It’s been a rough season for the Oregon defenders to say the least, but Robinson’s 84-yard interception return set up the Ducks final touchdown and sealed a big 54-35 win over Arizona State Saturday night in front of 53,898.
The win was Oregon’s first conference win and its first victory since Sept. 10, breaking a five-game losing streak.
It was also Justin Herbert’s breakout performance. He was incredible at Cal, but the freshman’s good numbers might have been overlooked with the loss. But not now.
The Sheldon grad was 31-of-42 for 489 yards and four touchdowns. The 489 yards tied a school record for a single game that was set by Bill Musgrave back in 1989. He also tied another school mark with his 10 passing touchdowns in a two-game span that was set by some guy named Marcus Mariota.
After leading 30-14 at halftime, Oregon’s offense went into a funk in the third quarter, scoring just three points. Meanwhile, Arizona State kept plugging away and Dillon Sterling-Cole found N’Keal Harry for a nine-yard touchdown and it was suddenly 33-28 with 12 minutes to go.
Fortunately, Herbert and the Duck offense woke back up and scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. But maybe the most important touchdown was the one after the Sun Devils cut the Oregon lead to five.
It didn’t take long. Herbert did Johnny Mundt in the middle of the field and he ran for most of the 53-yards to the end zone. The tight end position was a favorite target for Herbert all day long. Mundt had two big catches for 70 yards and Pharaoh Brown led all receivers with 129 yards on seven catches that all came in the first half.
Freshman receiver Jalen Brown also had a breakout game with five catches for 97 yards, including a 49-yard reception.
Oregon was up 40-28 and had the game well in hand with the ball. But Kani Benoit got the ball stripped out of his hands and Marcus Ball returned it 40 yards down to the Oregon 10. It took tailback Kalen Ballage just two carries to score and it was a game again at 40-35 with 6:35 left. Ballage had a big game with 62 yards on the ground and two scores to go with his six receptions for 105 yards.
The Ducks were able to answer one more time when Tony Brooks-James went 58 yards for the quick touchdown and it was 47-35 with 6:06 left. Brooks-James didn’t play in the first quarter, but he wound up with 132 yards to lead all rushers.
Arizona State was on the verge of cutting the deficit to five once again when Robinson read Sterling-Cole’s eyes and picked the pass off at the goal line and was tackled 84 yards later. Royce Freeman scored three plays later on a 10-yard rush with 2:36 left for the final tally.
It was a manageable game for the Sun Devils for most of the game, although they never led at any point. They were down 23-14 towards the end of the second quarter and with 37 second left until the halftime break, Oregon’s Kaulana Apelu picked off his first pass of his career and set up the Duck offense in prime position and Herbert took advantage.
He found Brown over the middle for 22 yards to the 10-yard line and then on a four-yard touchdown two plays later. That capped off a great first half for Oregon and for Brown, who had seven catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns in just the first half.
Herbert himself wasn’t bad either. He 20-for-24 passing for 320 yards and three touchdowns as his team had 413 total yards and went into the locker room with a commanding 30-14 halftime lead.
Oregon was the first team to dent the scoreboard early in the opening quarter. Herbert read the blitz perfectly and found Brown on an out route and watched the big tight end do the rest. Brown turned a 10-yard pass into a 72-yard touchdown thanks to a stiff arm and fancy foot work along the sideline.
The Ducks’ 7-0 lead didn’t last long as the Sun Devils answered on their ensuing drive with a six-play, 75-yard drive that took 2:22 off the clock. Ballage scored his first touchdown of the day on a 12-yard run up the middle.
Keeping up with the theme of the day of score and score some more, the Ducks went down the field quickly in just over two minutes on their second scoring drive. Herbert found Nelson on a deep post pattern for a 31-yard touchdown and the 14-7 lead.
Aiden Schneider added a 36-yard field goal before ASU finished off an eight-play, 70-yard drive with a Sterling-Cole one-yard plunge to make it 17-14 Ducks after one quarter.
Both teams combined for 392 yards of total offense in the first 15 minutes of play.
Oregon will now try to keep it going next week when it goes to Los Angeles and take on USC in the Coliseum.
~ Don Smalley