DUCKS 35 - SPARTANS 22
Oregon wrapped up its non-conference schedule with an unsettling 35-22 victory over San Jose State. After outscoring their first two opponents 120 to 38, the Ducks fell well short of expectations by scoring only 35 points while allowing 22 from the same Spartan offense that was shutout against Washington State last week.
The Ducks were off to a hot start, racing out to a 14-0 lead to conclude the first quarter, but the Spartans’ defense proved to be the most competent unit that Oregon has faced thus far. With three minutes left before the half, the Spartans made it a one-score game thanks to two field goals by Bryce Crawford.
Luckily, a quick 3-play, 58-yard drive was capped off with a touchdown pass to wide-open Johnny Johnson III, giving the Ducks some much needed breathing room. Oregon was then handed a golden opportunity to distance themselves further from the competition before halftime, after a Spartan three-and-out gave Justin Herbert the ball with a little over a minute left.
However, this would prove to be an off day for the Heisman hopeful, as Herbert finished the drive with an interception in the end zone. San Jose State then ran out the clock and celebrated a surprisingly close 21-6 deficit as they ran to the locker rooms.
Justin Herbert: 16/34 - 309 YDS - 3 TD - 2 INT
Although a few of Herbert’s incompletions were due to dropped passes (yet again...), it’s fair to say that the Junior performed below his typically phenomenal standard. Herbert hit less than 50% of his passes and killed his team’s momentum with a pair of interceptions, one right before the half and the other near the beginning of the fourth quarter.
To err is human, but whether it’s fair or not, Herbert will be expected to play near perfect on a weekly basis if Oregon has any chance at competing for the PAC-12 North. It’s clear that we’ve yet to find our unstoppable force on the ground (more on CJ Verdell later) and Oregon’s receivers are clearly a weak link, so Herbert will be asked to carry this offense against the upcoming conference foes.
HIGHLIGHTS | All five of Oregon's touchdowns in today's 35-22 win over San Jose State. #GoDucks pic.twitter.com/TrEqGTZvgr— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) September 16, 2018
Drops, drops, drops! That was the most common criticism of the Oregon offense in weeks one and two. And with the pattern continuing for the third straight game, it seems that this case of the dropsies could be a season-long illness.
While it was good to see Herbert and Breeland re-establish their connection from last year, it is a bit upsetting that the large majority of yards through the air came from a couple of tight ends and a running back. In fact, only 100 of Herbert’s 309 passing yards involved a wide receiver. Johnson III seems to be on the verge of becoming Oregon’s best receiver if it weren’t for his untrustworthy hands- seems like for JJ3, it’s either a spectacular reception for a score or nothing at all.
Jacob Breeland: 3 rec - 92 YDS - 1 TD
CJ Verdell: 5 rec - 85 YDS
Johnny Johnson III: 3 rec - 70 YDS - 2 TD
Ryan Bay: 1 rec - 20 YDS
Dillon Mitchell: 1 rec - 17 YDS
Daewood Davis: 1 rec - 13 YDS
Tony Brooks-James: 1 rec - 11 YDS
Darrian Felix: 1 rec - 1 YD
Once again, Cristobal elected to use all six of his running backs, though it’s becoming clear that Verdell is becoming the favorite for playing time. But if we’re being real with ourselves, Cyrus Habibi-Likio has scored four touchdowns in five career carries. Sure, all of these scores have come from near-goal-line situations, but perhaps the redshirt freshman’s 80% touchdown rate is enough to warrant some more midfield touches?
The question that Oregon is left with after three weeks of rushing experimentation is: how will this unit fare against PAC-12 competition? With 43 total carries, this committee of running backs was only able to muster 129 yards rushing and two touchdowns. We’ll learn how far this experiment goes when we face the Stanford defense this Saturday.
CJ Verdell: 15 car - 42 YDS
Tony Brooks-James: 10 car - 39 YDS
Travis Dye: 8 car - 27 YDS
Darrian Felix: 6 car - 9 YDS
Taj Griffin: 2 car - 8 YDS
Justin Herbert: 6 car - 5 YDS
Cyrus Habibi-Likio: 2 car - 4 YDS - 2 TD
Time to give credit where credit is due! The Spartans came in to Autzen and made a lot of Duck fans nervous for a quarter and a half, but frustrated them for much longer than that.
Josh Love had little success in the air and the Spartans only scraped together 29 yards on the ground, but their defense kept the game within two scores for the majority of the game. After allowing 44 points in week one and 31 points in week two, SJSU must feel good about holding statistically one of the highest scoring offenses in the country to 35.
The Spartans owned the second and fourth quarter of this game. Before the half, they had a blocked field goal while making two of their own, picked off Herbert in the end zone, and held the Ducks to one touchdown. In the fourth, they outscored the Ducks 10 to 7 and recorded their second interception of the night.
Furthermore, San Jose State fought the entire game, which showed in the fourth quarter when much of Oregon’s team had mentally checked out. The fact that the Spartans kept this game within two scores should be praised, and will hopefully scare the Duck offense straight.
SAN JOSE STATE STATS
Josh Love: 15/31 - 238 YDS - 1 TD - 2 INT
Malike Roberson: 16 car - 25 YDS - 1 TD
Bailey Gaither: 6 rec - 90 YDS
Tre Hartley: 2 rec - 71 YDS
Josh Oliver: 6 rec - 41 YDS - 1 TD
Bryce Crawford: 3/3 - Long of 31 YDS
HIGHLIGHT | I'll take that. #GoDucks pic.twitter.com/9aIN190i4e— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) September 15, 2018
The first half of this game showed the strengths of this Oregon defense: the Ducks nabbed their first of two interceptions (Jevon Holland’s first career interception), forced five punts, and held the Spartans to two field goals in their two first half red zone appearances.
However, the second half showcased the weaknesses of the Oregon defense, namely their susceptibility to the pass. The Ducks allowed two long scoring drives of 82-yards and 65-yards. The Spartans were also able to nail another field goal in the fourth quarter, though the Duck defense should be credited with their tenacity since the drive started at Oregon’s 4-yard line after a 96-yard punt return from Thai Cottrell.
- Justin Hollins lead the team in tackles and tackles for a loss (eight and six). The Senior also grabbed an interception.
- The Ducks clearly have some elite talent at almost every position on defense: D line - Jordon Scott and Jalen Jelks, Linebacker - Troy Dye and Justin Hollins, Safety - Ugochukwu Amadi and possibly Jevon Holland.
- Oregon’s rush defense is damn impressive. They held SJSU to 29 yards on the ground. What will it look like against Stanford?
- La’Mar Winston Jr. returned from injury.
- Amadi has been one of the most consistent players on the team. He clearly is a leader and once again found multiple ways to change the game in Oregon’s favor, including a 57-yard punt return.
- Hollins, Jelks, Gus Cumberlander and Kaulana Apelu each recorded a sack.
There’s no more live-practice for the Ducks. Conference play starts now, and the Ducks will need to play near perfect to beat the Stanford Cardinal. It’s possible that Oregon will be without backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister, who was on the sidelines using crutches, or freshman phenom Penei Sewell on the o-line, who left the game in the fourth quarter.
The Ducks have used their first three games to learn the pistol, solidify the depth chart and jell as a unit. The next three games will be significantly more challenging, and could end with three straight losses or three straight wins depending on how far the Ducks have truly evolved.