calvin Throckmorton. “We’re just going to take a tremendous amount of pride in that as an offensive line and an offensive unit.”
Coach Mario Cristobal said CJ Verdell, who was limited to 2.6 yards per carry on only five attempts against Montana, is healthy.
The team’s leading rusher in 2018 averaged 5.8 yards per carry and finished with 115 yards and a touchdown against Stanford last season.
Verdell’s fumble late in regulation opened the door for the Cardinal’s stunning 38-31 overtime win at Autzen.
Oregon will try to exact a measure of revenge on Saturday at Stanford Stadium (4 p.m., ESPN).
“It’s exciting,” wide receiver Johnny Johnson said after catching a pair of touchdown passes against the Grizzlies. “We’ve been waiting for Pac-12 play and we’re ready.”
A total of 13 different players have scored a touchdown for the Ducks this season.
Cristobal remains hopeful that wide receiver Juwan Johnson and tight end Cam McCormick can join the fun in the conference opener. Two other injured receivers, Mycah Pittman and Brenden Schooler, are also on the mend.
“The young dudes have stepped up and made plays for us,” Johnny Johnson said. “But Juwan having all the football he’s played already and all the things he’s done in the past is going to be a great implement for this offense.”
Cristobal did not have an update on center Jake Hanson, who left Saturday's game with an injury.
Throckmorton moved to center and veteran Brady Aiello, who caught a touchdown pass at tight end against Nevada, filled in at right tackle.
Oregon averaged 6.9 yards per play and finished with 560 yards of total offense.
“They’re really good. I think all five of them are potentially NFL players,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said of the Ducks’ offensive line. “Several of them have high-choice grades already. I know that in talking to some of the NFL guys.
“I was afraid they would knock us off the ball, and they did not do that, so we probably made progress with all those young D-linemen we played.”
Oregon was missing two starters on defense, Austin Faoliu and Bryson Young, who Cristobal said were held out because “they weren’t healthy enough to contribute at a high level.”
Starting cornerback Thomas Graham was on crutches and wearing a boot after suffering a lower-leg injury, but Cristobal said it was “a minor tweak.”
Mykael Wright stepped in and recorded his first career interception for defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, whose unit ranks 14th in the FBS in points allowed (12.0 ppg) and 22nd in yards allowed (272.3 ypg).
The Ducks have held back-to-back opponents out of the end zone for the first time in 31 years (Oregon State in 1987, Long Beach State in 1988) and in the same season since 1972 (San Jose State, Oregon State).
“Those guys have worked the entire offseason to make sure they’re going to be a really aggressive, strong defense,” Throckmorton said. “It’s really been exciting to see. I love how those guys play the game and fly around the field.”
Oregon, which did not start well in Pac-12 road losses at Washington State, Arizona and Utah during last year’s 9-4 finish, has outscored its first three opponents 70-12 in the first half this season.
Herbert, the first quarterback in program history to throw five touchdown passes in consecutive games, will try to lead the team to a win over Stanford for the first time in his career.
“I really like what we’re doing offensively. I’ve liked what our receivers have been able to do, and our tight ends have added another whole dimension to our offense,” Herbert said. “Our offensive line makes my job a lot easier. It’s just another year of growth and development.”
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email podcast mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.