Quarterback Justin Herbert had five touchdown passes and the Oregon defense was mostly airtight as the Ducks romped over an outmanned, but game, Montana Grizzly football squad, 35-3, on Saturday.
Herbert was 30-of-42 passing for 316 yards, but after a fast start in the first quarter, threw several passes of the deep variety that weren’t anywhere close to his receivers.
The senior leader was sharp and on target on quick throws where he set his feet, in the flat and deeper, on timed, sideline routes. He was not successful with long balls down the sideline. At least three or four were uncatchable, out of bounds.
It had to be unusual for Oregon coach Mario Cristobal to see his team score five touchdowns on passes and none on running plays. It was refreshing, however, to see the Ducks go to their big gun (Herbert) inside the red zone, rather than pound it inside on the ground against a defense that was overloaded defending the run.
Also, on the bright side, Oregon’s run game may open up a bit in the future as defenses are forced to defend the Ducks’ productive passing game.
That Cristobal was willing to pass when the run was stalled was a good thing, as the Ducks have left points on the board ramming their heads against stacked defenses in the past. What was not a good thing was having Herbert still in the game with a 35-3 lead with 10 minutes left in the game, and the next time the Ducks had the ball with the same lead and 6:55 left in the game.
Finally, with Herbert having lost all his momentum, backup Tyler Shough was put in the game on his own 12-yard line and the clock at 3:12. Shough drove the backup offense inside Montana’s 5-yard line as the game ended; excellent game experience for him and the second straight game that he was able to drive the offense the length of the field with faultless, efficient leadership.
One serious error on Cristobal’s part was failing to go for a field goal on fourth-and-4 on Montana’s 25-yard line in the third quarter with a 28-0 lead. Field-goal kicker Camden Lewis missed his only try in the opener against Auburn and it should have been a priority for the head coach to get Lewis a chance (or chances) to kick a field goal before conference play begins next week at Stanford.
It would seem better to have given Lewis a chance to kick a 42-yarder in a pressure situation before a conference game may depend on it later. Then, everybody will be holding their breath and there will be a lot of prayers going up, hoping the game won’t come down to a last-second kick of 42 to 48 yards for victory in what looks to be a very competitive Pac-12 North Division.
In Oregon’s first drive of the game, Herbert didn’t waste any time extending his current NCAA record for successive games with a touchdown pass (31) by tossing a 5-yard strike to tight end Jacob Breeland in the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead. He was to throw two more before the half was up despite a spirited Grizzly pass rush that could harass, but not corral Herbert when he was scrambling.
Herbert completed 10-of-10 pass attempts in the first quarter, looking cool and confident. His pass protection was good while the running attack was not overwhelming; especially considering the talent edge the Ducks had over the Montana visitors. Oregon was able to only rush for 25 yards in the first quarter and 88 for the half, averaging 3.8 yards per-carry.
In the second half, with quick outside running by Travis Dye, the Ducks were able to push their rushing total to a respectable 247 yards on 38 carries, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. It appeared the Grizzlies were aiming to keep the Ducks one-dimensional on offense; trying to contain Herbert the best they could, while plugging up Oregon’s inside running game. Dye was able to rush 17 times for 101 yards with a long of 23 yards.
Freshman Sean Dollars broke free for a 63-yard run down the sideline late in the fourth quarter but was hauled down from behind by a Montana defender. It remains to be seen whether Dollars has the breakaway speed that such runners as LaMichael James and Kenyon Barner had in the days when Oregon led the Pac-12 in rushing.
As the half wore on, Herbert’s protection eroded slightly, and he had to step up smartly inside the blocks of his offensive tackles who were riding their rushers to the outside. Several times he had to scramble for enough time to get his passes off.
With increased performance in their run game in the second half, the Ducks ran up 560 yards in total offense — it is unusual for Cristobal to throw the ball more times than he ran it (43-38). Oregon was unable to reach Cristobal’s stated goal of 50 percent in third-down conversions, making 6 of 13 (46%) and 1 of 4 (25%) on fourth down for a final 7-of-17 total conversions (41%). The stymied efforts on fourth down counted as turnovers.
On one fourth-and-4 situation, Herbert faked a similar run to that was (unsuccessfully) run against Auburn and hit his tight end in the breadbasket across the middle where the run defenders were jamming the line of the scrimmage. It was dropped, unfortunately, which is a shame because everyone knows the Ducks never run a play-action pass on fourth and short.
The Duck defense kept its opponent out of the home end zone for the second straight game, getting four sacks and limiting the Grizzlies to a paltry 0.4 yards per carry on 21 running attempts. Montana’s quarterbacks threw for 234 yards on 43 pass attempts, averaging only 5.4 yards per attempt, which is definitely a win for the defense.
Overall, the Ducks played a pretty good football game, maintaining their poise despite a blowout over an out-matched opponent. Things are going to get tougher as they enter the conference part of the season against Stanford down south. The Cardinal are hurting up front with their offensive line and the defense is not quite yet the awesome group coach David Shaw has had in the past.
This may very well be a great time for the Ducks to play Stanford, with the Cardinal’s injuries and frustration for an offense that is struggling to run the ball and score on sustained drives. One can only hope the game won’t depend on a field goal in the final seconds or overtime by an Oregon freshman kicker who is 0-1 in field goals this season.
The crucial stats for the Montana game:
• No. 1 (explosiveness, yards per play) — Montana 3.8, Oregon 6.9 (leader wins 86 percent of the time);
• No. 2 (efficiency, 3rd-4th down conversion) — Oregon 7 of 17 for 41%; Montana 7 of 18 for 38% (leader wins 83% of the time);
• No. 3 (drive-finishing, points per trip inside 40) — Oregon 5 of 7 for 71%; Montana 1 of 4 for 25% (leader wins 75% of the time);
• No. 4 (average field position) — Oregon 23-yard line; Montana 28-yard line (leader wins 72% of the time);
• No. 5 (turnover margin) — Oregon 3 (on downs); Montana 1 (leader wins 73% of the time).
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years. He conducts a weekly coach's corner from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the 6th Street Grill.