Mistakes proved costly in the desert as the Oregon Ducks suffered a 37-35 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils. After a flying start to the season, all eyes will be on how Oregon responds against California coming off a loss.
Under no circumstance was the Oregon defense going to improve under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt magically. With a young defense, growing pains were bound to happen at some point. In the non-conference slate, hope came after a 3-0 start.
Before the season opener, Willie Taggart drew ire with the Ducks in their first scrimmage during fall camp. Too many penalties and miscues concerned Coach Taggart and wanted the mistakes fixed. Hope was the corrections would be made before conference play began.
But the mistakes became front and center down in the desert with the result of Coach Taggart suffering his first loss as Oregon’s head coach. Oregon had chances to win against Arizona State, but the mental errors did the team in.
Third-down conversions stand out with Oregon going 1-11 and 0-2 on fourth down conversions. The Ducks had a chance to win the game, but Justin Herbert’s scramble fell short of the marker on a critical fourth down opportunity.
Despite coming up on the short-end of the scoreboard, the Ducks can find positives moving forward. First, the Ducks managed to score 21 points in the second half. In the two previous games, Oregon was lackluster offensively and did not show a killer instinct as seen in the first half of games.
Under Chip Kelly, the Ducks would start slow and finish strong by blowing out opponents in the second half. The script appears to have flipped under Coach Taggart with a strong start but no killer instinct to close out games in the second half. Oregon will hopefully play a full game after a tough loss.
Second, the Oregon offense is not just Royce Freeman. Receivers have been stepping up with big plays to keep the offense moving down the field. After Daren Carrington was dismissed from the program, the Ducks did not have an experienced playmaker in what Carrington provided.
For now, Brenden Schooler, Johnny Johnson III, and Jacob Breeland have been filling the void and providing Herbert with options. Oregon may not have a standout receiver and will likely have a joint effort of receivers and tight ends to step up each game.
Oregon will once again be tested on both sides of the football as California looks formidable after an impressive start to their season. The Golden Bears are coming off a 30-20 loss at home to USC and will want to get back to winning ways.
Overrated USC appeared vulnerable on the road in Berkeley as Sam Darnold struggled early against Cal. The Bears gave a solid effort but turnovers in the second half proved disastrous as the Trojans capitalized on the mistakes.
Like the Ducks, the Bears entered camp under a clean slate by first-year head coach Justin Wilcox. The starting quarterback job was up for grabs where Ross Bowers emerged surprisingly for Cal. Bowers stood out amongst the other quarterbacks to win the job in camp and ready to prove he was the right choice.
In the early campaign, Bowers has shown why he got picked as the starter with wins against North Carolina and Ole Miss. He has thrown for six touchdowns this season.
Pressure on the first-year starter for Cal will be critical for Oregon. Bowers has thrown eight interceptions which have stalled the Bears’ offense in pivotal moments. Most of Bowers’ interceptions have been the young quarterback forcing throws just to make a play.
Jalen Jelks had a solid game last week with three sacks on Sun Devils quarterback, Manny Wilkins. La’Mar Winston Jr. emerged on the defense as a playmaker and will look to continue the success into Autzen Stadium this week.
The young secondary of Oregon will get tested at home as Cal has a talented group of wide-outs ready to strike. Kanawai Noa, Vic Wharton III, and Jordan Veasy have been Bowers’ targets downfield and will certainly look to factor into the game. Oregon is allowing about 350 yards per game with about 230 yards coming because of passing.
Cal is allowing about 445 yards of offense. Royce Freeman may have a tough time at the start as the Bears have been shutting down the run game. Herbert may need to get the air attack going to keep Cal guessing to allow Freeman to rush for a big gain.
Last year in Berkeley, the Ducks used a second-half rally to force overtime against the Bears. Cal had an opportunity to win the game, but the game-winning field goal sailed wide. With Oregon needing a touchdown to win in the second overtime, Herbert’s pass got intercepted as Cal ended the game with a 52-49 victory. The teams combined for 1,086 yards of offense.
Autzen Stadium will be at full capacity now with the students back in Eugene and classes just beginning. All eyes will be on how Coach Taggart and the Ducks respond with a loss under their belt. Cal has raised a few eyebrows early with a strong start to their season and could give Oregon a challenging contest Saturday night.