Ducks rally to beat Cal, 17-7
EUGENE — Well, an opponent scored a touchdown against the vaunted Oregon defense.
But, seven points was all that California managed to score, and Oregon rallied from a scoreless first half to beat the Bears 17-7 Saturday before 54,766 fans at Autzen Stadium.
The UO defense, under the direction of first-year coordinator Andy Avalos, has allowed only 22 points in the past four games — having allowed only field goals against Nevada, Montana and Stanford before the Cal game. The Ducks moved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Pac-12 play, heading into their 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11 game against Colorado (3-2, 1-1) at Autzen.
The Ducks rallied from a 7-0 halftime deficit with 17 second-half points, including a Justin Herbert TD pass for the 33rd consecutive game, to beat the Bears, who had earlier in the season beaten Washington in Seattle.
"Teams that wanna be good find a way to win those games," coach Mario Cristobal said.
Take away the brilliance of both defenses, it turned out to be an ugly game — and the Ducks lost two starters to injuries, running back CJ Verdell (twisted ankle) and defensive end Gus Cumberlander (left leg), with the senior Cumberland's appearing way more serious.
Oregon had three first-half turnovers, on its first three drives — two fumbles by Travis Dye, and a Herbert interception — including two deep in Cal territory, and also punted and missed a field goal. The Ducks also had penalty problems (eight in all), including a bad unsportsmanlike conduct on Johnny Johnson III (punching a Cal player), which preceded Herbert's interception.
"We gotta get out of our own way sometimes," Cristobal said. "That has not been our MO from a penalty standpoint and turnover standpoint."
Linebacker Troy Dye and others stood up at halftime to rally teammates.
"Everyone pushed each other and took on the mentality that it was going to be a dogfight," Cristobal said. "We weren't playing up to our standard. ... It was rewarding to watch the growth of a football team at halftime."
The Bears (4-2, 1-2) were without injured starting quarterback Chase Garbers, and other than a first-half Devon Modster-to-Christopher Brown Jr. 22-yard TD pass, they couldn't muster much offense. When they worked into UO territory, kicker Greg Thomas missed two field goal attempts.
Oregon wasn't much better for the first 37 minutes, 28 seconds of the game — not putting any points on the board. It was the first time the Ducks had been held scoreless in the first half at home since the infamous 2004 season-opening loss to Indiana.
The Ducks finally produced some points midway through the third quarter, marching 72 yards on 13 plays and 5:36 of clock time. The Bears rose up and stopped the Ducks on third down, but Camden Lewis booted a 28-yard field goal with 7:32 left in the third quarter.
Running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio factored into the next couple highlights. During a timeout, a fan ran onto the field and avoided security for awhile, but not Habibi-Likio, who broke from the sideline huddle and sprinted and tackled the fan from behind to cheers from the Autzen crowd. (How many times are we going to see the takedown on highlights?). Cristobal wouldn't comment on the incident in his post-game press conference, and whether it would be an ill-advised move for a player to confront a fan; Habibi-Likio said he didn't want to hurt the fan, but the game needed to continue.
"Honestly, I had no intention to hurt him. We were just down, and the momentum was slipping away. He was taking a while, he was going up and down the field, and I just decided to help the fellas in security out," Habibi-Likio said.
Later, after Jevon Holland's 24-yard punt return set the Ducks up at the Cal 30, Herbert hit his favorite target, tight end Jacob Breeland, on a 30-yard pass. Then, Habibi-Likio burst through for a 1-yard TD run to give Oregon what served as an insurmountable 10-7 lead.
Insurmountable, because the Ducks defense basically dominated the Bears for the final 51 minutes, 58 seconds.
Holland tipped Modster's fourth-quarter pass, and Troy Dye picked it off. Herbert scrambled for 26 yards, and a late hit penalty gave the Ducks an additional 15 yards. Habibi-Likio ran for 11 and one yards and then Herbert faked a pitch to the running back, wheeled around and hit Jaylon Redd for a 1-yard TD pass and 17-7 lead.
The Ducks' defense stymied Cal, allowing 256 yards offense and 6 of 17 third-down conversions, forcing seven punts and recording four sacks (two by Kayvon Thibodeaux). The Bears rushed for 66 yards on 30 carries (2.2 yards per) and Modster went 17 of 34 for 190 yards and one TD and two interceptions.
The Bears also had 11 penalties.
The UO defense sure has created a margin of error for the UO offense.
"It's great to have, but you don't want to become completely dependent on that," Cristobal said. "We're going to have to be more than that. We really, really struggled to get out of our own way (offensively). We gotta do a better job."
The Ducks had 406 yards offense, including 190 yards rushing on 40 carries (4.8 yards per). Herbert threw a TD pass in his 33rd consecutive game, the longest sreak in Football Bowl Subdivision. He went 20 of 33 for 214 yards with the one interception. Said Cristobal of the pick at the Cal 6: "The read was appropriate, we just didn't connect on it."
Breeland had five receptions for 87 yards and Redd added five catches and true freshman Mycah Pittman four. Receivers Pittman, Brenden Schooler and Juwan Johnson all made their season debuts after nursing injuries.
Injuries are part of the headline, obviously. Verdell had run well for 46 yards on 10 carries before exiting in the first half; Cristobal said an X-ray came out negative on Verdell's ankle. Then, Cumberlander got hurt in the fourth quarter, and he had to be carted off the field.
Travis Dye had 81 yards rushing on 15 carries, but he coughed up two fumbles, including at the Cal 9, and his brother, Troy Dye, gave him a lecture after the second one in Cal territory.
"I've been around Travis enough to know what his makeup is," Cristobal said. "You don't tear down your player, you build them up. He's tough, determined and (team) means a lot to him."
The Bears not only played without Garbers, but a running back also didn't play and two offensive linemen went out injured in the game.
"There are no moral victories, but we showed a lot of effort and toughness," coach Justin Wilcox said.
CALIFORNIA 7 0 0 0 — 0
OREGON 0 0 10 7 — 17
CALIFORNIA — Christopher Brown Jr. 22 pass from Devon Modster (Greg Thomas kick), 6:58
OREGON — Camden Lewis 28 FG, 7:32
OREGON — Cyrus Habibi-Likio 1 run (Lewis kick), 1:38
OREGON — Jaylon Redd 1 pass from Justin Herbert (Lewis kick), 7:14
A — 54,766
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