The film is actually how not to play against a team that previously lost to UC-Davis and was shut out at Washington State.
It shows how far this program has come in the past few seasons as a victory can be overlooked by the poor quality of play. The 20th-ranked Ducks (3-0) looked lackluster and unfocused in the first 30 minutes of action against San Jose State, but still took a 21-6 halftime lead and turned it into a sleepy 35-22 win as Pac-12 play suddenly begins next week.
In between the dropped passes, the missed assignments on the offensive line and a Justin Herbert interception in the end zone, there were some good things to look at.
Jacob Breeland’s 66-yard touchdown reception, CJ Verdell showing off his speed in the open field, the defense playing very well, including Jevon Holland’s first career interception and Ugo Amadi turning into a very dangerous punt returner were just a few things to get Oregon excited about for the rest of the season.
However, the majority of the game consisted of play that just won’t be good enough in conference play, especially with the No. 9 Cardinal coming to Autzen next week. And while the game wasn’t really ever in doubt, Oregon came into the contest as a 42-point favorite and the Ducks looked like anything but in front of 50,049 fans.
Sometimes the stat sheet doesn’t tell how good or how bad a team played on a particular day, but on this day, the stats don’t lie.
Justin Herbert was the victim of several dropped passes, but those weren’t the only cause of his mediocre day. The junior signal caller was just 16-of-34 for 309 yard, three touchdowns, but two interceptions, including one in the end zone to kill a potential drive.
Oregon’s rushing attack never got going against a Spartan defense that was giving up 267 yards a game before today. The Ducks rushed for just 134 yards with Verdell leading the way with 43 yards on the ground. The freshman tailback also caught five balls for 85 yards.
Breeland led the receivers with 92 yards on three receptions, including the 66-yard touchdown to give the Ducks a 14-0 lead. Four minutes earlier, Holland’s first ever pick set up a four-play, 23-yard drive that ended with Cyrus Hibibi-Likio plunging in from three yards out. It was Hibibi-Likio’s first score of the day and his third touchdown of the season.
Then things slowed down to a crawl for the Duck offense.
San Jose State made it a one-possession game with two field goals to make it 14-6 with 2:28 left before halftime. Oregon then went into hurry-up mode and managed to score 30 seconds later when Herbert hit Johnny Johnson III with a 39-yard touchdown strike to make it 21-6 at the half.
Although Oregon led comfortably with a 15-point lead, they had to feel like they could have and should have played a lot better.
With the way the Duck defense was playing, San Jose State was never an actual threat to come all the way back and winning this game. But the Spartans didn’t throw in the towel either even when Hibibi-Likio scored for the second time as in many carries to make it 28-6 with 9:46 remaining in the third quarter.
San Jose State rebounded and scored their first touchdown of the day when Josh Love found Josh Oliver in the front left corner of the end zone on a seven-yard pass to make it 28-12. Instead of kicking the extras point the Spartans elected to go for two. Love’s pass was caught and initially ruled in bounds, replay showed the receiver’s foot was out and the score stayed a 16-point margin.
After the two teams traded possessions, Oregon extended its lead when Herbert found Johnson once again, this time from 22-yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 35-12.
Thinking that would have been the final nail in the Spartans’ coffin, they returned the ensuing kickoff 96-yards to the four-yard line. But the Duck defense had its best series by pushing San Jose State back four yards in three plays and forced a field goal to make it 35-15.
Amadi and Justin Hollins led the Ducks with eight tackles each with Hollins adding an interception as well. Amadi also had 57-yard punt return that was just an eyelash away from being a touchdown.
Oregon was penalized six times, the most flags of the season, but still a good number, but a holding call negated a Tony Brooks-James kickoff return for a touchdown.
Now the real season begins and the schedule makers must have been eager to see how this team will stack up against some of the conference’s best as Stanford comes calling. The Cardinal has had the Ducks’ number over the past couple of seasons and they’re no reason to believe this Cardinal team won’t contend for the Pac-12 crown as they have their own Heisman contender in Bryce Love.
The Cardinal defeated Oregon 52-27 in 2016 and 49-7 last season down on The Farm. They’ll come to Eugene also off of a lackluster win, a 30-10 win over UC-Davis to go 3-0 on the season. It’s understandable the Cardinal had a let down the week after defeating USC 17-3.
The game between the two ranked teams is scheduled for a national ABC telecast and a possible visit from ESPN Gameday to make it an even bigger college football showcase.
~ Don Smalley