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BY JASON VONDERSMITH/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/What might have been? Two close losses, several tense wins mark Oregon season

PMG PHOTO; JAIME VALDEZ - A win comeback at Washington had freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux jum0ping for joy.Oregon's season began with a disappointing loss and ended with a thrilling Pac-12 championship win en route to the Rose Bowl:

Auburn 27, Oregon 21 — The Ducks outplayed the Tigers of the Southeastern Conference at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but Auburn rallied for 14 fourth-quarter points (to UO's zero) and won on Bo Nix's stunning 26-yard TD pass to Seth Williams with nine seconds left.

Oregon 77, Nevada 6 — Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos' unit made its first statement by allowing two field goals and 192 yards offense, and QB Justin Herbert threw five TD passes against the outmanned Wolf Pack.

Oregon 35, Montana 3 — The Ducks tuned up for Pac-12 play as Herbert threw another five touchdown passes against the FCS Big Sky Conference team. "You never apologize for a victory," coach Mario Cristobal said, saying the Ducks need to execute better.

Oregon 21, Stanford 6 — Stanford QB K.J. Costello hurt his throwing hand and the Cardinal managed only two field goals. It was offensive yeoman's work, as tight end Jacob Breeland added two TD receptions (giving him five). It was a big, early road win.

Oregon 17, California 7 — The Ducks, coming off a bye, couldn't secure the win against punchless Cal until the fourth quarter (Herbert throwing a TD to Jaylon Redd). Cal's defense was (is) pretty good. But, the UO defense went the final 51:58 without allowing points.

Oregon 45, Colorado 3 — Great defense stretched to five games (and 25 points total), as the Ducks throttled Steven Montez and the Buffs. CJ Verdell rushed for 171 yards and Breeland added his sixth (and final) TD of the season, as Herbert's favorite target suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Oregon 35, Washington 31 — The Ducks rallied from 31-21 down in Seattle, took the lead on a 5-yard Herbert-to-Redd TD and then stopped the Huskies on fourth down (escaping without a pass interference penalty). Oregon's defense gave up more points than it had in five previous games, but Herbert threw four TD passes in his duel with Jacob Eason.

Oregon 37, Washington State 35 — CJ Verdell rushed for 257 yards and three TDs as the Ducks (barely) ended a four-game losing streak to the Cougars. WSU drove 90 yards for the go-ahead points with 1:00 left, QB Anthony Gordon tossing a TD pass on fourth down. Herbert went 4 for 4 passing and freshman kicker Camden Lewis nailed a game-winning 26-yard field goal. Herbert's streak of at least one TD pass ended at 35 consecutive games.

Oregon 56, USC 24 — The Ducks blew open a tight game with a 28-point second quarter, culminating with Mykael Wright's 100-yard kickoff TD return. UO scored on offense, defense and special teams (Brady Breeze fumble return) in obliterating the Pac-12's second best team and thrusting itself back into the College Football Playoff picture. Juwan Johnson had a breakout game, catching three Herbert TD passes in the second half.

Oregon 34, Arizona 6 — Off a second bye, stifling defense returned, allowing two field goals and 240 yards, and Herbert threw four TD passes as the Ducks exacted revenge for the 2018 UA rout. The Ducks, on a nine-game winning streak, would rise to No. 6 in the CFP rankings.

Arizona State 31, Oregon 28 — The Ducks' CFP hopes died in the desert. Herbert played poorly, throwing consecutive interceptions that led to points. Still, the Ducks, behind receiver Johnny Johnson III (10 cathes, 207 yards, two TDs), rallied from 24-7 down, only to watch QB Jayden Daniels find Brandon Aiyuk for an 81-yard TD. Daniels went 22 of 32 for 408 yards and three TDs as ASU tallied 535 yards.

Oregon 24, Oregon State 10 — The Beavers had to play without injured QB Jake Luton, but made it 17-10 on a Jermar Jefferson fourth-quarter TD run. But Jefferson fumbled, the Ducks recovered and put up clinching points on Cyrus Habibi-Likio's 20-yard TD run. UO finished 7-0 at home and prevented OSU (5-6) from becoming bowl eligible.

Oregon 37, Utah 15 — Most people picked Utah to win and go to the CFP, but the Ducks built a 20-0 lead. Herbert rushed for yards, and Verdell scored first to set the tone against the Pac-12's best (statistical) defense. The Ducks stopped Zack Moss on fourth down (Breeze tackle). Herbert threw a 45-yard TD pass to Johnny Johnson. The Utes rallied, but Verdell capped off a 208-yard day with TD runs of 70 and 31 yards. It was a tremendous victory.

— Jason Vondersmith

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