Oregon’s streak of three straight games without allowing a touchdown ended on California’s second drive.
That was it for the Bears, who didn’t score in the final 51 minutes as the Ducks rallied for a 17-7 Pac-12 football victory Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon has a defense that can win games, a concept that seemed so distant just a few years ago. The Ducks have scored 21 and 17 points in the last two games and won each by double digits.
“That’s great to have, but we certainly don’t want to become completely dependent on that because you are going to have to do more than that,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said of his defense that has allowed seven points or less in four straight games.
That streak will be tough to continue the way the schedule sets up for Oregon. After opening with a 27-21 loss to Auburn, the Ducks shut down Nevada and Montana before opening Pac-12 play with wins over Stanford and California, the two lowest-scoring teams in the conference.
“Stanford is more smash-mouth football, not a high-scoring game, and California is smash-mouth, clock-management and a great defensive team,” Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham said. “We’ve got to make sure we stay on edge and get ready for these teams because we still have to play Washington, an efficient offense, and we have Washington State, which is very good with the Air Raid.
"We still have USC and Arizona State so we have to be ready for whoever comes in. Everyone knows you don’t want to wake up (Arizona quarterback) Khalil Tate.”
The next three weeks put Oregon up against three of the top four scoring offenses in the Pac-12, beginning with a quick turnaround to host Colorado on Friday night. Then it’s off to Washington before hosting Washington State.
Troy Dye, La’Mar Winston, Gus Cumberlander and Drayton Carlberg were on the field when Oregon allowed 41.4 points per game in 2016. Those seniors are now part of a group allowing 9.8 points as they hit the midway part of the schedule next week.
“I think the belief has always been high, but what we keep seeing in practice is that we think we can even be better,” Cristobal said. “These guys have a high standard. They feel that we can continue to elevate the standard of this defense. It is exciting to watch. Anyone that watched us the last month on defense can tell it’s coming and it’s coming strong.”
The Ducks will have a chance to prove that during the remainder of the schedule that still features the five highest-scoring teams in the conference.
"Week after week, we have to reset," UO safety Jevon Holland said. "Finish one and reset. Finish another and reset.”
Oregon lost a key contributor when Cumberlander was carted off the field with a leg injury that Cristobal cautioned was “significant.” Freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux looks ready to take on a larger role after getting two sacks against California.
California’s 63-yard touchdown drive was its longest of the night as the Bears finished with 256 yards of offense, including 93 in the second half. The other 12 possessions for the Bears featured seven punts, two missed field goals, two interceptions, and one when the Ducks got a stop on fourth down.
Cal lead 7-0 at the half but went three-and-out on all four possessions in the third quarter while totaling eight yards on 12 plays. The first first down for the Bears in the second half was followed by an interception.
Oregon is one of six teams in the country allowing single digits in points under new coordinator Andy Avalos.
“We all believed in each other from the jump because we have been playing with each other four two or three years,” Graham said. “Coach Avalos came in and brought a scheme that fits to the best of our ability. We’ve always seen this vision.”