Ducks have just enough
EUGENE — On a chilly afternoon at Autzen Stadium, there wasn't much crisp about Oregon's 24-10 win over Oregon State in the 123rd Civil War.
But the Ducks did just enough to get past a game group of Beavers for their 10th win of the season.
Oregon State outgained Oregon and withstood the Ducks playing most of the second quarter in Beavers territory.
OSU couldn't generate enough offense, though, behind backup quarterback Tristan Gebbia to pull off the upset Saturday afternoon.
The 14th-ranked Ducks improved to 10-2 overall and 8-1 in the Pac-12, and head into Friday's 5 p.m. Pac-12 championship game against Utah on a high note after sending 23 seniors out with a win in their final game at Autzen.
The senior class includes Justin Herbert, Troy Dye, La'Mar Winston Jr. and the starting offensive linemen not named Penei Sewell. The fourth- and fifth-year seniors played for three head coaches and helped the program return to relevance after Oregon went 4-8 in 2016.
The Beavers finished 5-7 (4-5 Pac-12) and came up one win shy of bowl eligibility in what has to be considered a positive step for Jonathan Smith's program.
The Beavers took the touted Ducks to the wire despite the absence of starting quarterback Jake Luton. Luton missed his final college football game with a forearm injury suffered in last week's loss to Washington State.
Gebbia, a sophomore from Calabasas, California, completed 26 of 40 passes for 243 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass or interception, but the Beavers were in position to tie or win when they took the ball on their 15-yard line with just over two minutes left.
A forced fumble by the Ducks' Thomas Graham Jr. on the second play of that possession, recovered by defensive back Brady Breeze, a junior out of Central Catholic High, finally allowed Ducks fans in the crowd of 56,243 to breathe.
Smith said Luton's status wasn't determined until warmups, though his practice reps were limited this week.
"(Luton) was going to try it. Practiced a little bit Tuesday, but as the week went on, it got worse and worse on him," Smith said.
The Beavers' offense didn't change drastically with Gebbia.
"Tristan has been getting a ton of reps with the first group," Smith said. "We feel awesome about the guy, and he played valiantly out there. It's a tough environment to make your first start. He played well."
This is the 11th 10-win season in Oregon football history, all since 2000. It is the first 10-win season since 2014, when the Mark Helfrich-coached and Marcus Mariota-quarterbacked Ducks went 13-2 and lost to Ohio State in the national championship game.
The Ducks will quickly turn their attention to the conference title game against Utah at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The Utes (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) clinched the South with a 45-15 Saturday win over Colorado.
The Utes, whose only loss was at USC, hope to earn their first Pac-12 titile and a spot in the College Football Playoff — a scenario that might still land Oregon in the Rose Bowl and would be good for the Pac-12 financially.
Utah lost to Washington in last season's Pac-12 championship game.
Oregon is trying to win the 12th conference title in program history and the first since 2014. With a win, the Ducks would play in the Rose Bowl for the seventh time.
Oregon went 7-0 at Autzen Stadium this season and swept its North Division rivals — but isn't exactly rolling into the Pac-12 title tilt.
Herbert, in his last home game as the Ducks' quarterback, finished 18 of 30 for 174 yards and one touchdown in his second inconsistent performance in a row.
The Oregon offense failed to convert a series of promising drives into Oregon State territory that might have made the afternoon much easier for the Ducks.
While giving credit to the battle level of Oregon State, Ducks coach Mario Cristobal lamented that his offense didn't finish drives that would have given his team a comfortable lead.
"In a rivalry game, if you don't (convert oppotunities), you put yourselves in a situation where you're going to be a little uncomfortable" in the fourth quarter, Cristobal said.
"We were out of sync," Cristobal said. "Everyone was working. Everyone was trying. We just weren't hitting on all cylinders like we're used to doing."
The 171 passing yards against a Beavers defense that has struggled against the pass was particularly perplexing from the Ducks' perspective. But it was enough because Oregon was special on special teams.
Mykael Wright returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, a Jevon Holand punt return set up a TD and punter Blake Maimone pinned the Beavers inside their 20 five times.
Oregon State outgained Oregon 380 yards to 365. The Ducks had a 195-137 advantage in rushing yards behind 91 from Travis Dye. Jermar Jefferson carried 20 times for 81 yards, including a 19-yard TD scamper in the fourth quarter to bring the Beavers within 17-10.
Unable to take advantage of multiple opportunities to put away the Beavers early, the Ducks came up though when it mattered in the fourth quarter. After Jefferson pulled Oregon State within seven points early in the fourth quarter, the Oregon offense made some big conversions, including a fourth-down pass from Herbert to Ryan Bay for 17 yards to the OSU 8.
But, Jaylon Redd fumbled the ball out of the end zone reaching for the pylon on what could have been an 8-yard touchdown catch-and-run with 7:26 left, and instead of Oregon enjoying a two-touchdown lead, the Beavers got the ball at the 20 down by just one score.
After an exchange of punts, the Beavers had a chance from their 15 with 2:22 on the clock. After Oregon's Isaac Slade-Matautia nearly intercepted Gebbia on first down, the QB found Jefferson on a middle screen with room to run. But when Jefferson tried to hurdle Graham, the ball popped loose and Breeze pounced on it near the sideline.
A 20-yard touchdown run up the middle by Cyrus Habibi-Likio with 1:15 left sealed the deal for the Ducks.
The Beavers' defense held its own in the red zone, though Herbert missed a couple open receivers, Redd fumbled away a touchdown and Camden Lewis missed a chip-shot field goal.
"That's a good (Oregon) team over there. They did a good job," Smith said. "Our defense did a good job with its physicality. They kept us in the game throughout. Special teams made a huge difference. Any time you score 10 points in this league, you're not going to win many games."
Oregon's defense made game-deciding plays.
"To play (defense) at this level was impressive to watch. There were 11 hats getting to the football," Cristobal said.
The Ducks' defensive line was disruptive and kept the Beavers from establishing a consistent running game. Freshman Keyvon Thibodeaux led the active front and finished with a sack and two tackles for loss. Austin Faoliu was one of three Ducks with eight tackles, and 1 1/2 for lost yardage.
And the Ducks' secondary that was burned for big plays last week on the road by Arizona State returned to its solid self. In addition to the win-clinching forced fumble, Graham had eight tackles (seven solo), while Holland had eight tackles (six solo) and Wright and Verone McKinley III made five stops apiece.
"To win a Civil War means the world," Ducks senior linebacker Troy Dye said, adding that he was happy with how Oregon bounced back from its loss at ASU.
The Beavers hurt themselves with penalties at key times, including one that wiped out a Jefferson touchdown in the first quarter.
On its first drive of the second half, Oregon went from its 25 to the OSU 6, but Herbert missed an open Juwan Johnson on third down and then Lewis missed a 24-yard field goal.
The door still open, the Beavers drove into Ducks territory, but a motion penalty on fourth-and-2 at the Oregon 42 forced them to punt.
Neither team was good on third downs. The Ducks were 3 of 14, and the Beavers were 5 of 16. But Oregon converted all three of its fourth downs while the Beavers were only 1 of 3.
Star Oregon State receiver Isaiah Hodgins finished with eight catches for 85 yards, all in the second half. Trevon Bradford was Gebbia's preferred target in the first half and finished the game with six catches for 53 yards on 13 targets.
Combined, the teams were 2 for 15 on third downs in the first half.
Special teams separated the Ducks in the opening half. Wright's second kickoff return for a touchdown this season made the score 10-3 in the first quarter. He made a nice cut near midfield and dashed untouched to the end zone.
"Credit to the entire kickoff return team," Cristobal said. "They blocked that perfectly. If (Wright) beats a guy, he can take it to the house."
A 25-yard punt return by Holland set up a 28-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Johnny Johnson III early in the second quarter. The pass reached Johnson in the end zone, a half-step in front of safety David Morris.
"It was in a good place for me to grab it," Johnson said of Herbert's TD throw on an afternoon when the quarterback sailed a few throws.
Oregon senior punter Maimone pinned OSU at its own 2, 5 and 13 in the second quarter, but the Ducks' offense failed to take advantage of good field position and starting three drives on the Beavers' side of the 50.
Oregon's field-position advantage in the second quarter happened after Smith went for a fourth-and-3 near midfield with the score 17-3. Gebbia's pass into coverage was broken up.
But, after one Oregon first down, the Ducks punted.
The teams exchanged field goals early, with OSU missing an opportunity for a touchdown. The Ducks took the opening kickoff and drove to a first down inside the 9 but had to settle for a 32-yard Lewis field goal. The Beaver's first possession was a 12-play march to a 40-yard Everett Hayes field goal, after a penalty wiped out a 10-yard touchdown run by Jefferson.
OREGON 24, OREGON STATE 10
Oregon State 3 0 0 7—10
Oregon 10 7 0 7—24
OREGON — Camden Lewis 32 FG, 8:26
OSU — Everett Hayes 40 FG, 3:00
OREGON — Mykael Wright 98 kickoff return (Lewis kick), 2:47
OREGON — Johnny Johnson III 28 pass from Justin Herbert (Lewis kick), 12:55
OSU — Jermar Jefferson 19 run (Hayes kick), 11:03
OREGON — Cyrus Habibi-Likio 20 run (Lewis kick), 1:15
Att. — 56,243
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