LARAMIE, Wyo. — Oregon’s defense completely silenced Wyoming 49-13 in a total-team victory from War Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Ducks were perfect in the red zone (7-for-7) on offense, while the defense surrendered just three second-half points. With another impressive victory, head coach Willie Taggart and the Ducks move their record to 3-0 on the young season.
The Ducks dominated the total yards with 558 compared to Wyoming’s 183 yards of offense. UO won the possession margin as well, 32:56 to 27:04 for the Cowboys.
“I think there is a sense of confidence and swag amongst our team all the time,” replied Taggart.
The big stat of the game was Oregon’s offense was 9-for-17 on third down (53 percent) and 1-for-2 on fourth. Meanwhile, the Duck defense held Wyoming to 4-for-15 (26 percent) on third down.
“Our guys are getting better each and every week,” Taggart stated. “They’re constantly getting better and that’s what you want from your football team. It’s great to see those guys get off the field on third down and get the ball back to our offense.”
Overall, the Ducks have held their opponents to 6-for-29 on third down (20 percent) in 2017.
“Coach Leavitt says third down is our money down, so we got to go out there and make that money,” said Troy Dye. “We go out there with the mindset that they can’t get a first down. We have to find a way to get the ball back to the offense so they can score.”
For the second time in as many weeks, Oregon entered the locker room at halftime with 42 total points. After leading 42-14 against Nebraska at halftime last week, the Ducks wanted to make sure they didn’t repeat that near-disaster with their 42-10 advantage over the Cowboys this week.
The defense stifled Wyoming’s offense for just three points in the final 30 minutes.
“Pass rush,” Taggart said with a smile. “If he doesn’t have time to throw the ball, that’s usually what happens. When you get to him early, he starts looking at the rush and that’s what he did. Our guys did a great job getting to the quarterback.”
Entering the contest, 21 NFL scouts were lined up to witness Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. Not to mention, Oregon’s Justin Herbert was drawing some praise of his own. Yet, scouts were scrambling to find the exit midway through the third quarter.
“It’s awesome to have a defense that we have so much confidence in,” said Justin Herbert. “They played great. I know they’re only going to get better.”
Tabbed by some as the No. 1 QB prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft class, Allen was utterly dismantled by Oregon’s defense to the tune of 64 passing yards on 9-of-24 completions (37 percent). He was intercepted once and forced to run the ball on eight occasions for 25 yards and a tally.
“He’s a great quarterback, but I was more focused on Oregon-Wyoming,” Herbert stated in reference to the match-up between him and Allen. “I’m just thankful we came out with the win and I think we played pretty well.”
Allen was outclassed by Justin Herbert. The Oregon quarterback completed 18-of-29 pass attempts for 251 yards and a touchdown with an interception. The sophomore added his second tally of the day when he scampered into the end zone. Herbert rushed for 30 yards on nine carries.
Royce Freeman continued his Heisman marketing with a game-high 157 rushing yards on a career-high 30 carries. The senior registered three TD in the first half, amplifying his season total to nine. He has 4,606 career rush yards which leads all active FBS players.
“It was executing,” said Taggart. “All the plays, our guys knew exactly what they were doing. The o-linemen made some good downfield blocks. Whenever you get a hand on somebody, Royce can do the rest for us. It was good.”
Charles Nelson was carted off the field in the first half with an apparent lower leg/ankle injury. He was smiling throughout the contest, even after the injury occurred. However, Nelson was seen in street clothes on the sideline during the second half. He was wearing a walking boot with crutches. It’s possible it was for precautionary reasons.
Following the first of nine Cowboy punts on the day, Freeman scored his first of three tallies on Oregon’s opening drive, 7-0. The Ducks got off to a fast start as the running back was just beginning to roll.
“It’s definitely a new mentality I got to bring toward game day,” said Freeman. “I got to run hard no matter what. There is no other way to run. We can still put points on the board. Defense is doing a great job. I really tip my hat to them.”
The Ducks’ running back added his second score of the game from three yards out. That placed Oregon ahead 14-0 before Charles Nelson’s fumble on a punt return set up Wyoming’s first score of the day.
Allen’s lone highlight of the day was uncharacteristically running the ball 10 yards for a touchdown, 14-7.
Following a questionable Herbert fumble, Wyoming added three points from their kicker Cooper Rothe. It was as close as the Cowboys would get to the Ducks, 14-10.
Oregon forced two turnovers from Wyoming, but the Ducks lost the ball three times in total on Saturday. The head coach was not pleased by the second half.
“Too many missed assignments, bad technique. Being consistent and trusting the technique. Locking in for the entire football game.”
Herbert did his best Raevyn Rogers impression with a 9-yard sprint to the house to put the Ducks ahead 21-10.
With the Ducks leading by 11 and Wyoming’s momentum slowly creeping back into the ballgame, Coach Taggart called a timeout on 3rd and 10. Following the perfectly-timed pause, Herbert connected with Freeman for a 50-yard screen pass that opened the floodgates.
“It’s something we felt we could get away with,” Taggart said with a grin. “That play has been really good for us all season, even when we ran it in practice. It just worked for us. Our guys know that play like the back of their hand.”
Herbert concluded the drive by finding running back-turned-wide receiver Taj Griffin from 20 yards out. The first score of his season boosted Oregon’s lead to 28-10.
Freeman then added his third score of the game and ninth of the season with exactly 1:00 remaining in the first half, 35-10. Oregon had time for one more score, however.
Following a fumble recovery by safety Tyree Robinson to the 2-yard-line, Kani Benoit plunged in for his first points of the afternoon, 42-10.
After a scoreless third quarter, linebacker A.J. Hotchkins intercepted Allen on the first play of the fourth. It was the second turnover of the day for Wyoming.
Benoit capitalized by ending Oregon’s second-half drought with his second rushing score of the contest, 49-13. The “third string” running back now has six touchdowns on the year. He had eight carries for 48 yards and two tallies.
“We still have to start the second half a little better,” said Freeman. “I think it’s developing that killer instinct. That ‘Mamba’ mentality. We have to treat it like it’s 0-0.”
In a telling moment during Oregon’s only scoring-drive of the second half, Freeman asked for a blow inside the red zone on 3rd and 4. Coach Tag refused, kept him on the field and the senior gutted out a 5-yard gain on his 30th carry. That is leadership from both perspectives and could be very important moving forward.
At one point during the game, Allen had more pass attempts (13) than yards (11).
Oregon wide receiver Dillon Mitchell played well in Nelson’s absence. He secured six catches for 65 yards. Johnny Johnson III was second in receiving with 53 yards on four grabs.
Wyoming’s offense didn’t muster much of a fight. Their No. 1 receiver Austin Conway amassed just four catches for 27 yards. He was locked down by the starting secondary of Thomas Graham Jr. and Ugochukwu Amadi.
The Ducks’ run defense held Wyoming’s four total backs to 92 yards on 24 carries.
Kaulana Apelu drew the start on defense and led the spirited Oregon effort with a team-high seven tackles.
After leading the team in tackles in each of the first two contests, Troy Dye finished with four tackles, one tackle for loss and he deflected a pass.
Arrion Springs played well off the bench. He recorded four tackles, a sack, a pass deflection and a tackle for loss. The cornerback looked hungry and aggressive after not starting at cornerback.
Jonah Moi continued his excellent play with three tackles, a sack, a pass deflection and a TFL. Spring and Moi were the only two Ducks to register sacks of Allen.
Newcomer Malik Young made an appearance with one tackle and a half TFL. Clemson transfer Scott Pagano did not register an official statistic.
After No. 25 UCLA’s stunning loss to Memphis 48-45 on Saturday, an opening has been created for the Ducks in the AP Top 25.
Oregon (3-0) will open their Pac-12 Conference schedule with a trip to Arizona State (1-2) against the Sun Devils next Saturday. In their fifth Pac-12 game last season, the Ducks won their first conference contest against ASU, 54-35, at Autzen Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 p.m. PT from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.