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Defense, Once Again, Lifts Up Oregon to Victory

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports



The OREGON DUCKS (4-1, 2-0) were able to survive an attack from the CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (4-2, 1-2) by shutting down their offense for the final three quarters, winning 17 to 7.

Oregon’s offense seemed determined to join the rest of the PAC-12 North by earning a conference loss. especially when they committed three turnovers in their first three drives. Thankfully, Andy Avalos’ squad is beginning to solidify their claim as the best defense in the PAC-12.

The Golden Bears amassed only 256 yards and seven points. On California’s second drive of the game they were able to break Oregon’s streak of not allowing a touchdown, but then were held scoreless for three quarters. Oregon’s offense had a hell of a time finding its momentum after three straight turnovers to start the game, but eventually they were able to score 17 unanswered points to build a two-score lead that felt insurmountable thanks to the defensive side of the ball.


Justin Herbert: 20/33 - 214 YDS - 1 TD - 1 INT - 30 long

This was not one of Justin Herbert’s best games. In fact, this was the senior quarterback’s worst game of the season; he threw for his fewest yards (214), his lowest completion percentage (60.6%), and also recorded his first interception. Fortunately for the Ducks, Herbert continued his streak of 33 consecutive games with a touchdown pass and ultimately led his team to victory despite a terrible start on the offensive side of the ball.

The ball was thrown just three times in Oregon’s opening drive: first an 11-yard pass to CJ Verdell to start things off, then an incompletion five plays later that led to a defensive pass interference, and then on the final play of the drive Herbert threw a doomed pass in heavy coverage that Ashtyn Davis easily picked off.

After falling behind 7-0, the Ducks ran the ball 11 times during their 14-play drive. Jaylon Redd and Verdell remained productive targets, helping Oregon march down the field until Travis Dye fumbled the ball on the Cal 11. The next Duck drive started with a round of applause as freshman Mycah Pittman caught his first pass, a 19-yard acrobatic grab, in his debut performance. However, the crowd once again fell silent as Dye fumbled for the second time on the next play.

Oregon’s fourth possession was the first not to end in a turnover. After a 6-yard run by Cyrus Habibi-Likio on first down, Herbert took his only sack of the game, resulting in a 3rd-and-10 at the Duck 20. Pittman made another impressive catch but it fell just short of the marker. And after driving down the field only to miss a 45-yard field goal, Oregon would head into the half without scoring.

The second half featured a lot more focus on the passing game, and while it certainly produced more points than the previous two quarters, Herbert connected on only 10 of his 19 attempts. Many of Herbert’s passes seemed to be behind his receivers, and in general the quarterback seemed off, especially in the second half when he was asked to throw more often. Still, he finished the game with 10 receptions over 10 yards and led the team on five drives of over 50 yards against a very good defense.

Perhaps it’s best to shrug off this performance and look at the bright side, since two of Oregon’s stalled drives weren’t the quarterback’s fault and the other was uncharacteristic of Herbert’s usual play.

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports


Jacob Breeland: 5 rec - 87 YDS - 30 long

Mycah Pittman: 4 rec - 43 YDS - 19 long

Jaylon Redd: 5 rec - 36 YDS - 1 TD - 18 long

Brenden Schooler: 1 rec - 21 YDS - 21 long

CJ Verdell: 2 rec - 17 YDS - 11 long

Johnny Johnson III: 1 rec - 11 YDS

Cyrus Habibi-Likio: 1 rec - 2 YDS

Travis Dye: 1 rec - (-3) YDS

Jacob Breeland, Jaylon Redd, and Mycah Pittman were crucial cogs of this struggling offense. Early on, Redd and Pittman provided Herbert with some reliable yardage, but Breeland’s eventual involvement was crucial for the victory.

Tight end Breeland caught his first pass in the second quarter, a 20-yard gain on 3rd-and-6 that extended the Ducks’ final drive of the first half. Unfortunately, that drive ended with a missed field goal. Breeland caught an 11-yard pass that eventually led to a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter. He wasn’t able to complete his next couple of attempts, but late in the third quarter he caught a 30 yard pass that fell one yard short of the touchdown. Breeland caught two more passes in the game to add 26 yards to his game total of 87.

Redd was targeted ten times and caught half of them, though to be fair, many of those drops or incompletions were due to excellent defensive play by the Golden Bears. On the Cal 28 yard line, early in the fourth quarter, Redd was unable to bring in a high pass on 4th-and-2. But his highlights include two passes that totaled 24 yards on a drive that led to the field goal, and then there was, of course, the 1-yard touchdown pass in which he faked the motion and basically walked into the end zone after an easy catch. That score finally separated the Ducks from the Bears, 17-7.

The long-awaited debut of true freshman Mycah Pittman lived up to the hype. Oregon’s receiving corps has drastically improved from last year’s squad, still, Pittman appeared to be the most talented receiver on the field. The freshman was targeted four times and caught every single ball, a trait he was known for during fall camp. He had gains of 19, 9, 5, and 10 yards, and his first catch as a Duck was a beauty!

Schooler was welcomed warmly by the fans. Like Pittman, the receiver finally overcame a preseason injury to catch his first ball of the season. The playaction pass to Schooler for 21 yards got a big response from Autzen.

CJ Verdell caught the game’s opening pass and then one more before leaving early in the first half. Two other running backs, Travis Dye and Cyrus Habibi-Likio, caught one pass apiece for little yardage and Johnny Johnson III also caught a pass and nearly had a long touchdown reception in the second quarter.

Overall, it was a tough day for Duck pass-catchers but ultimately they had a good showing against one of the PAC-12’s best defenses. The addition of Pittman seems like a potential game changer for this offense as a reliable target in the middle of the field could make this entire unit better.

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports


Travis Dye: 15 car - 81 YDS - 19 long

CJ Verdell: 10 car - 46 YDS - 11 long

Cyrus Habibi-Likio: 9 car - 37 YDS - 11 long

Justin Herbert: 4 car - 32 YDS - 26 long

Jaylon Redd: 1 car - (-1) YD

CJ Verdell was looking to have a really good day. The Stanford game proved that Cristobal is more than happy to run Verdell as his primary back, and against California it appeared the gameplan had not changed. The first five plays of Oregon’s opening drive were handoffs to Verdell which earned three first downs, two of them on 11-yard runs.

Late in the first quarter, Verdell helped the Ducks reach the Cal 13, but on 2nd-and-3 Verdell was taken down for one yard and suffered a lower body injury. Travis Dye was unable to pick up the two yards on the next play, so on 4th-and-1 he was given the ball once again but committed an unforced fumble when he attempted to reach for the first down.

After the first Dye fumble, Cal was forced into a three-and-out and Pittman’s first catch built some momentum for the Ducks. But Dye committed his second fumble on his next carry, this time forced by Cal defender Trey Turner III.

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Dye’s back-to back fumbles resulted in Cyrus Habibi-Likio receiving an increase in touches. The short-yardage specialist did a good job moving the chains and gave Oregon their first touchdown when he powered forward for the one-yard score setup by Breeland’s long catch.

Many Duck fans were begging to see Herbert run more often, and against Cal their wish was granted, though his three carries seemed to be the result of broken pockets and open field in front of him. All three of his runs involved too much contact to the QB; his first was an attempt to escape a sack, his second resulted in a fumble that luckily fell to Dallas Warmack, and the third was a crucial 26-yard run that finished with an unnecessary roughness call and Herbert in a net on the sideline.

Redd also took part in two reverses, neither was successful but they ultimately set up his fourth quarter score.

Oregon’s first three drives resulted in three turnovers; California had a 7-0 lead at halftime and things appeared to be going their way, but Oregon’s defense completely shutdown the battered Berkeley offense.

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports


Devon Modster: 17/34 - 190 YDS - 1 TD - 2 INT - 36 long - 10 car - 30 YDS - 21 long

Chris Brown Jr: 15 car - 42 YDS - 8 long - 4 rec - 29 YDS - 1 TD - 22 long

Trevon Clark: 6 rec - 69 YDS - 20 long

Jordan Duncan: 2 rec - 47 YDS - 36 long

Kuony Deng: 12 tackles - 7 solo - 1 TFL - 1 Strip

Luc Bequette: 9 tackles - 4 solo - 1 strip

Ashtyn Davis: 7 tackles - 7 solo - 1 PD

Zeandae Johnson: 1 tackle - 1 solo - 1 sack - 1 TFL

Devon Modster had three good drives. First was his 6-play, 63-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter after the Herbert interception. Devon Modster had two big gains on the drive thanks to his pass-catchers bailing him out: one a 36-yard 50-50 ball on 3rd-and-long and the other a 22-yard touchdown pass meant for someone else but landing with Christopher Brown Jr.

Both of Cal’s other promising drives ended with missed field goals. Other than these three possessions, every drive by the Golden Bears ended with a turnover or a punt. The Ducks made their opponent start on their side of the field every time they had the ball. Modster performed much better than last week against Arizona State. yet still looked overwhelmed outside of an early stretch of play.

Oregon may have shot themselves in the foot a couple of times, but the Cal defense did an excellent job being in the right place at the right time. The Golden Bears defense lived up to its reputation, if only we could have seen this game with a healthy Chase Garbers.

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports


GOLDEN BEARS PASSING: 17/34 - 190 YDS - 1 TD - 2 INT - 36 long

GOLDEN BEARS RUSHING: 30 car - 66 YDS - 21 long

GOLDEN BEARS 3RD DOWN: 6 out of 17

TURNOVERS FORCED: Ducks 2 - Golden Bears 3

The Oregon offense may have struggled, but the Duck defense was elite against California. They forced seven three-and-outs, two interceptions, a turnover on downs, and seven punts. It’s true that the Golden Bears were down Chase Garbers and some key players on offense, limiting them to 256 total yards is still an impressive achievment for a team not so long ago known for weak defense.

The Golden Bears found next to no success in the run game as Jordon Scott, Gus Cumberlander and others dominated the Cal offensive line. They only mustered 66 yards on 30 carries, forcing them to rely on the passing game.

Third down was not kind to the Golden Bears. Cal was 6 of 17 on third down, two of those taking place on their lone touchdown drive and three more of those on drives that ended in a missed field goal. The Autzen crowd also helped by being loud and angry, creating an environment that definitely contributed to their 11 penalties for 98 yards.

Isaac Slade-Matautia led all Duck defenders with his 7 tackles, 1 sack and one defended pass. Next to him, Troy Dye also created some havoc by snatching Oregon’s second interception of the evening and setting up a short field which the Ducks utilized to create their 17-7 lead.

Kayvon Thibodeaux and Popo Aumavae joined Slade Matautia in the sack club as the Oregon front seven met little resistance all night. The freshman Thibodeaux ended the second and fourth quarter with important sacks, nearly forcing a turnover on his first one and helping to seal the win with the second.

Jevon Holland once again found multiple ways to make an impact on the game, including picking off Modster’s hail mary on the final play of the half, making three tackles, and also returning a punt for 24 yards to the Cal 30. Oregon’s excellent field advantage led to their first touchdown just three plays later.

Overall it was a fantastic performance from this Duck defense that kept Oregon undefeated in PAC-12 play.


  • Isaac Slade-Matautia: 7 tackles - 4 solo - 1 sack - 1.5 TFL - 1 PD
  • Deommodore Lenoir: 5 tackles - 4 solo
  • Kayvon Thibodeaux: 3 tackles - 2 solo - 2 sacks - 2 TFL
  • Popo Aumavae: 2 tackles - 1 solo - 1 sack - 1.5 TFL
  • Jevon Holland: 3 tackles - 1 solo - 1 INT
  • Troy Dye: 4 tackles - 1 solo - 1 TFL - 1 INT


NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports