Statistically, Oregon’s projected NFL franchise quarterback was outplayed by Oregon State’s backup.
Justin Herbert wasn’t worried about a subpar passing performance after the senior was held to 174 yards and sacked twice during the Ducks’ 24-10 Civil War victory on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
The Beavers (5-7, 4-5 Pac-12 Conference), who were without injured senior starter Jake Luton, were within one score in the fourth quarter as Tristan Gebbia passed for 243 yards.
Mykael Wright’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Cyrus Habibi-Likio’s 20-yard touchdown run after an Oregon State fumble were the difference.
“I think the best part is the game is not decided on my individual performance, it’s who scores the most points,” Herbert noted. “And we did that (Saturday). So I was real pleased with my performance.”
Herbert, who threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter of the costly 31-28 loss at Arizona State on Nov. 16, might have to play the best game of his career to lead the Ducks to the Pac-12 championship.
No. 13 Oregon (10-2, 8-1) will face No. 5 Utah (11-1, 8-1) in the title game Friday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (5 p.m., ABC).
The Utes are third in the FBS in points allowed (11.3 per game), first in rushing defense (56.3 yards per game), 14th in passing defense (185.3 yards per game) and third in total defense (241.6 yards per game).
Since losing at USC on Sept. 20, Utah’s average margin of victory during its eight-game winning streak is 29 points.
“We still have a lot more games left, I feel like,” Utah tight end Brant Kuithe said after scoring three touchdowns during Saturday’s 45-15 win over Colorado, which clinched the South Division. “So they’re going to lead us, we’re going to follow, and we’re going to go win that (expletive).”
Kyle Whittingham’s balanced team is on a mission to win the program’s first Pac-12 championship a year after losing to Washington 10-3 in the title game without injured quarterback Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss.
“I know, for sure, that we’re going to practice this week harder than they are going to practice,” said senior defensive end Bradlee Anae, who is tied for the Utah career sack record with 29.5.
Utah could be selected for the College Football Playoff with a win. Oregon would clinch a spot in the Rose Bowl with the program’s first Pac-12 championship since 2014.
“We’ve got a great opportunity on Friday,” Herbert said. “We’re going to do our best to fix what we did wrong (against Oregon State). We’ll have a good week of practice and we’ll do our best.”
The Ducks opened as a 4½-point underdog.
Oregon is 3-0 at Levi’s Stadium after beating California (59-41) in a 2014 regular-season game, No. 7 Arizona (51-13) in the 2014 Pac-12 championship game and Michigan State (7-6) in the 2018 Redbox Bowl at the home of the San Francisco 49ers.
“The excitement right now for our program and our guys is at the top of the charts. This is what you do it for, right, to have this kind of opportunity,” coach Mario Cristobal said. “They have earned this opportunity. They had to do a lot of things and played a lot of good football teams to get to this point in time, and now, it’s here.”
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email podcast mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.