Oregon football's quick-strike offense shakes off slow start, downs Cal 42-24
There were uncharacteristic penalties, consequential drops and flat-out miscues. And for a moment, it looked as if there could be an unfathomable outcome to top it off.
But that moment fluttered away faster than Oregon's offense stormed down the field for six touchdowns at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on Saturday, Oct. 29. The Ducks put up more offensive yards (588) than any Cal team has allowed in the last six seasons.
The Ducks inflicted more damage on themselves than Cal ever did, sweeping the Bears away 42-24 after a ghastly first quarter.
"I think it's hard to stop our team right now when we're consistent and operating at a high level, regardless of really who the opponent is," Ducks coach Dan Lanning said. "And again, we didn't get stopped, it was really more so us stopping ourselves."
Cal took a 3-0 lead after forcing a 3-and-out — a rarity amidst Oregon's six straight weeks of 40-plus point outings — and stopping the Ducks on fourth down for the first time all season.
Then, the Bears answered Oregon's first touchdown of the day with one of their own, after quarterback Jack Plummer launched a 57-yard bomb to set his team up in the redzone. But by then, the Ducks had wiped the crust out of their eyes and found their offensive stride. That brief bliss that washed over the stadium never returned.
Oregon followed up a scoreless first quarter with 21 points in the second, effectively putting the game away before their touchdown to open the second half sank the Bears' comeback chances.
"We haven't seen our best yet," Lanning said. "I was hoping that this would be a game where we can walk away having seen our best and we haven't seen it yet. I'm excited to see where we can go, but we have to tap into that and it's a choice that we have to make, and hopefully that'll carry over in the future."
The dynamo quarterback Bo Nix threw a pair of interceptions, one coming on a dropped ball and the other on a Hail Mary attempt to close out the first half, but played an otherwise perfect game after a 5-of-10 start in which he looked hesitant. He finished 27-of-35 for 412 yards and six touchdowns (three on his feet) and became the first quarterback since at least 1996 with multiple games of three rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns in the same season.
"It's nice when you don't perform to your best, miss a few opportunities in the red zone and you still do what we did on offense," Nix said.
Next up for the Ducks amidst their string of offensive explosions is a matchup with the lowly Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder next week.
Here are three takeaways from the Ducks' win in Berkeley:
Ducks patch up third down defense
Oregon's third down defense has been a wart on an otherwise gorgeous season.
The Ducks entered the day No. 129 in third down conversion percentage allowed at just over 50%, a combination of porous coverage and the lack of an elite edge rusher to blame.
But on Saturday, despite allowing a pair of deep balls to gash them down the sidelines, the Ducks' defense showed marked improvement, getting off the field more often than not. They held the Bears to 4-of-15 on third downs and hauled in a pair of interceptions in the first half.
"Our front seven is always working, always eating, just doing their thing and you know, we on the back end trust them," cornerback Christian Gonzalez said. "They all trust us, rush and cover go together."
The unit still has a long way to go, especially with teams like Utah, Washington and Oregon State ahead. But, with an offensive as potent as the one Nix leads, defensive supremacy isn't a prerequisite for victory.
"We changed the game up front in the front seven," defensive end Brandon Dorlus said.
The most devastating part of the Ducks offense this season has been their ability to be multiple. Multiple in scheme, personnel and in tempo. They've used their overpowering ground attack to suck the life out of defenses and their trove of weapons to air it out for blisteringly quick drives.
The latter was the case on Saturday.
Oregon's touchdown drives by time: 2:08, 3:26, 3:21, 0:35, 2:15, 2:58, 4:22. The final, and by far the longest, came when the Ducks were already well in control with the intent to burn the clock.
As the defense continues to improve alongside its offensive counterpart, the Ducks' tempo allows them to play in a multitude of ways.
Running backs make plays through the air
On a day when Oregon picked up just 165 yards on the ground — yes, just, the Ducks rank fifth nationally with 244 yards per game — the running backs made their mark in another way: through the air.
The Ducks' trio of Bucky Irving, Noah Whittington and Sean Dollars all had their own special moments as runners, but helped Oregon light up the scoreboard with a combined 10 catches for 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"We expected it," Nix said. "Formationally, schematically, getting those guys out for checkdowns. We knew they'd have a chance to be open and coach (Kenny) Dillingham actually said all three of those guys had a chance to go for 150 yards collectively."
Each had a catch and run of at least 26 yards and gashed a Cal defense that looked helpless after Oregon got out of its own way.
The contributions were crucial in light of absences in the wide receiver room. Seven McGee didn't travel with the team and Chase Cota left the game with an early injury and never returned. Only 104 of Nix's 412 yards went to receivers, with the remainder having been chunk plays from the tight ends and running backs.
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